Objects of Belief: Iconoclasm and Continuity in the Era of Reformations, 1450-1600

This course examines the transformation of the visual and material culture of late medieval Christianity brought about by the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent upheavals in beliefs, religious practice and social organization. It will begin by examining the rich material culture of the late medieval Church and its spiritual, social and economic underpinnings, particularly in regard to relic worship, pilgrimage, and the cult of the saints. It will trace the rise in lay spirituality in the fifteenth century under the reforming impulse of the Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands, the renewed momentum of Erasmian humanism of the early sixteenth century, culminating in the gathered ideological force of the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of the cult of saints. Case studies drawn from the German-speaking territories, the Netherlands, and England will address the outbursts of iconoclasm that engulfed many of the urban centers, and from which new forms of public worship emerged, as the relationships between the material and the spiritual were reconfigured. We will study the profound effects of evangelical beliefs upon the habits and rituals of domestic and civic life, upon ecclesiastical and domestic spaces, personal possessions, habits of dress and adornment, as the home, as much as the Church, became an important locus of spiritual and moral instruction. A final aspect of the course will be to consider Protestant attitudes to the written word and the book, natural philosophy, ethics, history, literature, and aesthetics, so as to trace the wider, less tangible influences of Protestantism upon Western culture. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.