Jacopo da Pontormo, Entombment, Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicitá, Florence, 1525-1528 (photo By Pontormo – Book scan (Manfred Wundram: Renaissance, S. 69, Köln: Verlag Taschen 2007, ISBN: 3-8228-5295-3 / ISBN 978-3-8228-5295-8), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4303272)
The Late Renaissance, often also called the Mannerist, period, is characterized by artworks that typically took other works of art as models. Their primary subject was the human body often elongated, exaggerated, elegant, and arranged in twisted poses. This was the style of the courts, and many of the works contain hidden meanings and visual games, meant to test the intellectual acumen of the viewers. Many of the artists in both Italy and the North were impacted by the intense political and military turmoil, with 3 main things causing much of this turmoil: Charles V’s widening empire and the sack of Rome; the Reformation and emergence of the Protestant Church; and the Catholic Counter-Reformation and Inquisition. This was also the high point of the so-called “Age of Discovery” in Europe, where the European powers began to colonize the Americas and areas of Africa and Oceania as well.
Looking at Jacopo da Pontormo’s fresco of the Entombment above, there is a very different feel from High Renaissance works. The colors seem acidic; the figures are elongated and in twisted poses; and there is heightened emotion in the faces of the figures (Pontormo also included himself on the right edge of piece, wearing a hat and looking out at the viewer). Many of the poses of the forms make very little rational sense, as that is another feature of this Late Renaissance style. The figures are removed from the rationality of High Renaissance forms, and reflect the sense of chaos and dread in Europe in the 16th century. The fresco across the chapel from the Entombment, the Annunciation, also reflects these changes, as both Mary and the angel seem to float in the space that they are supposed to be inhabiting. The window that breaks up the scene seems to add to this sense of weightlessness.
Another influential artist of this early period was Francesco Mazzola, better known as Parmigianino. It is said that he painted his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror to impress the Pope and gain commissions from him. At any rate this work shows both the talent of the young artist, and the interest in distortions in the Late Renaissance period, as the convex mirror used by Parmigianino gives a “fish-eye” quality to the work, distorting both his form, and the room behind him.
Possibly his most famous work is the Madonna and Child with Angels (Madonna of the Long Neck). Here you really see the elongation of Parmigianino’s style, as well as the interest in the erotic in places that may be a bit inappropriate, as the Madonna’s body is revealed by the “wet drapery” technique as opposed to being hidden by her clothing, and the angel at the front is showing quite a bit of leg. The background is also a bit jarring and strange, with the figure with the scroll in the back, often read as either an Old Testament prophet or a pagan figure, which could either add a meaning of the foretelling of the coming of Jesus or the victory of Christianity over paganism, which would have been a reference in this period to the battles between Catholicism and Protestantism. The background of the painting is unfinished, and it is thought that there would have been another figure, possibly another saint next to the first one.
Parmigianino, Madonna and Child with Angels (Madonna of the Long Neck), c. 1535 (photo By Parmigianino – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1263067)
Agnolo Bronzino was appointed court artist to Cosimo I de’Medici, the second Duke of Florence, and first Grand Duke of Tuscany. Bronzino painted a number of paintings for the court, including one of the most interesting and enigmatic of the period, Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (Allegory of Lust; Exposure of Luxury). This was probably painted as a gift for King Francis I of France, who was known as a lover of learning, women, and sexuality, and who may have understood all of the references of the work. In the center foreground of the work, Cupid and Venus share an incestuous kiss, while another small, cupid-like figure scatters roses, the traditional symbol of Venus (like the dove at Cupid’s feet). Behind that figure is a creature with the head of a girl, the body of a snake, and 2 left hands, often interpreted as folly, but who may be both Pleasure and Fraud. At the top, an angry-looking old man with wings, Time, draws back the curtain, and reveals a figure with a broken head, who may be Fraud and Oblivion. The shrieking figure in the back may be Anger or Jealousy. The overall meaning is up for debate, but the work is certainly one of the most interesting of the Late Renaissance period.
Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (Allegory of Lust, Exposure of Luxury), c. 1545 (photo Bronzino [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Bronzino also painted a number of court portraits, including of Cosimo I and his wife, Eleonora of Toledo. These emphasized the wealth of the court, as well as the power of the Duke and his wife. But, they also contained some of the typical Late Renaissance flattening of forms, such as the arms and hands of the Duke and Duchess. The painter seemed most interested in the patterning of the cloth of the dress of Eleonora and the armor of Cosimo I.
Angola Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son Don Giovanni, 1545-1546 and Cosimo I de’Medici, 1545 (photos By Bronzino – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=148348 and By Bronzino – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=148346)
This shift in portraiture also applies to those painted by artists whose career spanned both the High and Late Renaissance periods. One of these was Titian, the Venetian painter, and one of the most sought-after artists of the 16th century. If you compare his portraits of 2 Doges, Niccolò Marcello and Andrea Gritti, notice the shift, even if only over 4 years, from the crisp lines of Marcello’s portrait to the painterly forms of Gritti’s. The softer forms of Gritti’s portrait are more free and expressive, possibly because this is a posthumous portrait. Also, by the mid-16th century, the power of Venice was waning because of the shift in the focus of trade to the Atlantic from the Mediterranean.
Titian, Doge Niccolò Marcello, c. 1542 and Doge Andrea Gritti, 1546/1548 (photos By Titian – Own work, 2006-08-02, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1025272 and By Titian – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=159537)
The Late Renaissance also produced changes in the art of the North, with artists shifting their focus to genre scenes and themes that would fit within Protestant iconoclasm, but would still fit within the moralizing tone of previous art of the North. Perhaps the most interesting of these artists was Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who came from a family of artists in Antwerp in the Netherlands from the 16th and 17th centuries. He was very interested in panoramic views of the natural world and landscape, which often contained smaller images of proverbs or religious themes, such as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. In this piece, Bruegel shows the fall of the mythical Greek, but this is a very small part of the scene, and is happening next to a caravel, a 16th century ship used to sail across the oceans. Within the rest of the Northern landscape, people are herding sheep or tilling the fields using the latest 16th century technology. One of the most interesting parts of this piece is the fact that none of the people in the scene are paying attention to the fall of Icarus, which can be interpreted as a comment on the realities of the new globalized world in which Bruegel lived. Some of his other works commented on the new Protestant Reformation, and its effects on Europe, such as The Tower of Babel. Here, the workers are building the titular tower in the middle of a Northern 16th century landscape. The figures in the left foreground represent Nebuchadnezzar, his court, and the workers, but they also are dressed in clothing contemporary to Bruegel. His message here is about the effects of the Reformation, the wars of religion, and the divisions in Europe because of the religious upheaval. The Old Testament story has been updated to have a 16th century meaning. Netherlandish Proverbs has a similar meaning, but with over 100 proverbs of the time depicted on the painting, including the man banging his head on the wall in the lower left; the pies on the roof (“You can’t tile a roof with pies”); and the man trying to reach 2 loaves of bread on the table (“Living loaf to loaf,” or “paycheck to paycheck”).
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c. 1554-1555 and The Tower of Babel, 1563 (photos By Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – 1., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11974918 and By Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – Levels adjusted from File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg, originally from Google Art Project., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22179117)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559 (photo By Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – WwG8mD89xbELbQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13352840)
Bruegel was also commissioned to make 6 panel paintings for a wealthy merchant in Antwerp that were studies of the labors of the seasons. The Return of the Hunters represents winter in the North, and The Harvesters represents the labors of early fall. In both, you can see the landscape in the North, and the activities of the people in the different seasons, and specifically here the peasants. The landscapes in each are vast, and really give a sense of daily life, landscape, and labor in the 16th century. But, these are also composed landscapes, which do not necessarily represent the realities of landscapes in the Netherlands. That of Hunters in the Snow is very Alpine, perhaps representing a landscape seen by Bruegel on his journey to Italy.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow and The Harvesters, 1565 (photo by By Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – WgFmzFNNN74nUg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22189570 and By Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) – Photo by Szilas in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1173842)
It is also in the 16th century that female artists begin to gain a voice and presence. Women were still considered to be only capable of painting portraits; were not allowed in figure drawing classes; and were considered incapable of creating large history works. Giorgio Vasari, though, in his second version of Lives mentioned 1 female artist: the sculptor from Bologna, Properzia de’Rossi, who received a commission to sculpt a relief of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife on the cathedral. Vasari claimed that the design of the work reflected de’Rossi’s life, but whether that is true is questionable. Certainly, de’Rossi was a very qualified sculptor, known for carving intricate works on peach pits. The composition of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife is dynamic, and reflects the trends of the Late Renaissance.
Other female artists became sought-after portraitists, with Sofonisba Anguissola gaining a spot as a court painter to Philip II of Spain. A comparison of one of her self-portraits with a self-portrait by Lavinia Fontana is a comparison of 2 educated, successful women, who wanted to show their abilities and education. Anguissola depicted herself at the easel, maulstick in hand, painting the Madonna and Child, a declaration that she was capable of more than portraiture. Fontana showed herself in her studiolo, one arm on a book, surrounded by sculptures. Fontana, who also gained religious commissions, such as her Holy Family with Saints, wanted to flaunt her own abilities as an artist. Marietta Robusti, daughter of the artist Jacopo Robusti, better known as Tintoretto, was mentioned by Carlo Ridolfi in his writings, and was a celebrated artist in her own right. Her self-portrait shows her with a music book in hand in front of the spinetta, a precursor to the piano, a way to declare her artistic abilities as well as her education.
Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-Portrait Painting the Madonna, 1556 and Lavinia Fontana, Self-Portrait in the Studiolo, 1579 (photos By Sofonisba Anguissola – Selected work 4 from Anthony Bond, Joanna Woodall (2005). Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary. ISBN 978-1855143579, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11870777 and By Lavinia Fontana – http://pintura.aut.org/SearchProducto?Produnum=17709, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3176427)
Marietta Robusti, Self-Portrait in Front of the Spinetta, c. 1580 (photo By see filename or category – http://ilpositivistaroseo.blogspot.it/2010/06/la-pittrice-marietta-robusti-detta-la.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24497939)
Sculpture also changed in this period, with artists making an effort to bring the drama and motion of painting into their work. Most of these Late Renaissance sculptures are not static, but are meant to be seen from a number of sides. One of the most famous sculptors and goldsmiths of the period, and one with an incredibly colorful life, was Benvenuto Cellini, who also wrote an autobiography that was not published until 1728. He is perhaps best known for his Saliera (Saltcellar of Francis I), which reflects the opulence of court life in the 16th century, and the status of salt as a luxury item. Salt was highly sought after, and the salt trade was very lucrative in the period, as it was the main preservative before refrigeration, although other spices, like pepper, were also important to both enhance the taste of food and cover food that was less well preserved. The saltcellar, made in gold and partially enameled, depicts Neptune, with a ship for the salt next to him, and Tellus, the Roman Earth goddess, with a triumphal arch next to her for pepper, reclining in impossible positions, with legs intertwined to represent the interdependence of earth and sea. Around the base are images of the winds and the times of the day, fitting imagery for the Humanist court of Francis I. The figures are based on ones by Michelangelo in the New Sacristy (Medici Chapel) for San Lorenzo in Florence. On the tombs of Guiliano di Lorenzo de’Medici and Lorenzo di Piero de’Medici are figures representing the times of the day. Cellini’s figures of Neptune and Tellus come from Michelangelo’s figures of Dusk and Dawn on Lorenzo’s tomb, which are technically unfinished.
Benvenuto Cellini, Saliera (Saltcellar of Francis I), finished 1543, (photos By Cstutz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons and By Cstutz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
Michelangelo, Tomb of Lorenzo di Piero de’Medici with Dusk and Dawn, 1524-1534 (photo By Rabe! – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37167716)
Giambologna’s sculptures, also executed for the court of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, reflect this new vibrancy as well. These, such as Winged Mercury, are meant to be experienced from all sides, with the experience of the viewer changing from each side as different parts of the sculpture seem to point towards you. This is a far more dynamic approach to sculpture than that of the High Renaissance, and prefigures the Baroque. His approach to the Equestrian Statue of Cosimo I is also radically different from the equestrian statues sculpted by Donatello and del Verrocchio. Here the horse is lively and in motion, and far more proportional than the others, and the Duke is portrayed more as a leader than a soldier.
Giambologna, Winged Mercury, c. 1576 and Equestrian Portrait of Cosimo I, 1587-1593 (photos By Roccuz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 it (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/it/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons and By Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Michelangelo’s late style is also radically different from his earlier work, as can be seen by looking at 2 of his later Pietás. One, also known as The Deposition, was supposedly meant for his tomb, although it was left unfinished. Here, we see Mary with the body of Christ, supported also by Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea (or Nicodemus). The latter figure is said to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo, and it is clear that the figure of Magdalene was completed by someone else. It is said that Michelangelo attempted to destroy the work because he was unsatisfied, but his studio assistants convinced him to allow them to salvage it. The difference between this and his earlier, High Renaissance Pietá is clear in the positioning of the figures and the emotion contained within the work. The last Pietá he created the Rondanini Pietà, left incomplete at his death, has even more emotion than the earlier one, with very elongated figures and strange positioning. The work, probably because of its unfinished state, feels very modern.
Michelangelo, Pietá (The Deposition), c. 1547-1553 and Rondanini Pietà, c. 1555-1564 (photos By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons and by Divot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Michelangelo’s later architecture also seems to be a reaction against the rational classicism of the High Renaissance. Pope Clement VII, one of the Medici popes, commissioned the Laurentian Library from him at the same time the Medici Chapel, and for the same complex of San Lorenzo, and he worked on those projects from 1524-1534, when he returned to Rome. Michelangelo designed a radical entry space, with broken pediments; engaged columns and brackets below them, both of which have supporting functions; and possibly the first free-standing staircase in history. The staircase is one of the most striking features of the space, as the central portion seems to spill down from the library itself like liquid, even though it is all done in the same pietra serena of the Chapel. The library is also striking, with the warm coffered wooden ceiling that matches the reading nooks. Here, the architecture is less radical, and more calming, appropriate for a library. The stained glass windows have both the Medici and Papal coats of arms.
Michelangelo, Laurentian Library, 1524-1559 (photos By I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3810386)
Other architects were also radicals in their approach to space. Giulio Romano, once a studio assistant to Raphael, designed the Palazzo del Tè in Mantua, on an island across from the main city. This was the pleasure place and horse stables of the Marquis, and Romano was commissioned to complete it in a hurry so that the emperor, Charles V, could be hosted for dinner. The façade of the courtyard reflects some of the same rebellion as the Laurentian Library, with heavy rustication, breaks in the flow of the entablature and the podium of the structure, and blind niches and windows. Probably the most radically Late Renaissance/Mannerist portion of the structure, though, is the Sala dei Gigante, meant to be the dining hall of the Palazzo, filled with swirling patterns on the floor and a motion-filled fresco on the ceiling and walls that depicts the battle of the Olympian gods and the Titans. Here, everything is in motion, and the optical illusion of the Camera Picta in the ducal palace of Mantua, painted by Mantegna in the 15th century, is made more radical, sharper, and the humor is now removed. In many ways, the fresco, although a reference to Greco-Roman mythology, is also a reference to both the Reformation, and the battles between Catholics and Protestants, and the battles between Charles V and Francis I over Italy.
Giulio Roman, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, 1525-1535 (photo By Marcok – Self-published work by Marcok, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=625383)
Giulio Roman, Sala dei Gigante, Fall of the Giants and The Gods on Mount Olympus, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, 1530-1532 (photo Giulio Roman, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, 1525-1535 (photos By Giulio Romano – http://www.wga.hu/art/g/giulio/gigant.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3664070 and Giulio Romano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
The most important architect of the Late Renaissance in Venice was Andrea Palladio, known for his country palace designs before he was named chief architect of the Republic of Venice. He also wrote a book that remained important through to the early 19th century, The Four Books of Architecture, which expanded upon and updated the writings of Vitruvius. One of his most influential buildings was the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, outside of Venice, built for a priest, Paolo Almerico, after he retired from the Vatican. The villa has a view of the entire site from its hilltop, and was designed as a pleasure palace as opposed to the main house of a working farm. The design of the building has a centralized dome over a rotunda, with a portico with a view in each of the cardinal directions. The porticos are designed as Classical temple façades, and the interior is lavishly opulent.
Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotunda, Vicenza, c. 1566-70 (photos By Quinok – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35889390 and By Hans A. Rosbach – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2438725)
As chief architect of Venice, Palladio completed a number of public buildings in that city. One of the most interesting and important was the rebuilding of San Giorgio Maggiore, which he began in 1565. Here, the engaged columns of the façade stand on very tall podiums, and there is a double pediment. The effect is to add height to the structure, and some visual interest that matches the strange shape of the transcept of the church.
Andrea Palladio, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, begun 1565 (photo by Andrea Palladio [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
Some of the most radical changes to art and architecture in the Catholic dominated areas of Europe was the Counter-Reformation. The Catholic Church took a while to recover from the Reformation, and form a cohesive counter attack to the Protestant claims. From 1545-1563, the Council of Trento convened in Northern Italy, and met intermittently over that period. The Council did a few things, but the most important for the Church was that it denounced Lutheranism and reaffirmed Catholic doctrine. Its stated purpose was to improve the education of priests and reassert papal authority beyond Italy; establish an Inquisition in Rome, grant it the power to censor works of art, writings, and create a Banned Book list (this would have a great impact on Galileo Galilei); restated that art should be didactic, ethically correct, decent and accurate; parallels between Old and New Testament events were to be emphasized; art should appeal to emotion rather than reason. These aims would have immediate impacts on the art and culture in Italy, and also would touch off the separation of the Catholic Church and science, a separation still being felt today.
A comparison of 2 Last Supper paintings from Venice shows the impact of the Council of Trento and the re-empowered Inquisition. One, painted by Paolo Veronese as a commission for the convent of San Giovanni e Paolo, is some 18 ft x 42 ft. On this canvas, Veronese painted a Venetian cityscape, with a loggia at the front. In the center of the loggia is the image of the Last Supper, and around it are drunks, beggars, buffons, dwarves, a dog picking at fleas, and (worst of all!) soldiers dressed in German (remember the Reformation began in Germany) armor. Veronese was called before the Inquisition in 1573, and was questioned as to why he included all of the extraneous figures in the scene. His reply was that the canvas was large, and he had some artistic license, but the Inquisitors did not agree, giving him 3 months to change the painting. So, Veronese changed the name of the piece to Feast in the House of Levi, and, as Levi was, according to the Bible, a tax collector, having all of the sinners there was now acceptable. This is in contrast to Jacopo Tintoretto’s Last Supper, painted for the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Here, the scene takes place in a darkened room, with smokey angels overhead, and some servants (nothing so radical as Veronese). The figures of Jesus and the Apostles have halos, and Jesus is actually encased in light as he enacts the first sacrament of the Eucharist in the midst of the Supper, partially done as a means to counteract the Protestant downgrading of that sacrament. Judas has been safely moved back to the other side of the table, and the entire piece has a very different feel than that of da Vinci from the end of the 15th century. Here, the emphasis is less on reason than on emotion and faith.
Paolo Veronese, Last Supper, renamed Feast in the House of Levi, 1573 and Jacopo Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1592-1594 (photos By Paolo Veronese – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160026 and By Tintoretto – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15542295)
A work by Michelangelo was also eventually called into question by the Inquisition, although the issue was solved by having a painter known to history as the Britches Painter cover up the nudes. This was his Last Judgment, painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Ceiling. Here is a true tour de force of Late Renaissance painting, with a swirling scene of active saints and figures. Christ is in the center, nearly nude, and active, with the apostles and saints around him. Below, to his right, the dead are rising from the grave, and to his left, Charon is ferrying the damned over the River Styx to Hell. Not much is seen of this Hell, other than the flames, and it is interesting that Michelangelo chose to include Greco-Roman mythology in the scene. One of the most interesting passages of the work is the image of St. Bartholomew, to Jesus’s left, who holds his instrument of martyrdom, the knife, and his flayed skin in his head. This skin is a self-portrait of the artist himself, which speaks to the mindset of an artist who was getting older, was devoutly Catholic, gay, and had witnessed a lot of war and upheaval in his life and career.
Michelangelo, Last Judgment, 1534-41 (photos By Michelangelo – See below., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16143987 and By Michelangelo – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11426515)
One of the artists who really captured the mysticism and orthodoxy of the Counter-Reformation style in art was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco, who was born on Crete, but, after a brief stint in Italy, spent much of his career in Spain, primarily Toledo. His work focused on the mystical nature of Spanish Catholicism, with a focus on the miraculous, and his paintings were often filled with strange colors and elongated figures. Even his landscapes seem to move and pulse. One of his most famous works is the Burial of Count Orgaz, which shows the burial of the pious Count being carried out by a number of city fathers and church figures from Toledo, including St. Augustine and St. Stephen, as there were, according to legend, a number of mysterious circumstances to this burial (the Count died in 1323). Above the burial scene, the soul of the Count begs for entry into Heaven with the intercession of the Virgin Mary. There is very little that ties the 2 scenes together, other than the color yellow. El Greco’s portrait of Cardinal Guevera, the Chief Inquisitor in Spain, loses a bit of the mysticism, but gains an interesting psychological aspect. Here the Cardinal sits in his watered silk robes, with one hand clutched on the arm of his chair, and a mysterious piece of paper at his feet. The Cardinal seems to be looking askance at the viewer, as if engaged in some of his duties as Chief Inquisitor.
El Greco, The Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586-1588 (photo By El Greco – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38746498)
El Greco, Portrait of Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevera, 1600 (photo By El Greco – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=152204)
There were also changes in architecture in this period, such as the design of the church of Il Gesù in Rome by Giacomo da Vignola. This was the mother church of the Jesuit order, a new order of militant friars formed out of the Counter-Reformation who took vows of chastity, obedience, poverty, and a specific vow of obedience to the Pope. These priests would go on to be the educators of the Catholic Church. Il Gesù was paid for by Alexander Cardinal Farnese, which explains the inscription on the front, but is otherwise a simplified version of many of the earlier Renaissance churches. There are the references to the Trinity, and the plan has a wide nave with side chapels by no side aisles. The interior was finished in a more elaborate Baroque style than originally intended, but the simplifications of the church reflect the statements of the Council of Trento.
Giacomo da Vignola, Il Gesù, Rome, c. 1575-1584, facade and plan (photos By I, Alejo2083, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2449146)
The Late Renaissance was a time of great upheaval politically, religiously, and artistically. In many ways, this period sets the stage for the Baroque as much as it continues the innovations of the High Renaissance. The artists of this period were also reacting to and, in many ways, rejecting the rationality of the High Renaissance period.