Storia dell’arte  | Maggio – Agosto 1974
La teologia cattolica e le immagini durante il XVI secolo.
The Author analyses the points of view of the theologians ami other writers of the Catholic faith on the issue of the arts during the XVIth century with the works of Pio da Carpi, Lancellotti (Catarino), Braun (Bruno), Gilio, Molano and Paleotti primarily examined. The study does not atternpt to construct a history of Catholic theological thought on the Arts during this century, but tries to answer the question of why the issue of images was so vital for the Church in this period. The answer is that for a nurnber of reasons the cult of images was seen as one way of preserving the Catholic faith especially among the lower uneducated classes against Protestant attacks. In fact, as stressed unanimousiy by all the considered writers, images were of fundamental importance above all to establish a deep instinctive sense of attachment to the religious hierarchy, institutions and praxis. Images were the antithesis of the printed book which had made its appearance a few decades before and was intended by the Protestants to serve indiscriminately all believers following a process of generalized literacy. In order to achieve its task, the Catholic theologians resorted to a revival of a number of medieval idea: taken mostly from the Greek Fathers of the Iconoclastic period and from Scholasticism, adapting them to contemporary times. The difference between the Medieval tradition and the Counter Reformation, the Author points out, was that although most of the ancient motifs and ideas appeared old fashioned in the XVIth century
and were collected in a rather eclectic fashion, the use and exploitation of these themes became almost scientific especially since the images were understood to have a power of influence and conditioning on thought and behaviour at an unconscious level. In other word: images were used as a social stabilizer in an age of terrific change in the social, political and philosophical sphere. One of the difficult problems for all these writers was to justify not only the use of images but the promulgation of their cult. To this end the Church had at her disposal different traditions and theories, all rather inadeguate for the time (the Neoplatonic doctrine of archetype, the much criticized views of the Scholastics etc.).
The disagreement among the authors on this point became apparent, as evidenced especially in Catarino, and certainly affected the Council of Trent, which at one point seemed incapable of making a decision on the subject. The decree of the Council was finally made in 1563, couched in rather generai and ambiguous terms. However after the Council it seemed that almost every theological argument of the past centuries was allowed, and Paleotti’s book — a work that most completely scrutinized the theological ground for the acceptance of the cult of images — is entirely eclectic in nature.
The above leads the Author to the conclusion that the literature of the Counter Reformation on art, especially that which follows the Council of Trent, lacked the ideal motivations of earlier traditions. The indiscriminate use of all theories then available would suggest that artistic theory, as the arts themselves, was therefore only conceived of as a part of a «Ragion di Stato ».