Global Economies of Salvation. Art and the Negotiation of Sanctity
in the Early Modern Period
This project investigates how artworks were employed in the process of negotiating sanctity with the Roman Curia in the age of Iberian hegemony (1500–1700). As the cult of the saints was among the key conceptual battlegrounds in the conflict between the Catholic church and the Protestants, in the post-Tridentine period, saints came to fulfill spiritual, ideological and propagandistic purposes. Art history has paid heightened attention to the adherence of artworks to the models of sanctity formulated by the Tridentine church, leading to an overall neglect of competing local constructions of sanctity, a shortfall particularly momentous with regard to blesseds and saints connected in different ways to the process of European expansion, specifically to the Iberian empires.
Promoting a cause for canonization amounted to a lengthy and involved process of negotiation between the party requesting a candidate’s canonization and the Curia, which decided upon admittance into the rank of the saints. Artworks were the primary means by which the masses of the faithful learned of a prospective saint’s deeds and were led to venerate and invoke him or her. Veneration was stimulated both locally and at a distance, as proof of a saintly reputation was needed in the process leading up to canonization. The negotiation of sanctity by visual means becomes most apparent in the phase preceding canonization, during its celebration, and in the decades thereafter. In this project, the artworks produced with regard to the pioneers of Catholic blesseds and saints in the post-Tridentine ‘global’ context are examined: The three complementary subprojects cover the martyrs of the Japan mission crucified in 1597, St. Francis Xavier and St. Rose of Lima, i.e. the first individuals originating from territories ‘discovered’ by the European realms in the early modern period to have been beatified, the founder of the Society of Jesus in India and precursor of Christian mission in East Asia, and the patron saint of the American continent.
The hypothesis under examination is that the artworks produced in relation to gaining recognition by the Church of saints first venerated in newly Christianized territories reveal an underlying negotiation of the local Catholic communities’ spiritual status within universal Catholicism. As official recognition affirmed the society which had made a saint its own, artworks related to this process served purposes of self-representation within the broader framework of social identity formation.
To examine the negotiation of sanctity by the means of artworks, this project adopts a perspective methodologically founded upon the historiographic concept of histoire croisée; it traces the circulation of material objects and iconographies within and between global networks of knowledge transmission and combines such an approach with a hypothetical ‘global market of symbolic values’ developed on the basis of concepts from critical sociology. In order to describe the construction of identity relating to a saint’s portrayal in artworks, a Panofskyan concept of iconology relying on textual and visual sources needs to be complemented by the full range of methods connected in the broadest sense with Visual Studies (Bildwissenschaft). Investigating the negotiation of sanctity between Rome and geographically distant areas participates in ‘globalizing’ the history of early modern art and is qualified to challenge established perspectives on Roman Catholicism, colonialism, and the early modern world at large.
Projektleitung / Principal Investigator
Prof. Dr. Raphaèle Preisinger
Projektdauer / Project duration
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