The Visual Culture of Catholic Enlightenment

By (author) Christopher M. S. Johns

Hardback - £71.95

Publication date:

12 December 2014

Length of book:

440 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271062082

Until relatively recently, most scholars considered the notion of a Catholic enlightenment either oxymoronic or even illusory, since the received wisdom was that the Catholic Church was a tireless and indefatigable enemy of modernist progress. According to Christopher Johns, however, the eighteenth-century papacy recognized the advantages of engaging with certain aspects of enlightenment thinking, and many in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, both in Italy and abroad, were sincerely interested in making the Church more relevant in the modern world and, above all, in reforming the various institutions that governed society. Johns presents the visual culture of papal Rome as a major change agent in the cause of Catholic enlightenment while assessing its continuing links to tradition. The Visual Culture of Catholic Enlightenment sheds substantial light on the relationship between eighteenth-century Roman society and visual culture and the role of religion in both.

“This groundbreaking book defines in depth and breadth the parameters of the Catholic enlightenment in eighteenth-century papal Rome, revealing the extent of the Church’s engagement with the secular enlightenment through papal initiatives for religious and more secular reforms that had a direct impact on the visual arts, the sciences, and many facets of culture. A remarkable range and variety of such projects are studied in a broader cultural context, including fascinating subjects such as the pope’s coffeehouse in the Palazzo del Quirinale, the founding of the Capitoline Museum, the restoration of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, and the cult of the saints, to name but a few. In this lucidly written and richly researched book, Christopher Johns re-creates a complex historical fabric through the interweaving of art and culture during a period when Rome was the epicenter of the Grand Tour and Enlightenment Europe. The Visual Culture of Catholic Enlightenment should find a prominent and permanent place on the shelf of every student and scholar of eighteenth-century European visual culture.”

—Dorothy Johnson, University of Iowa