Between reality and symbol : the historical interpretation of (Baroque) depictions of purgatory
Hayes, Kathleen (Translator of Summary)
Source document: Opuscula historiae artium. 2009, vol. 53, iss. F53, pp. -82
ISSN1211-7390 (print)2336-4467 (online)
License: Not specified license
This article on purgatory in Baroque art is the outcome of collaboration between a historian and an art historian. It treats depictions of purgatory from without (as medium, symbol, iconographic type), as well as from within (as means of expression, which are set in a broader context of communication and perception). Purgatory was a theme determined by religion and thus invites reflections on the role of art as a medium of the Counter Reformation. -- Given that the purgatory theme functioned as a means of religious self-definition and teaching, the message of the painting and its intelligibility for the contemporary recipient were key. The study therefore considers: -- 1) the visualization of physical and spiritual categories (the depiction of suffering, pain, mercy); -- 2) the use of symbols and iconographic schemes (these were most often concerned with the two basic subjects of the purgatory theme: Christ's sacrifice as the premise for the functioning of purgatory, and the overall context of the salvation of man as represented, for example, in symbols of transience, eternity, purification and suffering, victory over death); -- 3) the two basic levels of communication in an artwork: communication "in the painting" and communication "through the painting"; -- 4) points of intersection between visual art and literature (the setting and form of purgatory in literature and art; the nature of suffering in purgatory and the presence of devils and other figures; the stratification of souls in purgatory; revenants/souls returning, etc.). -- Purgatory was a theme that evoked a range of emotions (sorrow, regret, horror, pain, solace). A picture of this sort was an effective means of encouraging compassionate meditation in people who were unable to read religious treatises. In this respect, the vast number of religious (meditation) handbooks played an important role; they provided a close connection between image and text and thus offered "instructions" for the reader on how to "read" these depictions. The paintings thus helped believers to concentrate and meditate.