A piece of Venice in Denver

How did the Venetian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries influence the history of art? By simply observing the exhibition “The Glory of Venice” at the Denver Art Museum, the viewer can get an answer to this question.

Entering the hall located on the first floor of the Hamilton Building feels like being in the floating city of northern Italy.

The curators of this exhibition filled the room very well with colors, paintings, a video and baroque background music, transporting viewers through time and space and allowing them to travel through art to the themes that inspired artists like Giovanni Bellini, Tiziano, Marco Bassati and Vittore Carpaccio, among others.

In those times, Venice stood in a moment of chaos and uncertainty over military actions to protect its economic interests. It was also at that time a center of commerce where travelers found all kinds of goods. It was in this context that the artists of these periods, called Quattrocento and Cinquecento, managed to develop a distinctive Renaissance style in which they used light and color on the canvas to make outstanding pieces, through the definition and construction of the volumes and the forms of their compositions.

The exhibition also shows the great affection of the Venetians to the Virgin Mary. It should be noted that Venice was founded on March 25, the day on which the church celebrates the solemnity of the Annunciation – Incarnation. The spectator can contemplate the different works in which Mary is shown with the Child Jesus.

Many paintings in this exhibition show how Venetian art is influenced by the reflection of the changing skies over the city’s canals, as well as the refined designs present in this architecture, rich in textures, small details and mosaics.

 

The genius of Bellini

Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Venetian art took a turn due to the monumental works that were marked by the artist Giovanni Bellini.

Bellini, a teacher who was also called “El Gambiellino,” was born in 1435 and died in 1516. He presented a novelty in his paintings. In his work he excels at spiritual sensitivity, especially in the face’s expressions and in that art of conjugating the sacred with the terrestrial, integrating in the same landscape the spirituality of the religious figures with the environment, in which the minimal details stand out.

 

Before Bellini, religious paintings were icons with infinite backgrounds. Bellini, without removing the sacredness of the characters, was able to paint landscapes where the earthly reality could be seen in tandem with the reality in which they lived.

It also shows the same God who becomes man in a concrete reality and thus recreates the scenery of his works with a very natural environment.

The Denver Art Museum succeeds in bringing a piece of Venice to Colorado, and the exhibition allows viewers to revel in the creativity and harmony that became these artist’s legacy in the history of universal art.

The exhibition will be open until Feb. 12. For further information, go to

http://denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/glory-venice

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.