Counter Reformation

The Baroque period is often regarded as an era that commenced with the Counter Reformation and culminated with massive revolutions that swept throughout the Americas and continental Europe. While most scholars are still divided whether this period was the last stage of the Renaissance and the start of the modern period, the Baroque came to be as a form of response by the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation that has been initiated by Martin Luther. To gain a proper understanding of the Baroque period, this paper will consider The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gianlorenzo Bernini and the manner in which this religious art was used as propaganda to attract more people to the Catholic Church and its dogmas.

The art created during the Baroque era were meant to entice people in the southern parts of Europe to join the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church took advantage of the culture of display in the South to use art as a way of evoking emotions states of its residents by alluring to their senses.[1] This concept is well brought out in The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa which was created in a dramatic manner that was more likely to portray vitality, sensuous richness, emotional exuberance, grandeur, and drama.[2] Given that art created in Northern Europe was more restrained and ascetic, the Catholic Church took advantage of its appealing pieces of art to capture the attention of those in the south and to draw them to the church.

By painting one of the most famous saints of Counter Reformation, Bernini allowed the Catholic Church to capture the attention of hundreds of believers in South Europe. Teresa of Avila was famed for her writings in Life where she tells of her experiences about seeing visions and hearing voices.[3] The Saint was also known for her vision in which an angel of God appeared to her. In line with her ecstatic and sexual recount of Christian mysticism that was contained in her text, Bernini used his art to capture her blissful moment. In her texts, Teresa states that the angel pierced her heart with a long golden spear whose sharp pain made her utter a number of moans and which were so excessive that she did not wish to love it.[4] As a Carmelite nun that had taken the vow to remain chaste, Teresa clearly understood that religious sentiments were contained in the body. Thus, in his painting, Bernini sought to capture her ecstatic moment in an orgasmic visual term. By portraying her as such, Bernini ensured that even the illiterate members of the congregation could easily understand the Godly and spiritual sentiments that accompany one’s decision to be content with God and the teachings of the Church.

By recognizing that most of the Christians were illiterate, the Catholic Church used visual arts was means of attracting worshippers. Initially, the Catholic Church was focused on maintaining decorum in its paintings by ensuring that they did not portray any element of nudity, eroticism, or heretical incorrectness.[5] The Church also sought to ensure that nothing from the real life could be used to distract or diminish the uplifting image that was associated with the denomination. However, the onset of the Baroque during the Counter Reformation proved to be an important element in attracting worshippers to the Catholic Church. Given that most of the worshippers were uneducated, the priests saw the need to take advantage of the visual arts to reach out to the masses rather than depending on printed texts.[6] According to the Catholic fathers, the key objective of religious art was to inspire and teach the Christians and to act as propaganda against the Protestants. While the religious art was considered to be realistic and intelligible, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa was meant to act as a form of emotional stimulus to the masses.

Unlike in the Counter Reformation era, propaganda in the contemporary society refers to the spreading of wrongful information with the sole intent of diminishing one’s reputation. During the Baroque era, propaganda referred to the use of art by the Catholic Church to spread, or propagate, faith. Today, propaganda is used as a way of tainting one’s image, reputation, and character. For example, an article that states that the Ebora virus was a means used by the United States to eradicate the African population is propaganda meant to taint the American reputation to the other countries. As a result of such insinuations, other countries may be afraid to purchase health products and vaccines from the United States out of the fear that they might cause harm to their populations.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gianlorenzo Bernini is a religious art was used as propaganda by the Catholic Church to attract Christians. At the time, the Catholic Church was quite popular in South Europe, which was the center of Counter Reformation. Towards the north, capitalism and Protestantism were on the rise. As a result, the Baroque era art was used as a way of distinguishing the Catholic Church from Martin Luther’s ideologies that were increasingly being embraced by the Protestants. Thus, the Baroque era gave rise to greatly divergent art that was fashioned for the Catholic Church.











Arnason, Harvard. History of modern art, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012.

Khan Academy. Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Accessed September 27, 2017,

The Art Institute of Chicago. Art access: Renaissance and the Baroque art. Accessed September 27, 2017,

[1] Harvard H. Arnason, History of modern art, 7th ed (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012), 35.

[2] Ibid, 39

[3] Khan Academy, Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, accessed September 27, 2017,


[4] Ibid, 2017

[5] The Art Institute of Chicago, Art access: Renaissance and the Baroque art, accessed September 27, 2017,

[6] Ibid, 2017


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