Reviews for Catholica : the visual culture of Catholicism

Publishers Weekly
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Expertly distilling two millennia of Catholic art into one invigorating cultural survey, historian Ivanic (Cosmos and Materiality in Early Modern Prague) glides from the 4th century to the present day to elucidate how Christian iconography has penetrated “visual environments” around the world. In addition to the many Madonnas one might expect to see, pious imagery, church altars, shrines, stained glass, and sacred jewelry are offered up as both works of art to be revered and rich documents of the attitudes and values of their eras—tattoos featuring the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, for instance, reflect a contemporary method of using one’s body as a canvas for individual devotion. Particularly engrossing is Ivanic’s scrupulous “decoding” of spiritual symbolism that pervades everything from the intricate flourishes of cathedral facades to street murals and secular paintings, as when she gives Where’s Waldo–esque treatment to the biblical figures evoked throughout Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Procession to Calvary (1564). Underlying the wonder of these diverse works is the tension caused by the Bible’s admonition against idolatry (indeed, Puritans would have been aghast at the splendor on display here). However, as Ivanic underscores, this artistic transgression gave rise to some of “the most glorious, inspiring, and uplifting masterpieces of humanity.” Art connoisseurs will be mesmerized by this sumptuous and superbly written guide. (May)