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Home | Centuries | The 16th century - Protestants in the arts and letters – Literature in the 16th century | The Protestants in the arts and letters
The Protestants in the arts and letters
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As from the middle of the 16th century, Protestantism manifests new norms of aesthetics. According to Calvin, God created the world « paré d'ornements qui le rendent admirable » (adorned with beautifying ornaments) and forms of art that transmit this beauty is a « don digne de louange » ( a gift worthy of praise).

But the Reformation mistrusted « carved images » or painted ones as being potential objects of idolatry, and insisted on moderation, austerity, and realism.

The fine arts

As far as architecture is concerned, very few places of worship were built before the Edict of Nantes (1598). But those that were all presented characteristics of a new style.

The notion of a single space and the abolishment of any separation between one area for worshippers and another area reserved for the clergy imposed an all encompassing space, similar to that of civil or rural buildings.

This aimed at a closer proximity between preacher and congregation as well as an improved diffusion of the spoken word and of light.

The Protestant Salomon Brosse (1571-1626), is known for his main work of art, the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. He built the Charenton Reformed church in 1621. It was a rectangular building with wide openings, and tribunes all around. Many Protestant churches in Europe were built on the same pattern. However the Charenton church was destroyed at the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

In painting and sculpture, the influence of a faith based on the reading of God's word and on a personal relation to one's Lord - without the mediation of the Virgin, the saints or the clergy - was made manifest only in the second quarter of the 17th century.

Go to top Music : the favourite form of artistic expression of the reformed faith

Reformed inspiration appeared very early in music, as singing seemed the ideal expression of the new faith.

By 1535Luther had composed no less than 36 chorales and thus expressed a new spirituality. Influenced by Calvin, the poet Clément Marot and the reformer Théodore de Bèze translated the Psalms of the Bible into French. The melodies were at first quite similar to old German folk-songs. However, musicians such as Clément Janequin (around 1549) and Claude Goudimel (around 1566) composed harmonisations. The latter emphasized the value of the text and the Psalms were to be the rallying songs of the Reformed faith.

Go to top Literature : an original and varied contribution

Calvin was the first French writer to use a so-called classical language based on that of the Bible and devoid of florid vocabulary. He was consequently considered one of the great 16th century authors.

However, it was mainly in the poetry of the second half of the 16th century that a specifically Reformed artistic inspiration appeared : examples include in Clément Marot's above-mentioned translations of David's Psalms, or the heroic works of Agrippa d'Aubigné (1552-1630) that depict the horrors of religious wars as in his major work les Tragiques published between 1577 and 1623, or again the numerous poems of Guillaume du Bartas (1544-1590) based on the Old Testament.

But Protestant literature also featured secular subjects, such as love poems by Jean de Sponde (1557-1595) or treatises of « practical literature », such as Agriculture et Ménage des champs (Agriculture and field management) by Olivier de Serres (1539-1619) or the Traité de chirurgie pratique (Treatise of practical surgery) by Ambroise Paré (1509-1590).

COTTIN, Jérôme, Le regard et la parole. Une théologie protestante de l'image, Labor et Fides, Genève, 1994
Related articles
In this collection
Agrippa d'Aubigné (1552-1630)
Charenton (Val de Marne)
Claude Goudimel (about 1520 to 1572)
Clément Marot (1496-1544)
Guillaume Du Bartas (1544-1590)
Jean Calvin (1509-1564)
Jean de Sponde (1557-1595)
Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)
Ambroise Paré (1509-1590)
Olivier de Serres (1539-1619)
Salomon de Brosse (1571-1626)
Other collections
Charenton (Val de Marne) Themes
Agrippa d'Aubigné (1552-1630) Themes
Claude Goudimel (about 1520 to 1572) Works
Clément Marot (1496-1544) Themes
Guillaume Du Bartas (1544-1590) Themes
Jean Calvin (1509-1564) Themes
Jean de Sponde (1557-1595) Themes
Olivier de Serres (1539-1619) Themes
Salomon de Brosse (1571-1626) Themes Works
Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605) Themes
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