In The Visual Culture of Catholic Enlightenment Christopher Johns addresses the reforming impulse of the Catholic Church in the middle decades of the eighteenth century and its impact on art and visual culture, broadly defined. Until relatively recently, most scholars considered the notion of a Catholic Enlightment either oxymoronic or illusory, since received wisdom was that the Catholic Church was a tireless and indefatigable enemy of modernist progress. According to Johns, however, the eighteenth-century Papacy recognized many of the advantages of engaging certain aspects of enlightenment thinking and many in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, both in Italy and abroad, were sincerely interested in making the Church more relevant in the modern world and, above all, in reforming the various institutions that governed society. Johns presents the visual culture of papal Rome as a major change agent in the cause of Catholic enlightenment while assessing its continuing links to tradition. The Visual Culture of Catholic Enlightenment sheds substantial light on the relationship between eighteenth-century Roman society and visual culture and the role of religion in both.
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