The Idol in the Age of Art: Objects, Devotions and the Early Modern World, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Idol in the Age of Art

Objects, Devotions and the Early Modern World, 1st Edition

Edited by Michael W. Cole, Rebecca Zorach


384 pages

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Hardback: 9780754652908
pub: 2009-02-24
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After 1500, as Catholic Europe fragmented into warring sects, evidence of a pagan past came newly into view, and travelers to distant places encountered deeply unfamiliar visual cultures, it became ever more pressing to distinguish between the sacred image and its opposite, the 'idol'. Historians and philosophers have long attended to Reformation charges of idolatry - the premise for image-breaking - but only very recently have scholars begun to consider the ways that the idol occasioned the making no less than the destruction. The present book focuses on how idols and ideas about them matter for the history of early modern objects produced around the globe, especially those created in the context of an exchange or confrontation between an 'us' and a 'them'. Ranging widely within the early modern period, the volume contributes to the project of globalizing the study of European art, bringing the continent's commercial, colonial, antiquarian, and religious histories into dialogue. Its studies of crosses, statues on columns, wax ex-votos, ivories, prints, maps, manuscripts, fountains, banners, and New World gold all frame Western 'art' simultaneously as an idea and as a collection of real things, arguing that it was through the idol that object-makers and writers came to terms with what it was that art should be, and do.


’… both convincing and well illustrated … this book deserves to be commended as a highly creative stimulus to our thinking on the period.’ Art and Christianity

’The volume provides a wide range of fascinating case studies from a multitude of cultural contexts, a rich diversity of visual records and numerous reproductions.’ Print Quarterly

’On the whole, this is a well-edited, useful, and stimulating collection of papers that explore the range of meaning of the idol between the poles of art and religious cult in the modern era.’ Catholic Historical Review

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction, Michael W. Cole and Rebecca Zorach; Capricious arts: idols in Renaissance-era Africa and Europe (the case of Sapi and Kongo), Suzanne Preston Blier; Reforming idols and viewing history in Pieter Saenredam's Perspectives, Celeste Brusati; Perpetual exorcism in Sistine Rome, Michael W. Cole; The golden calf in America, Thomas Cummins; The grotesque idol: imaginary, symbolic and real, Claire Farago and Carol Komadina Parenteau; The shadow of the wolf: the survival of an ancient god in the frescoes of the Strozzi chapel (S. Maria Novella, Florence) or Filippino Lippi’s reflection on image, idol and art, Philine Helas and Gerhard Wolf; Ex-votos: materiality, memory, and cult, Megan Holmes; Ad fontes: iconoclasm by water in the Reformation world, Donald A. McColl; 'Nor my praise to graven images': divine artifice and the heart's idols in Georg Mack the Elder's painted print of The Trinity, Walter S. Melion; Idolatry and Western-inspired painting in Japan, Mia M. Mochizuki; Creaturely-invented letters and dead Chinese idols, Dawn Odell; Full of grace: 'Mariolatry' in post-Reformation Germany, Larry Silver; Meditation, idolatry, mathematics: the printed image in Europe around 1500, Rebecca Zorach. Index.

About the Editors

Michael W. Cole is Professor of Art History and Chair of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, USA.

Rebecca Zorach is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago.

About the Series

St Andrews Studies in Reformation History

With the publication of its 100th book in 2012, the St Andrews Studies in Reformation Studies series celebrated an impressive publishing achievement. Since its establishment in 1995 the series has consistently offered high-quality, innovative and thought-provoking research in the field of early modern religious history. By encouraging authors to adopt a broad and inclusive interpretation of ’Reformation’, the resultant publications have done much to help shape current interdisciplinary interpretations of early-modern religion, expanding attention far beyond narrow theological concerns. Each title within the series has added to a body of international research showing how the ripples of the Reformation spread to virtually every corner of European society, both Protestant and Catholic, and often beyond. From family life, education, literature, music, art and philosophy, to political theory, international relations, economics, colonial ventures, science and military matters, there were few aspects of life that remained untouched in some way by the spirit of religious reform. As well as widening conceptions of the Reformation, the series has for the last fifteen years provided a publishing outlet for work, much of it by new and up-and-coming scholars who might otherwise have struggled to find an international platform for their work. Alongside these monographs, a complementary selection of edited volumes, critical editions of important primary sources, bibliographical studies and new translations of influential Reformation works previously unavailable to English speaking scholars, adds further depth to the topic. By offering this rich mix of approaches and topics, the St Andrews series continues to offer scholars an unparalleled platform for the publication of international scholarship in a dynamic and often controversial area of historical study.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General