In the mid-1500s, the Catholic Church was in crisis. The Protestant Reformation had prompted a mass exodus from the faith in northern Europe. Catholic leaders responded with reforms of their own—the Counter-Reformation—including the promise of a more personal spirituality. To spread the word, the Church turned to artists.
Painters and sculptors in Italy and Spain obliged with stirring emotional scenes that the faithful could relate to on a personal level, such as Mary nursing the baby Jesus, or Christ contorting in agony on the cross. Their energetic compositions seem to spill from their borders, engulfing viewers in the action. Christ is no distant savior, these dramatic works suggest. He is right there among the viewers, feeling the pain of being human.
16th Century European