Jeanmichel Leniaud

A little-known body of architecture: an overview

In their studies of early modern architecture, art historians have not been unduly concerned with questions of quantity. Yet it is clear that the shear number of religious constructions built in Europe after the middle of the sixteenth century was considerable, and that with the exception of urban and rural housing, there was probably no area of architectural activity more dynamic than the construction of places of worship. During much of this period Europe came to resemble one immense church construction site. Yet this expansion cannot be explained solely by the growth or mobility of the population, nor by the earlier destruction of churches through acts of violence, nor even by the deterioration of the stock of existing medieval churches. It was due rather to the state of religion which emerged from the Reformation. On the one hand, new denominations had particular liturgical requirements that meant they were no longer content to adapt the churches of the Middle Ages: they had to build new ones. And on the other, the Catholic Reformation's assimilation of elements of both humanism and the Protestant Reformation led to a reappraisal of needs for liturgy, architecture, and decor. Moreover, Catholic renewal led to new forms of spirituality and pastoral activities and subsequently to the founding of numerous religious orders, all of which required the construction of chapels for their communities.

In addition to the significant quantitative increase in construction, church building in this period was marked by an unprecedented involvement of political authority. This was a result of the strong new relationship which developed in Europe of the period between states and national churches - a relationship that entailed both restoration and modernization for the states and protection for the national churches. To a certain degree, the civil administrations came to assume the powers ofthe ecclesiastical authorities, or at least to intervene in their affairs. Thus, for example, in France the crown involved itself

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