The Surge of Religious Polychrome Sculptures in the Golden Age of Spain as Vivid Artistic Reponses to the Call of the Counter Reformation

Student: Samantha Tromba
Major: Art History
Minor: Education
Advisors: Dr. Tracy Cosgriff, John Siewert

Samantha TrombaThis research investigates the emergence of Spanish polychrome sculptures following the Counter Reformation and Council of Trent; specifically, how they were able to create a bridge between heaven and earth through intense realism, likeness, presence, empathetic sentiments, and theatricality. Due to the scholarly overlook, there were extensive gaps in literature that I strived to fill in my research. I hoped to examine the way in which these polychrome sculptures served as a form of relic to the Spanish people and how they were able to hold the divine presence of the holy figures being depicted. I argue that these religious artifacts allowed for the sacred to communicate directly to humanity through artistic depictions, and to move both the skeptical and faithful to greater devotion. Therefore, my project examines the ways in which these images presented the invisible aspects of the Christian faith into a visible reality through fine artistic craftmanship and divine intersession.

Samantha will be online to field comments on May 8:
4-6pm EDT (PST 1pm-3pm, Africa/Europe: late evening)

55 thoughts on “The Surge of Religious Polychrome Sculptures in the Golden Age of Spain as Vivid Artistic Reponses to the Call of the Counter Reformation”

  1. Congrats, Sam!! So proud of you, this is an interesting topic and you did a wonderful job!!

    1. Thank you so much Brooke! I am so grateful for our time together at Wooster, hope you are doing well!

  2. Congratulations on this wonderful project, Sam! I’m very proud of your work!

    1. Professor Cosgriff,

      Thank you so much for your guidance throughout this entire project. I couldn’t have done it without you! I am forever grateful to have had such an amazing advisor during my time at Wooster. Thank you for everything!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it was very interesting to see how many sculptures were placed in the art museums in Spain (in comparison to those that are housed in churches and private chapels). The fact that most of these images have been present in churches and private chapels since the 16th and 17th centuries, has most likely been one of the main reasons for the limited amount of research done by art historians.

  3. Sam!!

    Hi Sam. An awesome thing about your project is that it incorporates three of your favorite things: art, museums, and your faith. I know how important these things are to you, so to see them all mesh together into this great thesis makes it all the more special! My question to you is, if there was a piece of advice that you wish you would’ve had before taking IS, what would it be?

    1. Hi Rach!

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, it was such an amazing experience for me. Before beginning my I.S, I wish I would have known a little more about formatting and the best way to do so while writing my thesis. It was very difficult to bring things together toward the end, making sure that the formatting is perfect. However, I do not have any other complaints about the process. I believe that I stayed on schedule the entire year, which helped me to not feel pressured or stressed before completion.

  4. After spending time in Spain, were you able to interview many about their religious activity? I have found that the cathedrals were mainly empty except for religious holidays. Did you find that to be true as well? Thank you for sharing your project-it was very interesting. Bien hecho. Felicitaciones.

    1. Hi Joyce,

      Thank you for your comment! While studying in Spain I was able to go to daily mass at the churches and Sevilla cathedral. There were 16 churches within a mile! Thus, the faithful had a lot of options of where to attend mass or pray. The day that I arrived in Sevilla was the Feast of the Epiphany, which is a Christian feast day celebrating the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus. The streets were packed with people and there is often times a procession/parade. Therefore, the churches are usually more crowded on Christian feast days (Holy Week is the largest). I also had the chance to speak with some of the residents of Sevilla and they explained how powerful and popular the Holy Week processions are. The religious imagery and sacred relics are also very well known by the people of Sevilla. People during the Golden Age would have also had particular devotions to these religious artifacts, as they were frequently processed throughout the streets (momentarily closing the gap between heaven and earth). I hope this answers your question!

      1. Yes, thank you. Best wishes in your future. (I am Koral’s mom and a Spanish teacher!)

  5. CONGRATS SAM!! I am so proud of you and your hard work throughout the year. Your future is so bright and I am so excited for you! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Ken! Thank you for being such a great friend and teammate!

  6. Hi Sam
    Well done! Religious sculptures have helped strengthen the faith of so many for centuries, and especially with that specific style found in Spain. Is there much need for restoration, or do they hold up well over the years?

    1. Hi Maureen,

      Thank you so much! From my understanding, most of the sculptures have held up relatively well over the years. Although, several images have been touched up with a few layers of paint. As for the condition of the sculptures themselves, they seemed to have stayed intact pretty well. While studying in Spain I would closely examine the sculptures and they seemed in very good shape, they still serve as such a powerful devotional tool!

    1. Thanks Meg!! Loved our time together this year at Wooster and wish you the best of luck during the rest of your time there!

  7. Sam,

    Amazing work, my friend! I was just wondering how you think your trip to Spain influenced your project? How would your project have been different if you had not gone? Aside from observing the art itself, did your trip add any other elements to your project?

    1. Thank you my friend! If I had not travelled to Sevilla, I would not have had the information that I needed to bring this project together. It was on the trip that I matured as a scholar and writer. After viewing these images in person, I was able to bring in my own ideas while pulling all of my arguments and chapters together.

  8. Congratulations on putting your I.S. into such a clear and concise presentation, Sam! Great work!

    1. Professor Siewert,

      Thank you so much for all of your guidance and curiosity as my second reader, I am forever grateful!

  9. Congratulations! Your excellent presentation opened my eyes to new ways of looking at and understanding religious sculptures, particularly from different places and eras. I hope you will continue your research in years to come. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Don, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I hope to travel to other parts of Europe and continue examining this topic in the future.

  10. Awesome work Sam! You have a really interesting subject and I’m glad that you had the opportunity to visit Spain and look at these artifacts up close! Believe it or not, St. Peter’s Church in Mansfield is built in the Spanish Renaissance style! Good job on your work!

    1. Thank you Izzy! Yes, I always loved going to mass at St. Pete’s because I would feel so moved by the artwork. It is beautiful! I am grateful to have had you as a friend at Wooster and hope to see you again soon!

  11. Exciting project, Sam!
    It was great to work with you in the Hebrew Scriptures course. I wish you the best as you are beginning the next chapter of your life journey!

    1. Thank you so much Professor Park! I enjoyed being in your class and having you as a professor at Wooster!

    1. Thanks Noelle! I am forever grateful to have had you as a friend and roommate at Wooster. I hope to see you again soon!

  12. Interesting and thought provoking presentation – sculptures as visual reminders of faith and hope.
    Congratulations Sam!!

  13. Hey Sam! Congrats on finishing this project after so much hard work! I love how you incorporated your own experiences into your study. I am proud of you and can’t wait to see what the future holds for you!

    1. Thank you Kylie! I am so grateful to have had you as a friend and teammate this year, I know you will do great things the rest of your time at Wooster!

  14. Samantha
    I hope you are beaming with pride today, I know Dad and I are! To hear your narrative brings me such joy. Your love of art, travel and religion shine through every word! My wish is that you return to Spain one day to explore more of these incredible sculptures, maybe even a trip during Holy Week. These memories will shape your spiritual journey! Congratulations on a job well done!

    1. Thank you so much Mom!! I hope to eventually return to Spain and travel to other parts of Europe to further this research. Thank you for your love and support throughout this project and my time at Wooster!

  15. Congratulations, Samantha! Your presentation was very interesting. What is next for you? Do you have any other areas of interest you’d like to research in the future?

    1. Thank you so much! I have recently moved out to the Seattle area and hope to teach in the local schools or have a job in campus ministry/leadership in the archdiocese of Seattle. In the future, I hope to travel to other parts of Europe and compare the artwork from the sixteenth-and-seventeenth centuries from what I had seen in Sevilla. I would also like to travel back to Spain and experience a Holy Week procession, so that I can fully understand its spiritual abilities! I have always been passionate about religious artwork and would love to explore more areas of research down the road.

  16. Hi Sam! This is an amazing project! Thank you for sharing! Similar to Marina’s question, I’m also wondering about the impact your trip to Spain had on your project? If you had unlimited time and resources, would you have visited sculptures in other countries? If so, which ones and where? Miss you!

    1. Thanks Wav! If I had not travelled to Sevilla, I would not have had the information that I needed to bring this project together. It was on the trip that I matured as a scholar and writer. After viewing these images in person, I was able to bring in my own ideas while pulling all of my arguments and chapters together. Yes, I would have loved to visit other areas in Spain! I studied several pieces from Madrid, I wish I had more time to visit there. It would also be interesting to travel to other parts of Europe and compare the artwork from the sixteenth-and-seventeenth centuries from what I had seen in Sevilla. Miss you too!

  17. Samantha,
    I am so proud of you for the hard work and dedication that you put into your I.S. Project and your presentation over your time at Wooster! I’m also glad I got to personally see the hard work, passion, and love you put into this experience on our amazing journey to Spain. I will always cherish the memories of our trip and the visits to the Seville Cathedral and all of the surrounding Catholic Churches. Wow! The Spiritual impact of the art, the trip and your work will forever be in my heart. Congratulations and may God Bless you today and always!

    1. Thank you so much Dad!! I am forever grateful to have had you with me on the trip to Sevilla, I couldn’t have done it without you. As I look back, I realize how powerful and spiritually moving that trip was. It was one of the best times that I have ever had and I will always remember it. Thank you for your love and support during my time at Wooster!

  18. Hi Samantha–it was great to learn about this fascinating topic! I have two questions, which may be outside the scope of your research, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. First, your description of the making, copying, and devotional use of the sculptures reminded me of icons in the eastern church. Was this tradition a source or a relevant analogue? Second, I know that similar polychrome sculptures were common in New Spain and what is now the American southwest. Did you consider the process and experience of colonization as a factor in the development of and/or responses to this art form? Thanks so much, and congratulations!

    1. Thank you Professor Eager! Yes, the devotional use of icons in the eastern church is relatively similar. Reproductions of icons were often known to carry the same miraculous power of the original, as were the prints/copies of the sculptures from the Golden Age of Spain. These reproductions would have been more accessible for those wanting private devotion towards the depiction of the divine entity. It has been said that St. Luke created the first portrait/icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout the course of history, this image was replicated and further linked to the original icon. These depictions were to recreate that authenticity of the original.

      Colonization also played an important role in spreading the faith and the Word of God to indigenous communities. This was in response to the rapid increase of conversions to Christianity in central Mexico. The earliest known Holy Week procession in the Hispanic world took place near the Franciscan monastery of San Miguel in central Mexico nearly two centuries after the recorded procession in a fourth century manuscript. This new tradition was a result of the Franciscan evangelization movement in Spain. Thank you for your questions and curiosity!

  19. Sam,
    As a Spanish major who traveled to Spain while in Wooster, I found your presentation fascinating! I saw many of the sculptures you studied during the Holy Week processions in Córdoba, but never got the opportunity to learn about their specific significance. Thank you for sharing your research! Congratulations on your graduation!

    1. Hi Ann,
      Thank you so much! I am glad you had the opportunity to see some of these beautiful sculptures. I hope to eventually visit other areas of Spain (like Córdoba) and further my research!

  20. Congrats on a great IS Sam! I’m so happy you got to bring your two greatest passions -your faith and art – together in your IS. It’s really awesome that you were able to travel to Spain to study the sculptures with your dad. I’m sure he enjoyed the time away with you as well! I am very proud of you all your accomplishments at Wooster!

    1. Thank you so much Coach! I am forever grateful for my experiences at Wooster (including COW Softball) and will cherish those memories forever!

  21. Samantha
    This is a wonderful presentation Of your IS project! It shows your dedication and devotion to your faith. We are so proud of you and all your accomplishments throughout your years at Wooster.
    May God Bless you with a successful future filled with love and happiness.

    1. Thank you so much Nana and Papa, I’m glad you enjoyed it! As always, thank you for your love and support throughout my four years at Wooster.

  22. Great job Sam!! Congrats on finishing your I.S. Wishing nothing but the best for you in the future!!

  23. Great job, Sam! You put in so much hard work and I am so happy you were able to expand your project with your trip to Spain. I am so excited for you and can’t wait to see what you achieve! Congratulations!

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