Church Architecture in the Age of Reason: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Worship in 18th-Century ‘Europe’

The design of churches was a highly charged topic in eighteenth Century Europe. Classicism emerged as the dominant architectural style, competing with traditional ways of building, while confessional struggles deeply divided Christianity. If the spread of Classicism has received ample attention in historiography and some researchers have examined the impact of confessional debates on church design, the extensive body of religious and philosophical literature of the period touching upon the church building has so far received little study. This body encompasses learned treatises on church history and Christian archaeology but also texts that were aimed at a wider and more variegated audience, such as theological treatises dealing with issues of sacredness and idolatry, books on meditation and devotion as well as works concerned with ethics and aesthetics, human passions, cognition and the world of forms. New approaches to ethics and aesthetics played an important role in the conceptualisation and perception of religious art and architecture from the sixteenth until the eighteenth century. This project aims to examine the concepts and ideas that relate church building to human passions and devotion as they have largely escaped the attention of historians of architecture so far. Moreover, it wants to examine views of this relation between church architecture, devotion and human passions were exchanged across Europe. In so doing, it also hopes to clarify the influence of confessional differences on church design.

Funded by the FWO

Project of Anne-Françoise Morel