History / Nonfiction

Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill

Cahill’s latest offering is the sixth installment in the “Hinges of History” series that began in 1995.  Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World reads like an upper-level European history lecture class.  It is definitely not for readers unfamiliar with the major artistic, political and religious figures of the time period.  Cahill displays an amazing breadth (if not depth) of knowledge on the topics.  He often references his other books and frequently comments that the topics treated could each have a complete book written about them.  His thesis of sorts is that European sensibilities shifted from a Platonic/Augustianian outlook to a more Aristotelian/Aquinine outlook.  This is reflected in the works of many contemporary artists such as Botticello, Caravaggio, Durer and Bruegher.  Cahill analyzes pieces of Renaissance art in great detail and provides accompanying illustrations of them.  Complementing his art history lecture is a study of the Reformation.  Cahill discusses Luther, Erasmus, Zwingli and Calvin, et al, and pits them against the various popes and church officials who sought to stop the movement.  The reader cringes at the inherent turmoil between Catholic and Protestant, and among the Protestants, as everyone sought to promulgate their version of the truth.  Numerous tortures, beheadings  and burnings are described, and it is this gruesome reality that the artwork reflects.  Lest the reader conclude the book in a foul mood, Cahill decides to end on a high note by profiling authors and artists (e.g. Cervantes, Shakespeare, Donne and Rembrandt) who aren’t defined by religion.

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