Art: Labyrinth of Kitsch

For centuries it was a habit of Popes to collect modern religious art. Up to the papacy of Urban VIII, who gave Bernini carte blanche to transform the face of Rome, the Vatican had a use for the best art of its time: magnificence as propaganda. The results, strung through exhausting miles of galleries and culminating in Raphael's stanze and Michelangelo's Sistine frescoes, fill the Vatican Museum. But this lofty tradition of patronage ebbed away, and by 1900 most official religious art was stranded in a sludge of gaudy plaster piety. With the...

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