Framing the sinful body: The Jesuit art of confessionals in the Southern Netherlands, 1607-1690
The project explores the profound reshaping of penitential practices brought about by the introduction of confessionals in the Southern Netherlands, following the implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trent. The research will be mainly concerned with the monumental rows of confessionals commissioned by the Society of Jesus in the seventeenth-century Southern Netherlands and will assess the impact of their material and artistic qualities on religious piety, addressing an almost unexplored chapter in the history of Counter-Reformation art. The increasing demand for these completely new sacramental objects fostered an industry whereby woodcarvers were confronted with an unprecedented kind of commission, for which they had to devise artistic inventions complying with the restrictive conditions of sacramental penance. Particular attention will therefore be drawn to the transactions between the Jesuit Order and the craftsmen involved in the production of confessionals, in order to relate elements of design to specific liturgical requirements. By combining architectural surveys with archival sources, the research aims to delineate the modality and the frequency of use of confessionals in their historical context, thereby reconstructing the laity’s response to these newly invented architectural devices. The investigation intends to revise the commonly held assumption that confessionals contributed to the privatisation of penance, to demonstrate that they were also elements of a public performance following a precise organisational procedure.