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Reviewed by:
  • Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque
  • Brendan Dooley
Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque. By Evonne Levy (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004) 309 pp. $55.00

This book contains moments of acute art-historical analysis—for instance, the description, though brief, of the iconographical schemes of Andrea Pozzo's frescoes in the church of St. Ignatius (150–160), of the Jesuit convent in Rome (134–150), and of Pozzo's design for the St. Ignatius chapel in the church of the Gesù (88–109, 160–178). It also has a short but careful analysis of the iconographical tradition of St. Ignatius, as well as a fleeting appreciation of the spread of Jesuit church design from Rome to Poland (195–232). But Levy subordinates this research to a larger methodological claim.

She begins this study of the Jesuit baroque with a quotation from Adolf Hitler and ends with the current controversy over the preservation of Nazi architecture in Berlin. The more general connection between past and present is exemplified by the early juxtaposition of two images (3)—Albert Speer's project for the great hall of the Nazi regime and Carlo Maderno's façade of the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. Eventually, the intent of such juxtapositions is fully revealed: "The work of art as propaganda is transparent, invisible, pointing incessantly to its faulty god (Nazism, Fascism, Jesuitism, in short, ideology)" (70). Hence, the two monuments, modern and early modern, are not similar; they are the same. Similitude, presumably, is the intention once again when the expression "culture of the Corporation," referring to the Jesuits, slips into the popular oxymoron "corporate culture" (77).

An important criterion for evaluating an art historical (or any other) theory is whether it advances our understanding and appreciation of the objects to which it applies. In this case, the question is, Does the modern notion of propaganda help to illuminate projects completed generally under the auspices of the Jesuits in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries? According to the version that provides the organizing principle of the substantive portion of this book, in order for a propagandistic "message" to function, it must be "diffused" by a "propagandist." In the modern world, that task might fall to, say, a network of partisan radio stations; in the early modern world, however, the network was not so simple. Not all "Jesuit" architectural designs were imposed by "the Jesuits." Some designs, including one by Jacopo da Vignola, were imposed by others—in this case, by Pope Paul III's grandson Cardinal Antonio Farnese—at the expense of a Jesuit architect. Who was the supposed "propagandist"? [End Page 264]

If "diffusion" throughout Europe refers to the construction of church buildings with variations on patterns emanating from the Jesuit leadership, this diffusion was neither direct nor monolithic. To be sure, the Jesuits transmitted their message in artworks, as did many other patrons. However, saying that all art is propaganda is not saying much. One form of critical theory might respond that all art, religious or secular, communicates some form of ideology. This concession, however, does not gratify Levy's thesis, which, intent upon identifying the individual authors of mind control, eschews any form of constructivism. What then can the distinguished tradition of propaganda scholarship, forged into a discipline by the likes of Doob, Bernays, and Lasswell, and elevated to future-shock perspective by Ellul, mostly on the basis of the contemporaneistic experiences of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, the Third Reich, and modern advertising, contribute to art history?1

The question is still open. In this book, propaganda works less as a bona fide theory than as a methodological shortcut—a category in which to collect and collapse heterogeneous objects for classification according to their most elementary similarities. However, history by its very nature resists such an operation, no matter how well integrated historiographical approaches may be within the other social sciences. The purpose of interdisciplinary research is not to dull our sensibilities but to sharpen them and help us to understand precisely why the early modern world is not the modern world, and vice versa.

Brendan Dooley
Jacobs University, Bremen


1. Leonard Doob, Propaganda: Its Psychology and...


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