Do you know that religion has enjoyed the center-stage in some of the most iconic paintings of all time? Not just that, you may also be intrigued to learn that some of the major controversies in art have been around this theme only. 

Many revered artworks around religion have stark figurative representations that touch deep notes of our beliefs. When the latter are confronted by even a single brush stroke that does not fit the narrative, it gives birth to the controversy that knows no bounds. 

Presented below are the three most stellar paintings that created a stir in the art circles which is difficult to silence to date. The names behind the paintings were taken with great consideration.

The Death of the Virgin 1606

Caravaggio, also known as the Father of the Baroque style of art and is remembered for the technique of tenebrism that involves an intense form of chiaroscuro. He masterfully matched the technique with a naturalism that lent a new form of emotional engagement to his works. 

This masterpiece depicts Virgin Mary in a reclined manner, surrounded by Mary Magdalene and the apostles with many hiding their faces due to extreme grief. The painting lacked any kind of intensity of symbolism to the Holy subject apart from a faded halo around Mary. 

The painting was originally commissioned to be showcased in a chapel in the church of Santa Maria Della Scala in Rome but in vain as it faced outright rejection due to the dull depiction of the Holy subject. The artist’s inclination towards naturalism made him humanize the subject to an extent that was difficult to accept for the people at that time. 

The painting remained in controversy due to the harsh realism of the divine subjects that were unheard of at that time.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

Michelangelo was an artist extraordinaire who features among the notable names in art during the period of the High Renaissance. His work bore a blend of extreme physical naturalism, an unmatched intensity, and deep psychological insight that has not been seen in any form of art ever. 


He was arguably the most decorated artist of his times and was also acclaimed by his contemporaries. The Last Judgment drew inspiration from the biblical times represented in a new flair that was the signature of his craft. The work soon rose to prominence due to the unique depiction of the subjects, showing great artistic genius and creativity.

The art wonder, however, soon met with outrage for it was painted in the nude. The maestro was criticized for he wedged a deep cut between the religious sentiments and the art. The painting, although mired in tough controversy, was the one that had given way to a new transformation in religion that soon descended on Rome in the form of the S*** of Rome in 1527. Christendom is said to take a long time to recover from its aftermath.

Not just that the work was also denounced for the inclusion of the subjects from Greek mythology like the Charon who is believed to row the souls to Hades via the river Styx and even Minos of Crete- a judge of the Hades. In the painting, these are shown to share space with Jesus, and other revered saints and angels.

It has been known that some clergy at the Church of Trent conspired to engage de Volterra for adding clothing to the nude figures in the original fresco, shortly before the death of Michelangelo. 

St. Matthew and the Angel by Caravaggio

Carravaggio, the master gave shape to another controversial work of art. His paintings were often known for their dramatic endings with a predominant dark that was torn by spotlight effect. The histrionics of this technique became the primary essence of the Baroque style. It is said to have emerged from the chromatic trial of Mannerism. His works were replete with a distinct sense of naturalism that helped to hold the viewer to ransom. 

The Church has been for many centuries been working to enumerate the origins of the Holy Bible which have led to the development of a whole new genre. The paintings that decorated the religious theme were often inspired by and drenched in extremely emblematic representations of the biblical subjects.

The winds changed when Caravaggio, took his brush to add his favorite realism, to the tune unheard of at the time. He indulged in the provocative interpretation of the Biblical exegesis. The painting St. Matthew and the Angel also faced sharp criticism due to the realistic representation of the ideals of counter-reformation. The artist was again held responsible for trivializing the divine subjects.

The Bottom Line

The 16th and the 17th centuries hold great significance in the history of the art and religion as the Catholic Church was involved in a fierce campaign to contain Reformation or the rising threat of Protestantism.  It was during this time, that the Church had asked painters, architects, and sculptors to conform to the power of Catholicism and its dominance. 

Any religious work that stood to challenge the above, or miniaturized the hegemony of the Catholic Church was put behind a question mark. The above paintings had apart from other musings had treated the religious ideals and Holy subjects with extreme realism. presents you a chance to own the finest reproductions of these priced works of art to adorn your homes with the richness of art and history.