You’ve never read or seen church history like this

July 28, 2011

Bobz Book Reviews

It’s a brilliant idea, executed brilliantly: Tell the history of the church — warts and all — through classic paintings.

Duquesne University Press has pulled it off in “The History of the Church through 100 Masterpieces” (

From Caravaggio’s famous “Crucifixion of St. Peter” (head down, you remember), through Durer’s “The Martyrdom of Ten Thousand Christians,” the spread of Christianity through various regions by various artists, excommunications, schisms, crusades, popes, anti-popes, the Inquisition, Franciscans, Benedictines, Paul Thumann’s “Luther at the Diet of Worms,” even the martyrs of the New World and Japan.

There’s the “The Consecration of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David that dominates most of a wall in the high-ceiling-ed Louvre. There are artistic depictions of the sacraments, including the beautiful “Holy Viaticum in Burgundy” by Aime Perret that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. And there’s the haunting piece by Paul Delaroche, “Cardinal Henri Beaufort Interrogating Joan of Arc” from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, France.

I found I had a smattering of knowledge of many of the events pictured, but although the text paired with each painting is just one page, authors Jacques Duquesne and Francois Legrette pack it with interesting detail — detail both about that period of church history and also about the painting and the painter. M. Cristina Borges translated from the original French.

This is just a superb, enjoyable work, and worth every bit of the $29.95 retail price.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at

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