How did 15th-17th century theology square Christianity with ancient pantheon in arts?

Beginning with the Renaissance European secular art made great use of Greek/Roman mythology, including the Greek/Roman pantheon, in painting, sculpture as well as poetry etc.

At the same time European societies were Christian as a matter of state religion, and profoundly intolerant even towards other branches of Christianity, let alone other religions - relations with Judaism and Islam were definitely less than cordial.

Now the Greek and Roman gods are part of a mythology but also part of bona fide (if defunct) polytheistic religions.

How did the tame theologians of The Powers That be reconcile e.g. Louis XIV (styled His Most Christian Majesty) often being depicted as Jupiter, and Sandro Botticelli painting both the Birth of Venus and the Trinity?

I would think the answer would be that “The Powers That Be” in the church at that time cared very little about theological matters. The Papacy and the rest of the church hierarchy at that time was more concerned about power and wealth then religion. The Pope considered himself as a prince and conducted his business as such. He granted titles and privlidges to cement political support and reward his supporters. For many of the Cardinals and the Bishops of the time the first time they entered their cathedral was for their funeral. In fact Pope Julius II in the early 1500s rode out at the head of an army and conquered parts of Italy.

In short, the Pope, Bishops and Cardinals viewed their positions as positions of power not theological positions. They acted like other monarchs by throwing extravegant parties, building impressive buildings and patronizing the arts. Since the Reniasannce art was humanist in nature and about the rediscovering of ancient art that was the type of art they partonized. The local preists and the laity were outraged about this situation and eventually the Protestant Reformation was the result.

While there’s much truth in what Treis said, there is also the idea that the Greco-Roman myths are part of our Classical cultural heritage, which the Renaissance was avid to rediscover. They did not have the modern Protestant viewpoint that all things must point to either good or evil, but rather saw the myths and their depiction in art in very much the way Campbell elucidates them: as symbols of cultural understandings of particular points. (How better to illustrate narcissism than with a painting of Narcissus, for example?)

There was also some apologism by way of re-interpreting Greco-Roman myth in Christian terms. A prime example is Dante’s Inferno which is an amalgam of the Greek Hades and the Christian Hell. Another example is using “Jove” as a synonym for God, as in “By Jove!”. The idea was that the ancient pagans simply never had the chance to be Christians because they predated Christ, which made them less culpable then contemporaries who actively rejected Christianity.

And as the OP itself mentions as an aside, the myths came from a defunct religion. Someone bringing up an alternative theology of Christianity, or claiming to get messages from God independently of clergy, or actually seeking to proselytize a non-Christian religion, well… “Really? Time to pile up some firewood and dust off the rack, Brother Bernard”. Someone writing verse about how Milady is an acolyte of Aphrodite? “Why that’s just a mighty cultured way of saying she’s on the slutty side; good thing her husband’s illiterate…”

It’s actually a common position among Christians to believe that there are glimmerings of truth in other religions. One could easily believe that there are allegorical truths to be found in classical mythology while yet thinking that most of Greek and Roman religion was wrong. And, as other people have already noted, it wasn’t as though anyone was suggesting reviving the Greek or Roman religions.

It was quite the fashion to put classical art up all over the place. But it was OK since *everyone * knew that christianity was the real deal. As long as you didn’t act like you really believed in Jove or Apollo, everything was just fine. There may have been a bit of patronizing attitude as well. Much in the same way a PHD will admire primitive arts and cultures, a Medici would would have classical myths all over his walls.