Christian art LEARNING OBJECTIVE – To identify the distinctive characteristics and purposes of religious art. By the end of the lesson All must – understand the distinctive characteristics of Christian art and how art is used in public and private worship. Most should – be able to use examples to illustrate Christian art. Some could – consider how art in worship could be both a positive and negative influence on Christianity.
What types of subject matter can be found within Christian art?
How is art used in public worship?
How is art used in private worship?
Symbols Bible Stories or characters Life after Death – Judgement/Heaven Angels Creation The life of Jesus The life of other Christian characters e.g. Mary A religious theme e.g. forgiveness Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Beliefs about Jesus The birth of Jesus Christian Art
Kilmahog St Chug's graveyard: Gravestone with pelican In Scotland, nineteenth century gravestones often carry complex symbols of immortality and mortality. The pelican pecking her chest so as to feed her young with her own blood is a symbol of piety. The pelican is a rare symbol and yet the tiny graveyard of St Chug's contains at least 6 examples. perhaps an early case of keeping up with the neighbours? The crown represents the reward of the faithful and righteous. The finger points towards Heaven. Symbols and symbolism can be found in all forms of Christian art. Here are two examples on gravestones.
Bible stories are often used for paintings, tapestries and stained glass windows. Who is this? Which story is it representing? This is a painting by Anthony Falbo an American artist. He uses cubist style for this picture of Moses. This painting from 1635 by Rembrandt is of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah at the point when he is prevented from sacrificing his son.
Many themes are used in religious art such as forgiveness, reconciliation, faith, love, hope, judgement etc. Many types of art are used to demonstrate these themes. This statue found in Coventry Cathedral and other places represents reconciliation. This is a theme of the whole cathedral, following its bombing in the war and rebuilding. This painting by Rembrandt shows a moment from the Parable of the Prodigal son and represents the key theme of forgiveness.
Art depicting life after death can show warnings of judgement or Hell or show the glory of Heaven. This is Hans Memling’s Last Judgement Tryptich (15th century). On the left you’ll see those who are saved being welcomed into the ”glory” of heaven and on the right, the damned entering eternal damnation. This is a modern image of Heaven by Jim Warren. He says about it ‘Everyone has there own beliefs about what Heaven is, whether religiously, spiritually or just musically! (Led Zeppelin) The one thing I found in common with each person though is that they do believe, or at least have hope, that there is a higher and better place to go to. That's what my Stairway to Heaven is about’.
Angels appear in may types of Christian art. They can be in the context of art depicting death or Heaven, or in another context. This is St Michael the archangel at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral. It shows him having just defeated the Devil. Weeping angel statues are often found in graveyards. They indicate the sorrow that the angels feel at death which reflect the sorrow of close relatives.
Creation is a popular theme in religious art, particularly for stained glass windows. This window comes from the church of the Holy City in Washington DC. In the branches of the Tree are six angels who, with globes above their heads, personify the six days of creation. Within the globe above each angel's head is a detailed representation of the form of life that originated each day. Below, the angel with outstretched hands and flaming sword guard the way to the Garden of Eden out of which Adam and Eve have been driven. The designer was Frederick Stymetz Lamb, It was installed in 1897.
This is a modern creation window in Chester Cathedral.
Events from the life of Jesus appear in many types of Christian art. The birth and crucifixion of Jesus are key themes, but other events can be seen as well. This picture by Duccio (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319) shows the Child Jesus in the Temple. This is a typical stained glass window showing Jesus teaching.
The birth of Jesus is a key theme which can be found on windows, statues, icons etc. Christmas crib scenes can be found in most churches at Christmas as well as in schools, shops and homes. Most of the time they are fairly small and sit on a table, but sometimes they may be almost life sized. A Christmas nativity play can be seen as art in worship as it represents a key story in the life of Jesus. These plays are typical in churches, schools and sometimes as community events.
Events connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus can be seen in many art forms. Especially popular is the cross and crucifix. The arrest of Jesus by Caravaggio. A window showing the empty tomb. You would find a crucifix in a Roman Catholic church. An empty cross is more typical in Protestant churches.
Some art depicting Jesus will show a belief about him rather than showing an event from his life or teaching. In this poster Jesus kneels at the feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former English Prime Minister Tony Blair, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, US president George W Bush, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Jiang Zemin, former president of China. The poster was designed by Lars Justinen. Different versions of the posters had captions such as “Follow the Leader,” “God IS Great,” and “Jesus - Still Too Radical?” Icons are designed to show a belief about Jesus. They are not intended to be a historical representation of what he looked like or to specifically represent his life.
Saints can be found in a variety of types of Christian art. Often they will link to the saint a particular church is named after. Mary the mother of Jesus is very popular in Roman Catholic Christianity. This depiction of Saul’s conversion by Michelangelo can be found in the Vatican. Small statues of the Virgin Mary will be found in the homes of Roman Catholics and be used for private worship. Large statues will be found in Roman Catholic churches.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.