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Brazil’s Sanctuaries and Sculpture: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Ouro Preto  

Rodrigo Bastos

Some of the main works of religious architecture and sculpture were produced in three important Brazilian cities. All of them were founded in the so-called colonial period, that is, as a territory dominated by the Portuguese Empire. All of them have a very rich historical and artistic heritage, constituting an expressive sample of religious art produced in Brazilian territory. The historical aspects of some of these main works emphasize the theoretical, artistic, and conceptual assumptions contemporary to the period of their construction.

Article

Conventual Visual Culture in Ecuador  

Carmen Fernández-Salvador

Women have been typically excluded from the study of colonial art from Quito, except for a few salient names, among them Isabel de Cisneros, the daughter of celebrated painter Miguel de Santiago. Other than Cisneros, indeed, other women artists did not sign documents such as contracts or testaments. More importantly, the artistic canon has focused on sculpture and painting, and thus women’s artworks, usually described as miniature, has been traditionally deemed as a lesser form of art. Other than Cisneros, however, there is ample evidence that other women engaged in artistic creation. Estefanía de San José Dávalos, a member of the Creole nobility, may have learnt to paint along with other arts such as singing or playing musical instruments. Estefanía entered the convent of El Carmen Moderno in Quito, where she probably continued to practice the art of painting. Sister María de la Merced, from the convent of La Concepción, in Cuenca, signed a painting depicting the Virgin of Mercy, while the Clarise nun Gertrudis de San Ildefonso may have practiced drawing to translate her visionary experiences, as an act of obedience to her confessor. As Estefanía, María de la Merced, and Gertrudis, other nuns silently made many of the anonymous works that are still preserved in nunneries. Artmaking was probably connected to Christian piety and devotion, as it accompanied spiritual exercises. Shaping a conventual visual culture, aesthetic similarities are evidenced between painting and other forms of artistic creation practiced by women, such as embroidery, manuscript illumination and the making of devotional objects.

Article

Relics and Pilgrimage in Western Europe  

Janet Ellen Snyder

Relics, pilgrimage, miraculous occurrences, the visual arts, architecture, and patronage were closely intertwined western Christendom from the earliest period through the later Middle Ages. Relics have been venerated not only in Christianity but also in many other religions, including Islam and Buddhism. Due to the complex relationship between religious conviction, physical objects, precious materials and containers, wars and political alliances, economic and territorial interests, and the explosion in the number of pilgrimage centers in Western Europe, this brief study of relics, pilgrims, and pilgrimage must be limited to mainstream Latin Christianity, primarily from the later Middle Ages until the Protestant Reformation. Background will be provided to flesh out the special nature of the content. The profound influence on the visual arts of pilgrimage and the veneration of relics is apparent in various aspects of this study: the relics themselves and their containers; reasons and motivations for pilgrimage in the later Middle Ages; accommodations for visitors in churches and along the routes of pilgrimage. Visual arts and architecture supported the honor and veneration of holy beings and holy sites by pilgrims at reliquary shrines, with textiles, special containers, and altar vessels; painted and gilded exterior and interior sculpture programs made of stone or wood; painted stained-glass windows and wall paintings; and church furnishings. Grand and spacious churches with many formal similarities were constructed during the later Middle Ages along each route followed by pilgrims from Northern Europe to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela. The development of church plans and the proliferation of chapels around the choir reveal the impact of pilgrimage and the relics pilgrims sought to visit. Pilgrims undertook their arduous journeys for various reasons. Upon setting out, pilgrims usually intended to return home, though the dangers and difficulties meant that many were unable to do so. Pilgrims obtained authorization from their local bishop to be given hospitality and to be accommodated on their journeys. The later Middle Ages witnessed an explosion in the numbers of participants in extended journeys as well as in local pilgrimages, in all regions of Europe. Thefts and translations as well as pious donations brought a proliferation of relics and reliquaries. The needs of pilgrims—for shelter and sustenance, nourishment and healthcare, and well-maintained roads, bridges, and ferry crossings—meant that the architectural amenities provided in response to pilgrimage had a powerful international impact in the places they visited and upon the homelands to which they returned. The influences not only of souvenirs brought home but also of the pilgrim’s life experience on the visual arts and architecture are complex and have been long-lasting.

Article

Islamic Relics  

Richard McGregor

Relics can be found in every era of Islamic history, throughout the Islamic world. In line with other religious traditions of the Near East, the Qur’an mentions several objects endowed with special power (e.g., Joseph’s coat, the Ark of the Covenant). The earliest Islamic literature, preserving the life and mission of Muḥammad, presents details of several revered objects. These include objects handed down from pre-Islamic prophets as well as the discards of Muḥammad’s person, including clothing, weapons, and hair. Saintly figures, descendants of the Prophet, and his companions have also been sources for relics. Relics are displayed and venerated in devotional contexts such as shrines, tombs, mosques, madrasas, and museums. Relics have been paraded on special occasions such as the festival days of the Muslim calendar, in medieval protest marches, as part of the rituals for relief from drought, and as talismans in battle. Despite the occasional objection from austere doctors of law, devotion to relics has remained commonplace. While a full inventory is impossible, five categories may be proposed for the Islamic relic: (a) Bodily relics include the blood of martyrs, hair, and fingernail parings. Shrines have been built over severed heads—the most famous being that of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (d. 680). (b) Contact relics, having collected the baraka (blessing) of their one-time owners, pass those blessings on to any pilgrim who touches them. Several staffs, lances, bows, shields, turbans, cloaks, and sandals attributed to the Prophet have been preserved, some of which were presented as symbols of authority in the early caliphate. (c) Impressions in stone made by feet, hands, fingers, posteriors, and even hooves are preserved. Muḥammad’s footprints saw a brisk trade in the medieval period, and his sandal inspired a minor tradition of devotional iconography first in manuscript copies and later in modern mass production. (d) Inanimate objects, miraculously endowed with speech or locomotion, constitute a fourth category. These animated relics could be speaking stones or moving trees, particularly in the sacred topographies of Medina and Mecca. (e) Many revered places which were the site of important events have been marked off and preserved. More than commemorations, these “stage relics” anchored sacred history and holy bodies in the landscape. The location of Muḥammad’s birthplace in Mecca was until recently a revered stage relic.

Article

Jewish Art in the Modern Era  

Larry Silver and Samantha Baskind

Before the 19th century, most artistic productions by Jewish makers were aligned with religious observance (“Judaica”) or consisted of printing Jewish texts after the development of the printing press and publishing houses. Over the course of the 19th century, coinciding with increasing Jewish political and intellectual emancipation, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists began to make contributions to visual culture, sometimes with markedly Jewish content, such as biblical subjects or imagery of Jewish life, but also with original contributions to favored artistic movements, such as Impressionism or 20th-century abstract art. Zionism generated a range of energetic contributions to an emerging culture, and Holocaust traumas produced powerful artistic responses. At the turn of the 20th century, leading centers of Jewish art centered on America and Israel but included the wider Diaspora.

Article

Pilgrimage Centers and Relics in Catholic Spain  

María del Mar Doval Trueba and Barbara von Barghahn

The prominence of the Catholic faith in Spain is evident in the number of basilicas, cathedrals, churches, sanctuaries, monasteries, convents, pilgrimage sites, altarpieces, statues, as well as the municipal commemoration of feast days throughout the country. Spain boasts the third-highest number of major pilgrimage sites in the Catholic world after Jerusalem and Rome. The season of Easter, extending from Holy Week through Corpus Christi (or Corpus Domini) provides several case studies in veneration and devotional artistic expression related to pilgrimage and relics in Spain. Corpus Christi, a feast celebrated sixty days after Easter, merits singular analysis. The feast utilizes images of the Salvador Eucharistica, an expression of the mystical transubstantiation of the sacred host defined by the Catholic Church. Resplendent altarpieces and devotional works of art in Spain contain many references to the popular veneration of the body and blood of Jesus, providing numerous examples of the themes, motifs, and artistic techniques commonly associated with Catholic devotional art and pilgrimage. In addition, this article discusses the public adoration of relics related to the passion of Jesus Christ: the holy chalice of Valencia, the tablecloth of the Last Supper, and the Holy Shroud (Pañolón de Oviedo), and the sudarium of St. Veronica and its vernicles.

Article

Contemporary Visual Art and Religion  

Dominic Colonna

Contemporary visual art that uses themes and symbols of particular religious traditions has the potential to alienate both those who are adherents of those traditions and those who are non-adherents. Such art is often characterized as sentimental, superstitious, naïve, exclusivist, or triumphalist by modern standards of judgment. At the same time, efforts to avoid exclusivism or triumphalism in contemporary visual art can render the meanings of works so vague that it is hard to identify a work with any particular religion. For these reasons and more, the art world tends to disparage the benign use of religious themes and symbols in art and tends to accept works that are transgressive—that is, art that transgresses the boundaries of religious decorum. Material and visual culture studies provide ways for the art world to find value in and analyze the use of religious themes and symbols in contemporary visual art. These approaches have widened the scope of works that might be identified as contemporary visual art: popular, mass-produced, and folk art are all within the purview of analyses of contemporary visual art. These studies examine how religious themes and symbols function in religious communities and in the wider communities of which they are a part. Even when studying the function of visual and material culture within a particular religious tradition, these studies tend to identify common or essential themes in different religions. The contemporary preference for being “spiritual but not religious” emerges in the identification of common religious themes and symbols. Contemporary theological approaches to the study and appreciation of contemporary visual art are “insider” methods that religious adherents use to assess critically the value of the use of religious themes and symbols in modern culture. These insider methods identify orthodox uses of religious themes and symbols in contemporary visual art, not only to identify negatively that which is unorthodox or heterodox, but also to identify works of art that celebrate religious beliefs, make traditional beliefs relevant, and help to shape new ways of engaging the wider community. Theological methods often incorporate the work of material and visual studies scholars. Like these scholars, theologians seek to affirm the value of unique religious beliefs in an increasingly pluralistic world.

Article

Iconography and Iconology  

Davor Džalto

Iconography and iconology are the ways of describing and interpreting images and their meaning. Although closely related, iconography and iconology can be understood as distinct disciplines. When clearly differentiated, iconography is understood as a method of identifying and describing the themes and motifs (“subject matter”) represented in an image, while iconology is understood as an interpretation of the meaning of images. Especially in the contemporary applications of the method, iconology is often understood as an interdisciplinary enterprise. In its rudimentary form, iconography has been practiced since the earliest recorded attempts to describe images, conveying “what is depicted” in the medium of language. Already in antiquity is the application of the iconographic method understood as a way of relating depicted visual forms with textual sources, aimed at an identification of the subject matter in images. In the Renaissance, attempts at the systematization and codification of the most commonly used motifs in visual arts are found, resulting in manuals that offered a description of the motifs and an explanation of the meaning of particular symbols or entire scenes. The modern period (especially the 19th and 20th centuries) is the time when iconography was fully developed as a method, but this is also the time of a clearer differentiation (both conceptual and terminological) between iconography and iconology. A series of authors, primarily art historians, contributed to this differentiation and to the development of iconology as a discipline that deals with the meaning in and of images and artworks. Among the most prominent ones are Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, and Ernst Gombrich. Iconology, understood as an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of visual phenomena, has successfully been applied in the interpretation of a variety of visual phenomena, from ancient, medieval, and Renaissance artworks to works of contemporary art and visual culture understood more broadly.

Article

Christian Sacred Architecture  

David Bains

Beginning with the Renaissance, the architecture of churches in the West was shaped by new cultural and liturgical demands that reshaped the spaces of Christian worship. Renaissance Christians found models of urban monumentality and geometric harmony in the architecture of classical Rome that they deemed lacking in their existing Gothic forms. At the same time, both Catholics and Protestants placed new emphasis on preaching and on the ability of worshipers to see the liturgy. These factors decisively reshaped church architecture. The rational austerity of the Renaissance, however, soon gave way to the more exuberant decoration of the baroque and, in time, to a revival of the Gothic. Beginning in the late 18th century, it became valued for its association with mystery, organic development, and the endurance of faith amid the rise of scientific rationalism. By the mid-19th century, an eclecticism in architecture had developed where many church builders used varied styles to actualize buildings of many plans in order to bring the desired historical and emotional associations to the structure, or simply to distinguish it from its neighbors. Yet, architectural principles—often associated with the Gothic—that emphasized the integral relation of form, structure, and function led many church builders to embrace architectural modernism. They rejected applied ornament, especially that which hid the structure of the building. Concrete, steel, and glued laminated wood beams made possible new designs often with a minimalist aesthetic and innovative ground plans. As in the 16th, so in the 20th century this architectural shift was associated with new values and liturgical demands. For many there was a fundamental concern with the architectural expression of the immanence of God. Historical styles and dim light seemed wrongly to suggest that God was not part of the contemporary world. Along with this, liturgical ressourcement fostered throughout the 20th century by the Liturgical Movement and endorsed by the Second Vatican Council championed the idea that liturgy was “the work of the people,” a corporate activity in which all participated. This led to the development of the “modern communal church” as a liturgical form. Many historic buildings were significantly altered. Within thirty years, a sizable revolution was insisting on more traditional, often classical, architectural forms ensuring that future church building would be shaped by a dialogue between tradition and the modern.

Article

Buddhist Wall Paintings  

Sonya S. Lee

Wall paintings are integral to the built environment of the Buddhist world. Images of deities, celestial spheres, and biographical narratives of all sorts constitute an integral part of Buddhist architecture, serving as the material and conceptual interfaces between art, society, and the ecosystem that link their viewers to the world they live in and realms in their imagination. Buddhist wall paintings are meant to make abstract doctrines and concepts comprehensible through visual means while promoting key moral lessons to devotees in vivid and memorable ways. They provide donors with an opportunity to express piety and accumulate merit for creating a beautiful home for the Buddha that would enable his followers to follow his footsteps and at the same time impress nonbelievers. Though far from a vehicle of individualism, the medium of wall painting challenges artists to be innovative with age-old iconographic formulae and compositional schemes in order to make the tradition anew for their own time and place. This important artistic medium developed in tandem with the emergence of Buddhism as a world religion during the 1st millennium ce. To underscore the remarkable flexibility that Buddhist concepts and practices exhibited as they were adapted into disparate local cultures, the present study will focus on major sites in the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts in China to explore the inter- and intraregional connections in the dissemination of Buddhist wall painting across Eurasia.