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Christian Feminist Theology and the Arts  

Elizabeth Ursic

Christian theology is the study of God and religious belief based on the Christian Bible and tradition. For over 2,000 years, Christian theologians have been primarily men writing from men’s perspectives and experiences. In the 1960s, women began to study to become theologians when the women’s rights movement opened doors to higher education for women. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, female theologians developed Christian feminist theology with a focus on women’s perspectives and experiences. Christian feminist theology seeks to empower women through their Christian faith and supports the equality of women and men based on Christian scripture. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The arts have an important role in Christian feminist theology because a significant way Christians learn about their faith is through the arts, and Christians engage the arts in the practice of their faith. Christian feminist theology in the visual arts can be found in paintings, sculptures, icons, and liturgical items such as processional crosses. Themes in visual expression include female and feminine imagery of God from the Bible as well as female leaders in the scriptures. Christian feminist theology in performing arts can be found in hymns, prayers, music, liturgies, and rituals. Performative expressions include inclusive language for humanity and God as well as expressions that celebrate Christian women and address women’s life experiences. The field of Christian feminist theology and the arts is vast in terms of types of arts represented and the variety of ways Christianity is practiced around the world. Representing Christian feminist theology with art serves to communicate both visually and performatively that all are one in Christ.

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

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

Faith and Devotion: Reading the Ceramic Architectural Programs of the Baroque  

Rosário Salema Carvalho

In Portugal, the use of azulejos (glazed ceramic tiles) in architecture has a long history, extending uninterruptedly from the late 15th century to the present 21st century. For more than five centuries, the azulejo reinvented itself periodically to meet the demands of different historical periods, and one of its most expressive transformations took place in the Baroque period (1675–1750). Baroque azulejos stand out not only for the almost exclusive use of blue and white painting, but above all for the exploration of narrative programs, which were displayed in vast ceramic walls. These decorations covered the interiors of different buildings, but mostly churches. The use of azulejos, dominating the interiors or in connection with other arts, was instrumental in creating a unique spatial form, which echoed Baroque spirituality by appealing directly to the senses and exploring the brightness and color of the tiled surfaces within majestic and lusciously decorated settings. But the azulejo was also a medium for religious painting and, as such, a vehicle for the doctrine and values of the Counter-Reformation, which were dominant at the time. Therefore, these ceramic architectural programs resort both to devotional and visual discourses. On the one hand, azulejo compositions relate to central aspects of Christian faith and liturgy, and particularly to the religious discourse and practice of the Baroque period. On the other hand, their visual features add new layers of meaning, mostly related to the organization of azulejos within a church’s architecture, the frames and inspirational sources, as well as issues linked with the creation and running of azulejo workshops.

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

Liturgy and Music at Hagia Sophia  

Bissera V. Pentcheva

Hagia Sophia, the former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Constantinople, is the single most important monument that survives from Byzantium. Its daring architecture of cascading dome and semi-domes reflects a unique vision of beauty and power introduced by the emperor Justinian (527–565). Equally impressive is the interior decoration of gold mosaics and marble. Yet, it is the liturgy with its large congregation, officiating clergy, and numerous choirs that brought about the effect of being transported to a place in between heaven and earth. Within its walls, a rich multisensory experience was created through the integration of architecture, music, acoustics, and liturgy. The material fabric of the building and its acoustics together with the liturgy performed by Hagia Sophia’s officiating clergy and the chants sung by the choirs formed the character of the cathedral rite. The architectural form and ritual performed in this space harmonized with the Byzantine philosophical and mystagogical explanations and enabled the religious experience of nearness to the divine.

Article

Martin Luther and Visual Culture  

Elke Anna Werner

In the mind of Martin Luther, images were first and foremost adiaphora and, as such, neither good nor bad. However, Luther spoke out firmly against the worship of images, as did other reformers. Based on his own anthropology, he countered the misuse of images by suggesting correct ways of using them, on the basis that man could only discover true faith through the mediation of images. For many years, researchers emphasized Luther’s negative attitude to images as a medium and highlighted the shift from a pre-Reformation culture of piety to the reformatory emphasis on the Scriptures. However, more recent examinations of liturgical practices and the link between art and politics, involving innovative methods, as well as some degree of imagination, have not only traced the development of a specific visual culture in Lutheranism but also highlighted their identity-creating function in denominational conflicts. What follows is an overview of the major image and media categories as portraits, allegories, altarpieces and epitaphs which influenced the visual culture of the Reformation. Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553) and his youngest son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586) were at the very center of this activity, together with their productive Wittenberg workshop. From the very beginning of the Reformation right through to the 1580s, both liaised with Luther, Melanchthon, and other Wittenberg reformers, respectively accompanying and decisively shaping the development of Protestantism with their pictures. What is more and of equal importance, the influence of their work is reflected in the popularity of their style in Protestant territories throughout the Empire during the 16th century.

Article

Martin Luther and the Arts: Music, Poetry, and Hymns  

Johannes Schilling

From the beginning of the Reformation, Martin Luther had a significant impact on church and society through his contributions to sacred music. His intention to spread the gospel among the people through song achieved its manifold purpose. This remains true not only for his own time but for the following centuries up to the present day, all over the world. Other poets, contemporaries and descendants alike, were inspired by Luther’s songs and composed their own hymns. Among these the most significant ones in German literature, poetically and theologically, are Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) and Jochen Klepper (1903–1942). Luther’s lifelong love of music was accompanied by an in-depth musical education. He knew secular and sacred songs from an early age, played the lute well, and sang in the convent when he was a monk, as a husband and father with his family, and as a professor with his students. Music was an indispensable part of his life. He first began writing sacred songs in 1523, sometimes composing the melody as well. He also crafted a four-part motet. Luther was able to assess the composers of his time well. He considered Josquin des Prez (d. 1521) the greatest master, and among his living contemporaries he appreciated in particular Ludwig Senfl (c. 1490–1543). He was also acquainted with other composers and their works. The incorporation and promotion of music in the schoolroom resulted in a close relationship between church and school, as well as between classrooms and religious services. Pupils took part through chanting at services, and the evangelical hymns in the chantry were spread through the choir’s chanting books. Numerous musical prints originated in Georg Rhau’s printing shop in Wittenberg that carried the Protestant repertoire into the world. From central Germany, starting in Saxony and Thuringia, the Protestant musical culture covered all of evangelical Germany and later shaped Protestant musical culture. In addition to choir-related music, it cultivated the musical rendering of biblical texts. Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach are the finest representatives of this specific Protestant musical culture. In addition, the culture of the organ, first cultivated in northern Germany, became widespread. One of several masters of the organ was Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707), who established evening concerts in Lübeck, which in turn served as precursors to the bourgeois musical culture. Luther’s approach to music is formed through the conviction that music is a particularly beautiful and unique offering of the divine creation. Music moves human hearts and allows them to anticipate the heavens. To bring people joy and to praise the Lord is music’s true task and, indeed, its service.

Article

Museums, Expositions, and Religion in North America since the 19th Century  

Hillary Kaell

Since the mid-19th century increasing numbers of North Americans have had access to new technologies of display that feature religious artifacts. Missionaries and museum curators played an especially important role as cultural brokers in this regard. They often worked together to set up ethnographic collections, although their respective goals differed in terms of spiritual uplift and public education. In the same period, the mediation of religious objects took place in other arenas too, such as recreations of sacred sites and spirit photography. In the 20th century, religious objects were mediated through cinema and television. In each case, the materialization and mediation of religion raises a number of significant questions, including those related to the aestheticization of sacred objects in public museums and the display of things and rituals associated with religious “others.” Since the 1980s, North Americans have engaged in debates about whether to repatriate indigenous objects and human bones to their communities of origin. There have also been significant protests related to the provocative use of Christian imagery in contemporary art. Increasingly, scholars have also begun to recognize and study how museum spaces are more malleable than previously assumed, especially as new publics access them and may even (re)use the sacred objects they house.

Article

Poetry, Prophecy, and Theological Revelation  

William Franke

In the history and prehistory of human societies, poets, prophets, and seers (the word vates can cover all three) have often been virtually indistinguishable from one another. From time immemorial, their respective activities overlap and interpenetrate to such an extent that prophets (or mantics or seers) and poets have been closely associated and tend to completely coalesce in many of their functions and modalities. The Sanskrit word kavi (like its Latin cognate vates) embraces both. A certain strand of ideology running through the Bible (at least as interpreted by classical rabbinic texts) aims to drive a wedge between God-inspired prophecy and humanly created poems. Nevertheless, the Hebrew word nabi for “prophet” means “bubbling forth, as from a fountain,” so the vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible, too, is naturally apt to suggest the creative fecundity of verbal imagination. In fact, Amos, Isaiah, Elisha, and Ezekiel frequently produce parables, proverbs, and even love songs. In primordial cultures, with only minimal social stratification and differentiation of roles, long before any specific mantles as either prophet or poet can be identified and donned, a figure like that of the shaman or even the wizard (Merlin, for example) is often emblematic of a certain undecidability between religious revelation or spiritual experience and creative imagination and invention. Of course, in modern cultures, with their highly differentiated social roles, theological revelation and poetry are typically seen as distinct and often even as opposed to each other in crucial respects. Yet the two still need to be understood together as reciprocal and symbiotic in their origins, aims, and purposes. Throughout subsequent history, the deepest intents of literary and religious practices remain inseparable from each other in their myriad manifestations within our cultural traditions and institutions; they thus stand to be illuminated by such a juxtaposition. Poetry and prophecy together comprise the common matrix of some of the oldest and most fundamental modes of expression of humanity across cultures.

Article

Religious Art and Architecture in 18th-Century Europe  

Sean DeLouche

The 18th century was an era of transition for the arts and religion. Monarchs continued to commission religious art and architecture for a variety of reasons, including fulfillment of vows, expressions of faith and piety, and celebrations of dynastic power. The period saw simultaneous trends toward sumptuous decoration and sober display, as well as the rise of new artistic styles, including the Rococo, Neoclassicism, and the Gothic Revival. The Grand Tour brought many northern European Protestants to the seat of Catholicism. Protestant attitudes toward “popish” art softened in the 18th century, due in part to the increasing contact between Catholic and Protestant culture in Rome and to the perception that Catholicism was no longer a plausible threat. As the temporal and spiritual power of Rome declined in the 18th century, the papacy sought to reestablish itself as a cultural authority. The papacy embellished Rome with a number of archaeological and architectural initiatives, linking the popes with classical civilization and casting themselves as the custodians of the shared Western cultural tradition. With a growing art market and the consumer revolution, the populace had expanding access to religious imagery, from fine religious canvases collected by Catholic and Protestant elites, to reproducible prints that were available to nearly every member of society. However, the Enlightenment brought a profound questioning of religion. Religious works of art faced a loss of context in private displays and in the official Salon exhibitions, where they were intermixed with secular and erotic subjects and judged not on the efficacy of their Christian message or function but rather on aesthetic terms in relation to other works. The century ended with the French Revolution and brought violent waves of de-Christianization and iconoclasm. In order to save France’s Christian heritage, religious works of art had to be stripped of their associations with church and crown.

Article

Religious Syncretism and Art in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  

Ori Soltes

Religious and cultural syncretism, particularly in visual art in the Jewish and Christian traditions since the 19th century, has expressed itself in diverse ways and reflects a broad and layered series of contexts. These are at once chronological—arising out of developments that may be charted over several centuries before arriving into the 19th and 20th centuries—and political, spiritual, and cultural, as well as often extending beyond the Jewish–Christian matrix. The specific directions taken by syncretism in art is also varied: it may be limited to the interweave of two religious traditions—most often Jewish and Christian—in which most often it is the minority artist seeking ways to create along lines consistent with what is created by the majority. It may also interweave three or more traditions. It may be a matter of religion alone, or it may be a matter of other issues, such as culture or gender, which may or may not be obviously intertwined with religion. The term “syncretism” has, in certain specifically anthropological and theological circles, acquired a negative connotation. This has grown out of the increasing consciousness, since the 1960s, of the political implications of that term in the course of Western history, in which hegemonic European Christianity has addressed non-Christian religious perspectives. This process intensified in the Colonial era when the West expanded its dominance over much of the globe. An obvious and particularly negative instance of this is the history of the Inquisition as it first affected Jews in late-15th-century Spain and later encompassed indigenous peoples in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. While this issue is noted—after all, art has always been interwoven with politics—it is not the focus of this article. Instead “syncretism” will not be treated as a concept that needs to be distinguished from “hybridization” or “hybridity,” although different modes of syncretism will be distinguished. Syncretistic preludes to visual artists in the 19th and 20th centuries, suggesting some of the breadth of possibility, include Pico della Mirandola, Kabir, and Baruch/Benedict Spinoza. Specific religious developments and crises in Europe from the 16th century to the 18th century brought on the emancipation of the Jews in some places on the one hand, and a contradictory continuation of anti-Jewish prejudice on the other, the latter shifting from a religious to a racial basis. This, together with evident paradoxes regarding secular and spiritual perspectives in the work of key figures in the visual arts, led to a particularly rich array of efforts from Jewish artists who revision Jesus as a subject, applying a new, Jewishly humanistic perspective to transform this most traditional of Christian subjects. Such a direction continued to spread more broadly across the 20th century. The Holocaust not only raised new visual questions and possibilities for Jewish artists, but also did so from the opposite direction for the occasional Christian—particularly German—artist. Cultural syncretism sometimes interweaves religious syncretism—which can connect and has connected Christianity or Judaism to Eastern religions—and a profusion of women artists in the last quarter of the century has added gender issues to the matrix. The discussion culminates with Siona Benjamin: a Jewish female artist who grew up in Hindu and Muslim India, attended Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, and has lived in America for many decades—all these aspects of her life resonate in her often very syncretistic paintings.

Article

Ritual  

Barry Stephenson

In contemporary scholarship, the term ritual serves double duty. On one hand, ritual is a theoretical concept; on the other, ritual is a catchall term for a diverse set of cultural forms or practices, such as worship, baptism, parades, coronations, and festivals. These two uses of the term ritual are typically intertwined. As a distinct concept and discourse, “ritual” emerges in early modern Europe during the Reformation era, accompanying the emergence of secular modernity, taking its place alongside related concepts such as religion, art, ceremony, culture, and the secular. In the post-Enlightenment period, the intellectual and cultural influences of Protestantism, Rationalism, and Positivism created a general climate of suspicion about ritual’s merits: ritual was often deemed a backward, premodern cultural form, just as religion was considered a stepping-stone on the path from a magical and animistic worldview to modern science. At the same time, however, there emerged within European culture a longing for a perceived loss of transcendence and sociality, which included the urge to recover or reinvent lost or suppressed rites and cultural performances. Running through European thought, culture, and scholarship is a tension between ritual’s conserving and transformative potential. In the 19th century, in the new disciplines of anthropology and sociology, and in the detailed, comparative study of textual traditions, ritual was given considerable attention, although research was largely focused on the practices of non-Western and historical cultures; this research, coinciding with the heights of European colonialism, was often saddled with prejudicial and stereotypical views of ritual. The turn, however, to studying ritual in the field (rather than only in texts) laid the foundation for the emergence, in the 1970s, of ritual and performance studies as an interdisciplinary area of research, shaped in part by feminist, postcolonial, and critical theories. An important feature of this “performative turn” was to explore the connections between ritual and art, especially performative arts such as music and drama. Until the mid-20th century, ritual, under the influence of structural functionalism, was usually theorized as a stabilizing, normative social practice. In the 1970s, there begins an effort, stimulated by the thought of Victor Turner, to develop a more dialectical understanding of ritual, emphasizing both ritual’s aesthetic, expressive qualities; its relationship to other performative genres such as music, theater, and sports; and its dynamic role in processes of cultural change and transformation.

Article

Roman Catholic Art after L’Art Sacré and Vatican II  

Inge Linder-Gaillard

The interaction between the Roman Catholic Church and the arts in the period after L’Art Sacré and Vatican II has been eventful. The role of the visual and liturgical arts within the framework of the Catholic context has evolved, sometimes in radical ways. Works of art have been commissioned, curated, and displayed in different types of spaces with varying purposes. These range from modest chapels to huge cathedrals and from small galleries to world-renowned museums and international contemporary art exhibition venues. The period begins in the 1960s with the end of both the Vatican II Council held in Rome from 1962 to 1965 and of L’Art Sacré, a journal of avant-garde theory and action regarding sacred art published in France from the 1930s to the 1960s. Vatican II made official many of the changes already undertaken by what could be called the Art Sacré movement. However, the 1960s had brought so much societal upheaval globally that the arts were no longer the center of focus in the immediate post–Vatican II moment; most importantly in the Western church were the rise of secularization and the decline of traditional religious practice. Yet, Vatican II delivered guidelines that addressed the visual and liturgical arts specifically, and it set into motion organizational work within the Catholic Church that has allowed for several different types of artistic action to develop over the years. This quiet moment for the arts in the church afforded the emergence of a new generation of actors who, because of the years of theoretical and logistical groundwork, would be able to deploy the new policies of the Vatican. These could be poetically encapsulated in the via pulchritudinis, “the way of beauty,” referring to 13th-century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas’s terminology. In this spirit, the popes since Vatican II have all engaged with the question of sacred art by calling out to artists to work for the church, collecting their work, and sponsoring exhibitions of contemporary art both at the Vatican and in international venues. At the same time, in countries like France and Germany where patrimony and heritage are high-stakes issues, cultural politics could be read as becoming an ally of the church—each with its own agenda at play. Both modest and major commissions for art in churches and cathedrals can be observed in this context, whether they be single artworks, series of stained-glass, or multifaceted ensembles. In countries like the United States and Australia, shifting demographics and concerns with cultural inclusiveness have played major roles in the application of liturgical reform and the types of art commissioned for churches. This activity highlights and demonstrates the theoretical premises of Vatican II put into action, sometimes with difficulty and resistance from within the church itself. This period depends mainly on primary sources for its information and must be seen as a narrow topic within the much broader conversation between contemporary art and religion. Studying it in depth means navigating between isolationist methodology and using comparative strategies associating neighboring topics and fields.

Article

Secularization and Sacred Space  

David Bains

Secularization, or the decline in the authority of religious institutions, became a pronounced feature of Western culture in the 20th century, especially in its latter half. Secularization has affected the history of Western sacred space in four ways: (a) It has helped to shape the concept of “sacred space” so that it designates a space that helps generate a personal religious experience independent of religious rituals and teachings. (b) It has caused many houses of worship to use architectural forms not previously associated with religion in order to link their religious communities to the respected realms of business, science, and entertainment. And it has motivated religious communities to craft spaces that encourage worshipers to recognize God at work in the secular world and to demonstrate to others the continued relevance of religion. (c) Many former houses of worship have been destroyed or converted to other uses. Sometimes this occurred not because of declining membership but in order to relocate to a more favorable building or location. Nonetheless, these changes have created a more secular cityscape. Other times destruction and conversion have been the product of state-sponsored regimes of secularization or a decline in the number of clergy or church supporters. The reuse of these former houses of worship often results in the association of religious symbols with commercial or personal endeavors. It also raises challenges for maintaining public space in dense urban environments and for preserving artistic and cultural heritage. Given the increasing closure of churches, in 2018 the Pontifical Council of Culture issued guidelines to guide Roman Catholics in determining best uses for buildings no longer needed for worship. (d) Spaces which are not linked to religious communities, especially museums and monuments, came to be frequently designed in ways similar to historic sacred spaces. For this reason and others, they are esteemed by many people as places to encounter the sacred in a secularized world.

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The Book of Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ  

Christopher Rowland

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, or the Apocalypse of John, has been extraordinarily influential in Christian life and theology. For example, because of the many hymns sung by the heavenly host, Revelation has, like Isaiah 6:3, been particularly influential on liturgy and also music, for instance, the setting of Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain,” in Handel’s Messiah. It is one of two biblical apocalyptic texts (the other being the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible). Apart from the opening words, a dominant theme of Revelation is prophecy, and its imagery emphasizing what John “saw” on Patmos suggests that the form of prophecy in the first century ce included a significant visionary element, akin to earlier biblical exemplars such as Ezekiel 1:40–48 and Zechariah 1–8. The interpretation and reception of Revelation are closely linked. Like other biblical prophetic books, it became a reservoir for understandings of the future, but alongside it there developed a role as a way of unmasking the imperfections in church and society. This article uses the evidence of its reception to understand the nature and meaning of the book, its theological antecedents, and its relationship to other early Christian writings. Its role as an eschatological guide as well as its importance for political theology, complementing what we find in Daniel, are considered. It has also inspired artists down the centuries, from the time of the first illuminated Apocalypses, and this rich visual tradition captures something of importance about the book itself and the visionary stimulus it has provided.

Article

Visual Arts: Protestant  

Bobbi Dykema

The story of Protestant visual art begins well before Luther posted the 95 Theses. It is a story bound up with iconoclastic revision and destruction as well as with new ways of telling the Christian story in a distinctly Protestant visual mode. In the centuries since the Reformation, artists have emphasized prophetic themes such as the peaceable kingdom, the abolition of slavery, the suffering of women, and the plight of the homeless.

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William Blake and the Apocalypse  

Christopher Rowland

William Blake (1757–1827) was a British artist, engraver, poet, and writer on theological themes. His illuminated books were the product of his technological inventiveness, and are characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images in which a dialectic between two different media is a means of stimulating the imagination of the viewer and reader. Influences on Blake are often hard to trace, though he explicitly cites and criticizes Milton and Swedenborg, as well as the contemporary artist Joshua Reynolds. Such influences, which might help explain Blake’s ideas, seem less important than the extraordinary inventiveness which one finds in his words and images and their production, which have analogies to earlier themes, but without offering the evidence that demonstrates direct dependence. Blake’s emphasis is on the importance of “inspiration” rather than “memory,” and as such he set great store on the creativity of the poetic genius and its reception by the engaged reader or viewer. The visual was primary for Blake. It was a major part of his attempt to produce that which is “not too explicit as the fittest for Instruction,” to allow the reader/viewer to work out what the meaning of words and images was and how one might inform the other. Much of his work is inspired by the Bible, though the heterodox approach he takes to biblical interpretation is frequently at odds with mainstream Christian opinion. Blake’s lifelong fascination with the work of John Milton led him both to challenge and refine his great predecessor’s views and, in Milton a Poem, to enable the departed spirit of Milton to discern the worst of his intellectually self-centered excesses. Blake’s interpretative method, his hermeneutic, is encapsulated in some words he wrote to a client who was perplexed by his work. In it he gave priority to imaginative engagement with the Bible which was only then complemented by rational reflection: “Why is the Bible more Entertaining & Instructive than any other book. Is it not because they are addressed to the Imagination which is Spiritual Sensation & but mediately to the Understanding or Reason?” (Letter to Trusler 1799, E702-3). His ongoing work and the complex idiosyncratic mythology that he invented reflect the changed circumstances of the reaction to the events in revolutionary France. Themes of the Blake corpus, such as prophecy, challenge the hegemony of authoritative texts like the Bible. His critique of dualism and monarchical view of God pervade his work. Born in 1757, Blake lived most of his life in London with the exception of four, often difficult, years in Felpham, Sussex (1800–1804). He was married to Catherine Boucher (1762–1831), who in his later years was a collaborator in his engraving and printing. Arguably, the companionship of Job’s wife in the Illustrations of the Book of Job, so different from the impression one gets from the brief reference to Job’s wife in the biblical book, may reflect their marriage. The Felpham years were difficult because they marked a time of great personal upheaval, when the ideas which formed his long illuminated poems, Milton a Poem and Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, took shape. As a consequence of an incident with a soldier in Felpham, he was put on trial at this time for sedition, for comments he was alleged to have made to this English soldier. This experience seared his visionary imagination and left its trace in the repeated references to the soldier who brought the charge against him, Schofield, which are dotted throughout Blake’s Jerusalem. Blake was trained as an engraver and pioneered his own technique. This remained the basis of his art, and arguably offered a means that complemented his visionary imagination (Joseph Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book, 1993). After his move back to London, he lived in obscurity and on the fringes of poverty, indebted to the support of patrons like Thomas Butts, for whom he painted many biblical scenes, and later John Linnell. Only in the last years of his life was he discovered by a group of artists. Toward the end of his life he was adopted as an artistic father figure by a group called “The Ancients,” which included George Richmond, Samuel Palmer, and Edward Calvert.