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Arts and Ethics: Questions  

David Fenner

The world of art, across the globe and especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, has presented a range of challenges to those who attend to that world. These challenges span various spectra, but one set is ethical in character. How one responds to these ethical challenges will depend on one’s general ethical commitments and perspectives, but it will also depend, first, on one’s view of the relationship between the arts and ethics and, second, on understanding the context in which the challenge is made and the ethical challenge itself. Censoring a work of art, which can itself take many forms, is the result of meeting a particular challenge with the judgment that the work violates in important ways some ethical precept or set of precepts.

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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.

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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.

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

Devotional Art in Viceregal Latin America  

Marcus Burke

The art of devotion in colonial Mexico, Central America, and South America—called the “viceregal” period, from the division of the colonies into viceroyalties from 1521 to 1821—arose in the context of reformed Roman Catholicism, especially after the Council of Trent (1545–1563). Devotional images included stand-alone compositions, images from altar ensembles and serial contexts, and works of sculpture that could be the focus of a believer’s pious contemplation or an accompaniment to liturgy. These images document the establishment of the Christian faith and its iconography in the New World, including syncretic elements, principally in the initial decades of colonization and missionization. They embody doctrines and local devotions relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the importance of the religious orders to Latin American devotional art; orthodox and heterodox imagery; regional variations; and special iconographies particular to Latin America. The creation of viceregal images was conditioned by issues such as the relative importance of centers of viceregal power versus peripheries, differing ethnic and religious traditions of specific localities, relatively permissive church attitudes toward heterodoxy, and the use of European models.. In the almost exactly three centuries of the viceregal era, artists of the first rank such as Baltasar de Echave Orio, Luis and José Juárez, Alonso López de Herrera, Cristóbal de Villalpando, Juan Rodríguez Juárez, and Miguel Cabrera from Mexico; Bernardo Bitti, Mateo Pérez de Alesio, Angelino Medoro, Baltasar Gavilán, and Bernardo de Legarda from Peru and Ecuador; and O Aleijadinho from Brazil created religious works responding to European stylistic developments but expressing local artistic values even as they nourished an ongoing Roman Catholic devotional life.

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Liturgical and Ceremonial Art: Preaching and Visual Culture in the Early Modern World  

Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby

A challenging issue in the field of religious studies is the relationship between preaching and art, particularly the manner in which preachers used works of art in their preaching and described specific pictures in their sermons; the way theological discourse influenced religious architecture; and the form and function of the preaching platform, whether a pulpit in Christianity, the minbar in Islam, or the bima in Judaism. There is a growing interest in the interrelationships among art, performance, and preaching in the early modern world; there has also been recent engagement in the way visual culture enhanced the power that preachers had over their audiences, and the interactions between preaching and visual culture in the various European and Mediterranean communities. When approaching this topic, one should apply an interdisciplinary approach by focusing across the historical, literary, and art-history fields in the increasingly active area of global studies. One should also consider the interactions between the visual and the verbal; the exchange between sermons and images, preaching and the arts through the lens of performance theory and models of word and image; and the exchange between textual and visual cultures.

Article

Overview of Religious Art and Architecture: Native American  

Karla Cavarra Britton

The rich intertwining of art, architecture, and religion in Native North American worldviews represents an expansive field of exploration that cumulatively addresses patterns of generational continuity, a sense of place, and the continued vitality of ceremonial and oral traditions for the more than 600 recognized tribes of North America. To engage in an overview of such a broad topic, which necessarily includes ethnographic, religious, anthropological and other perspectives, requires a selective rather than comprehensive choice of material evidence. Moreover, the topic challenges perceived understandings of art and religion, such as the familiar separation between the sacred and the profane in representations of religious life. The subject of religious art and architecture in Native North America also immediately calls attention to the ways in which this field of exploration has often been overlooked in the standard canonical histories of religion and the arts. It is rare that in-depth scholarly writing outside of Native studies addresses the implications of religious building and art on tribal lands, especially since many Native building forms are more metaphorical in their manifestation of the spiritual, often blurring the distinction between landscape and building. Furthermore, the contemporary vitality of North American Native art—and one might add its religious expression—is also evidence of an extraordinary cultural resilience among Native peoples. Until recently, it was popularly assumed that Native culture was destined to disappear, yet a resurgence of both interest in and production of Native art has helped to revitalize the tradition from within. A variety of factors have contributed to this revitalization, among them greater economic stability, population recovery, and an increased interest from non-Native peoples in Indigenous artistic production. This interest has recognized that the visual arts as well as spatial concepts (understood in terms of both buildings and the landscape) have long been carriers of cultural value and meaning within Native American cultures. These material expressions remain among the most powerful articulations of contemporary understandings of identity and the continuity of patterns of belief, and as such have much to reveal and teach a wide and curious audience.

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

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.

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Visual Arts: Christian Visual Art  

Christine E. Joynes

Defining Christian visual art from the Renaissance to the present is a task fraught with difficulty. The diversity among Christian groups to emerge makes generalizations impossible, but common themes can be compared and contrasted to shed light on differing beliefs and practices. Widely acclaimed examples of Christian visual art highlight its role in contemplating the divine and offering pedagogical insights. It also functions to critique cultural attitudes and shape identity formation. Despite the decline in religious belief, Christianity continues to inform contemporary works of art in both ecclesial and non-ecclesial settings.

Article

Visual Arts: Modern Art  

Jonathan A. Anderson

The dominant histories of 19th- and 20th-century art in the West have tended to depict modernism as making deep and decisive breaks from religious thought, practices, and institutions. There are good reasons for scholars seeing the history this way. On the one hand, the development of modern art coincided with major sociocultural shifts that deeply reshaped not only religion (as established religious traditions became increasingly contested and pluralized) but also the functions of art itself, which thrived in forms and spaces that seemed significantly detached from religious subjects, patronage, and purposes. On the other hand, there were also significant theoretical factors shaping the ways that religion was presented—or often conspicuously not presented—in the writing of modern art history. An especially strong secularization theory (a sociological thesis positing that a society’s modernization necessarily entails its secularization) has tended to dominate the scholarship of modernism, coupled with a heavy reliance on critical models that privilege highly suspicious hermeneutics (in the lineages of Marxian, Nietzschean, and Freudian critical theory), which tend to dismantle whatever “religious” content persists in modern art into questions of social power, ressentiment, sublimated desire, and so on. In all these ways, religious traditions became largely invisible and unreadable in the history of modernism, even in cases where they were important factors. Since the 1990s, however, several of the key historical and theoretical underpinnings of this depiction of modernism have been increasingly called into question, and a more complicated, ambiguous picture is emerging—one in which modern art and religion remain deeply entangled in fascinating and confusing ways. There are various ways of identifying and understanding these entanglements, which require not only careful reexamination of the particularities of the histories involved but also reconsideration of the interpretive assumptions and priorities through which those histories are construed. There are at least five focal points where the nexuses of art and religion are being reexamined and brought more clearly into view in the histories of modernism—namely, through object-oriented, practice-oriented, artist-oriented, context-oriented, and/or concept-oriented studies of particular instances in those histories. These focal points provide concrete loci for perceiving and exploring the functions, formations, and effects of “religion in modern art”—an inquiry which also can be reversed to explore examples of “modern art in religion,” including instances where major artworks are situated in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and other religious contexts. There are, however, varying ways that scholars interpret what they find at these focal points and how they discern the larger implications of these particular entanglements of art and religion in the history of modern and contemporary art. These differences are clarified by recognizing at least four interpretive horizons—anthropological, political, spiritual, and theological—within which scholars are understanding these focal points and rereading these histories. Though often diverging in the accounts they produce, these four horizons (and the potential interplay between them) are vital for a continued rethinking of the relations between modern art and religion.

Article

Public Art and Religion in America  

Kymberly Pinder

Public art in the United States has a long and complicated history through which nationalism and public monuments have often been intertwined. The most prominent public art forms have been statues and murals. Murals, as the more accessible medium, have served both hegemonic and subversive goals. Religious symbols and figures appear alongside fallen war heroes and slain street gang members alike. In considering public, artistic manifestations of religion in America, the terms, “public” and “art” must be carefully defined. As Sally M. Promey has noted, “To discuss publics is thus to deal with entities both kinetic and partial . . . The public display of religion is thus fundamentally interactive, the full range of interpretive responses inherently unpredictable” (David Morgan and Sally M. Promey, eds. The Visual Culture of American Religions [Berkeley: University of California, 2001], p. 32). For the sake of establishing some parameters, this examination considers public to be grounded in issues of accessibility. Public art is that which multiple audiences can see and experience in a public space; it also implies a very specific notion of community or belonging. This definition of public through accessibility implies democratization. “Public art” has shifting meanings and associations that contrast with those for “private art.” Who engages with the artwork trumps why they engage it. The art is public because these terms can mean many different things to different people. Even the concepts of public versus publics and private versus public engage debates regarding the artist’s intentionality and the audiences’ agency to interpret what they will. In his introduction to Dialogues in Public Art (1992), Tom Finklepearl writes, the word “public” is associated with the lower classes (public school, public transportation, public housing, public park, public assistance, public defender) as opposed to the word “private.” Which is associated with privilege (private school, private car, private home, private country club, private fortune, private attorney). (Tom Finkelpearl, Dialogues in Public Art [Cambridge: MIT, 2000], x). Adding religion to these equations complicates these dynamics based on the religious, cultural, personal, or political needs of the audience, and the secularization of public space, among other things, has transformed religion’s role in modern society. Religion’s presence in the public sphere may serve different purposes and may be more or less effective, but it still exists, albeit in less traditional forms. Public theology activates these images by giving traditional and historical religious symbols meaning relevant to their specific contemporary viewers. Public religious art, like public theology, engages broader social, political, and cultural concerns that are not always connected to one particular religion. Often these concerns are specific to the location of the public art object and its audience.

Article

Jātaka  

Naomi Appleton

A jātaka story narrates an episode in a past life of the Buddha. Such tales are found in a variety of Buddhist texts, the largest and best known of which is the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā, a collection of almost 550 stories in the Pāli language preserved by the Theravāda school. Jātaka stories emphasize the Buddha’s great abilities as visionary and storyteller, and illustrate moral lessons, the workings of karma, or the perfections required for the attainment of buddhahood. A focus of a large number of stories is the ideal of generosity, which, for an aspiring buddha, includes being prepared to give away one’s own children, or the flesh and blood from one’s own body. In addition to their widespread presence in texts, jātaka stories have been depicted at Buddhist stūpa and temple sites since before the beginning of the Common Era, and continue to be a popular form of Buddhist visual art to this day. They also play an important role in the cultural life of some Buddhist countries, inspiring literature, theater, opera, and other art forms. Their place in the Buddha’s sacred biography gives them a special symbolic value, which is behind some uses of the stories in art and ritual. The Vessantara-jātaka, understood in Theravāda tradition as narrating the Buddha’s penultimate human birth and his acquisition of the perfection of generosity, takes on a particularly important role in artistic, ritual, and festive contexts. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that the jātaka genre as a whole had an important role in the formation and communication of ideas about buddhahood, karma and merit, and the place of the Buddha in relation to other buddhas and bodhisattvas.

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Judaism and Visual Art  

Melissa Raphael

Until the late 20th century, it was widely assumed that visual art could be of only negligible significance to a Jewish tradition that had been principally mediated through written texts. However, by the closing decades of the 20th century, Jewish cultural historians had demonstrated that, while Jewish worship and study is indubitably logocentric, the Second Commandment’s prohibition of the making and worshipping of graven images has not entailed a blanket ban on visual art. Jews have not been uniformly indifferent or hostile to visual art, a category that includes the architectural design and decoration of synagogues; funerary monuments; illuminated manuscripts; embroidery; liturgical seats, pulpits, and the other fittings and ornaments of religious Jewish life at home and at worship; as well as, since the 19th century, drawing, painting and sculpture. Most interpreters now read the biblical texts as prohibiting only the making and worshipping of images of the divine. The Bible forbids idolatry, but is aware that not all images are idolatrous. By around the 3rd century of the Common Era, rabbinical rulings recognized that the danger of Jews becoming idolaters, as they might have done under formerly pagan dispensations, had passed. In short, although in a number of Jewish historical periods and geographical regions there have been good reasons to be reluctant to accommodate visual art within the tradition, there is also ample evidence of visual art in settings that span the entire geography and history of Judaism. Jewish avoidance or neglect of visual art has usually been more historically contingent than theologically necessary. The religious culture of Jews resident in Islamic lands, for example, tended to conform to their hosts’ prevailing, though not historically or geographically comprehensive, tendency to aniconism. On grounds such as these, it has been argued that the notion of Judaism as an aniconic tradition is a modern one. Kant’s appreciation of the Second Commandment as one of Judaism’s few redeeming features, proscribing any crude urge to see that which exceeds the bounds of sensibility, encouraged western European Jews to advert to Judaism’s lack of art a sign of its pre-eminence as the first enlightened religion. The 19th and early 20th-century claim that Jewish tradition is aural and literary, but not visual, seems to have owed more to the modern German scientific study of Judaism’s use of the Second Commandment to highlight affinities between Jewish and Christian monotheism and to Jews’ desire to integrate into Protestant culture, than to restrictions within their own legal and cultural inheritance. Perceived violations of the Second Commandment no longer provoke much of a reaction in any but the most conservative Jewish communities. And even among the Haredim, artists have begun to paint semi-abstract pictures that are not considered a deviation from halakhic norms. Yet, while many Jews still regard abstraction as a more permissible form of Jewish visual art than others, it is evident that the art tradition that developed after Jewish civil emancipation in Western Europe has actually been predominantly figurative. A number of scholars have therefore proposed that the Second Commandment has not so much prevented figurative visual art as promoted a distinctive set of styles and techniques, especially those that allow Jewish artists to make images that fulfill their quintessentially Jewish obligation to criticize idolatrous images. Jewish art, it has been argued, exists because of the Second Commandment, not in spite of it. This essay does not cover Jewish approaches and contributions to film and architecture. It examines both the history and theorization of Jewish visual art and Jewish religious approaches to visual art. The essay uses the findings of this two-pronged enquiry to suggest that Jewish visual art, which is more than art by artists who happen to be Jews, is properly counter-idolatrous art, art that is far from hindered by the Second Commandment but is actively produced by it. Jewish art does more than build cultural, political, and national Jewish identities; it does more than the commemorative work of visually constructing Jewish memory. Visual art made by Jews becomes Jewish when it serves a constructive theological, prophetic purpose and when it uses idoloclastic techniques to produce images that both cancel and restore the glory of the human. This claim counters the prevailing view that there can be no unified or normative theory of Jewish art.

Article

Debate Traditions in Premodern Japan  

Asuka Sango

In its simplest definition, debate is a formal discussion of a topic in which different (usually oppositional) arguments are submitted and examined. In premodern Japan, there were many overlapping practices that could be called debate, or rongi論義 (literally, “discussing meanings”). Originating in the intellectual traditions of Buddhism and Confucianism, rongi came to encompass a variety of activities, ranging from oral examinations and group discussions to formal debates and lecture and answer sessions. Some were specialized and targeted for a scholarly audience; others were held as public entertainment for secular audiences. Whereas scholars debated to advance their academic knowledge and gain status and promotion, secular authorities—be they the emperor or shogun—also sponsored scholarly debates to help legitimize their power. Rongi thus shows a bewildering variety of practices combining seemingly opposite qualities: the serious and the playful, or the political and the scholarly. Japan’s rich and diverse debate traditions traverse the realms of religion, politics, and the performing arts.

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Idol and Idolatry  

Stacy Boldrick

The concepts of the idol and idolatry are historically critical for many religions, playing fundamental roles in religious conflicts past and present. The word idolatry is from the Greek εἴδωλον “idol” and λατρεία “latria,” “service, worship,” which points to its main meaning: paying service to a material object. In Judeo-Christian religions, idols were the objects of forbidden worship—objects designated as “other”—and idolatry was a sin. Idols in contemporary Western popular culture are also remote figures, but they are revered rather than denigrated. Over the course of the Renaissance to the present, the nature and definition of idolatry have dramatically changed, as the material and conceptual forms of the idol also changed over this period. The terms idol and idolatry have long and wide geographical histories, and an ever-changing relationship with religion and art in the period from the Renaissance to the present in the West; they are best understood within specific temporal and cultural contexts. For example, during the Reformation in England, changes in how idols and the practice of idolatry were defined and scrutinized in churches and in public space demonstrate the complex and paradoxical nature of these concepts in particular places and times. Additionally, the idol and idolatry are important subjects for artists working in a range of media from the Renaissance to the present. In contemporary art, more secular meanings of the terms appear as political and ideological critiques of conceptual idols: the idols of the market, of authoritarian regimes, or of changing contested perspectives and belief systems.

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Reception History of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament  

Dominik Markl

The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (HB/OT) is like a prism through which ancient Near Eastern traditions were transformed and transmitted to Jewish and Christian cultures. Through the Jewish diaspora and the Christian missions, it became a nomadic text that spread to all continents. It was received and transformed in diverse genres of literature, music, art, theatre, law, and politics. Interest in processes of reception has intensified since World War I, but reception history became a major field within biblical studies only at the turn of the millennium. Analyzing the history of reception of the HB/OT poses a variety of challenges: what hermeneutical expectations, attitudes, interests, and methods were applied to its texts? How were they involved in diverse fields of culture, and how did different modes of reception influence each other? What historical developments occasioned changes in interpretation? In analyzing textual reception, three basic aspects should be considered: the texts with their respective genres and themes, the hermeneutics applied to them, and the social contexts in which the reception takes place. Each of these aspects is characterized by great variation: biblical genres are as diverse as curse and love poetry, law and lament; hermeneutical approaches involve extremely different interests and results in, for example, allegorical, kabballistic and historical critical interpretation; social contexts of reception include family education, monastic lectio divina, public reading and preaching, and academic teaching. Investigating this history of reception means looking at cultural history through the lens of the HB/OT. Rather than defining itself as a field of research separate from interpretation, reception history should be seen as a constituent of the hermeneutical endeavor.

Article

Dunhuang Art  

Michelle C. Wang

The oasis city of Dunhuang lies at the eastern end of the southern Silk Routes, in Gansu Province in northwestern China. In the 2nd century BCE, Dunhuang was established by the Chinese Han dynasty as a center for military operations and trade. Over time, Dunhuang became an important hub for multicultural trade as well as for the transmission of commodities, ideas, and religions. The status of Dunhuang as an important regional center for Buddhism is demonstrated by a wealth of paintings and manuscripts that provide crucial insights into the unfolding of religious praxis and developments in visual culture over many centuries. A few centuries after the establishment of Dunhuang as a military garrison, the construction of cave shrines in the area began. Four major groups of cave shrines were constructed in the Dunhuang region: the Mogao, Yulin, and Western Thousand Buddhas caves, and the Five Temples site. The most well-studied of these are the Mogao 莫高, or “peerless,” cave shrines, which are located 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang at the eastern edge of Mount Mingsha 鳴沙山 (Mountain of the Singing Sands). From the 4th to the 14th centuries, 492 man-made caves were carved from the sandstone cliffs, stretching 1,680 meters from south to north. They were painted with over 45,000 square meters of mural paintings and installed with more than 2,000 painted clay sculptures. To the north, 248 additional caves were carved. Mostly unadorned, the northern caves served as habitation chambers for monks. In addition to the mural paintings and inscriptions in the Mogao caves, more than 50,000 manuscripts and portable paintings were discovered in 1900 by the caretaker and Daoist priest Wang Yuanlu 王圓籙 from one cave, numbered Mogao cave 17, popularly though perhaps problematically known as the “library cave.” These objects were dispersed in the early 20th century to library and museum collections, the most prominent of which are the Stein collection in the British Museum, British Library, the National Museum of India, and the Pelliot collection in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet and Bibliothèque Nationale de France. For this reason, the study of Dunhuang art and material culture encompasses both objects held in museum and library collections worldwide as well as mural paintings and sculptures located in situ in the cave shrines. Bringing these two bodies of material into conversation with one another enables a nuanced understanding of Dunhuang as a religious and artistic center, focusing in particular on the Mogao caves.

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.

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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.