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Islam, Art, and Depictions of Prophets  

Rachel Milstein

The history of figurative painting in Islamic lands, although limited to certain regions and periods, includes a meaningful variety of saintly iconographies, mostly as book illustrations. Produced from the turn of the 14th to the early 17th century in Iranian capital cities or in the Ottoman Empire, paintings of prophets illuminate manuscripts of universal histories, encyclopedias, didactic poetry, and anthologies of prophetic biographies (Stories of the Prophets). They depict personages, not necessarily prophets, from the Old and the New Testaments, two Arab prophets mentioned in the Qurʼan, and finally Muhammad (and ʿAli, although he was not a prophet). The acts of these figures served as moral and spiritual models for the individual believers and, no less so, for the desired behavior of Muslim rulers. In Iran, the message of the illustrated texts and their paintings shifts from historical to moral, and often to mystical. In the Ottoman Empire, in addition, the prophets were conceived as forefathers of the Ottoman dynasty. In Moghul India, only Solomon and Jesus were depicted, not very often, while Joseph’s story was quite popular in late Kashmir. The impact of Western iconography and style, which characterize the recurrence of Jesus’ image, is seen also in later Iran, where portrayals of Solomon, Joseph, and Jesus were painted mainly on decorative objects, such as pen boxes and book bindings.

Article

Imaging the Buddha in South Asia  

Claudine Bautze-Picron

The image of the Buddha appeared in the north of the South Asian subcontinent around the 1st century ce, following a period when no actual representation had been produced. Detailed considerations on how to represent this human being who had reached the highest spiritual plane are clearly illustrated in the highly elaborate portrayal in the literary sources and led to the visual formulation of an image based on strict iconographic rules, texts and art being both sides of the same issue. The texts include lengthy lists of either thirty-two or eighty marks that characterize the body of the Buddha, some being actually seen in the visual depiction, such as the tuft of hair between the eyebrows, the protuberance on the head, and the webbed hands, all of which contribute to the manifestation of a metamorphosed body that can become a powerful source of magic. This image does not stand on its own but is 1ed in a set of motifs—the throne, the nimbus, the aura, the lotusseat—that bring out the supramundane nature of the Buddha; further additions were to be the crown and the necklace, transforming the simple monk into a king. The various gestures that the Buddha displays reflect different aspects of his personality, as protector, as paradigm of generosity, as the ultimate teacher. Elements such as the monachal robe or hair style showed up in various forms in the early phase; however, the stylistic evolution progressively led to a uniformized figure that appeared in the 4th–5th century and became standardized in South Asia before finding its way to faraway regions. This figure was also used to represent the Buddhas of the past or the Tathāgathas and became the visual element unifying all Buddhist schools.

Article

Women in Religious Art  

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

Like religion, art has been a fundamental component of human experience since the beginning of time. Often working in partnership, occasionally at odds, art and religion form a combination that has been a source of inspiration, pedagogy, contemplation, and celebration of the relationship between the human and the divine. However, each individual religion and its culture have encountered the arts differently; these encounters are reflected in distinctive attitudes toward the human, sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class, as well as configuration of the holy. The human figure has been a common denominator in the arts envisioning transformations in cultural and societal attitudes, economic and political perceptions, and religious doctrines. Traditional wisdom suggests that the majority of world cultures and religions are established upon a patriarchal structure so that representations of the male body project attitudes of power while the female body projects negative attributes. More recent scholarship by feminist art historians, critics, cultural historians, and religious historians provides new ways of looking at the female figure and the role of women in religious art including the history of women artists, patrons, collectors, and, most recently, as critics and curators. Further surveying the iconography of specific women, whether deities, historical personages, or legendary beings, in the history of a religion affords the opportunity not simply to analyze variations in artistic styles but also to witness how religion shapes and informs cultural, societal, and even legal definitions of women. While the majority of scholarly investigations have focused on Western religions, the possibilities of both comparative analyses and innovative studies of non-Western iconographies of women in religious art can both inform and expand global recognition of the categories of gender, race, and ethnicity as well as research methodologies. The Western model of iconography may be found wanting and open to enrichment through engagement with new categories and models of analysis.

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

Visual Arts: Renaissance  

Heidi J. Hornik

With regard to European visual arts, the Renaissance is the period of artistic production (painting, sculpture, and architecture) from 1280 to 1520. The Renaissance style appeared in Western Europe and in particular on the peninsula of Italy (Italian Renaissance) and the north of the Alps (Northern Renaissance). These regions and this time frame were characterized by immense of creative productivity and although other regions are important to the Western tradition, in the history of art the focus historically has been on Italy and northern Europe. Artistic styles are often understood chronologically while combining the regions both north and south of the Alps and the three different media.

Article

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

Buddhist Art and Architecture in Tibet  

Erberto Lo Bue

Tibetan Buddhists view images primarily as religious supports and secondarily as works of art. Buddhist images are aimed at improving one’s karma by earning merit in view of future existences, at removing obstacles, and at creating wellbeing. Their commissioning may be occasioned by various circumstances, including illness and death, besides the need for a specific religious practice. Since they are primarily expressions of faith, their age has a limited importance and their originality hardly any: a religious image is valued less for its rarity and aesthetic value than for its apotropaic virtues and for its particular connection with a holy place or master. Hence the application of Western post-Medieval aesthetic criteria to the appreciation of Tibetan art ought to be complemented by an appreciation of the specific religious meaning of an image, the interpretation of its particular symbolism, and the aim of its client within the specific cultural and historical context in which it was produced. This article is preceded by a historical introduction sketching the development of Buddhist art and architecture in Tibet from the 7th to the present century, mentioning the role played by foreign artists, mostly Newars from the Nepal Valley, and dwelling on particularly significant monuments, such as the monastery of Sàmye (8th century) and the Great Stupa of Gyantsé (15th century), representing the two highest moments in the history of Tibetan religious art and architecture, the Pòtala being basically a fortified palace. The first section, on Tibetan Buddhist art, deals with iconography and iconometry as well as materials and techniques, contrasting the prevalent approach to the subject by collectors, and even art historians, with that of Buddhist masters and devotees, pointing out the importance of the consecration of images, without which the latter remain worthless from a religious point of view. The second section, on Tibetan Buddhist architecture, deals with the construction of religious buildings, their materials, their religious functions and their symbolism. Although stupas are referred to throughout the article, they are dealt especially in this section. Sanskrit terms, whether in phonetic transcription or in transliteration, prevail in the first section because the relevant terminology is largely the Tibetan translation of Indian Buddhist terms, Tibetan terms in phonetic transcription and transliteration prevail in the second section, except in the part dealing with the stupa.

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

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.