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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

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

The overwhelming focus on textual or dharma studies in Buddhism, to the relative neglect of artistic production, has led to a bias in understanding the close and intricate relationships between Buddhist art (usually comprising sculptures, mural paintings, architectural facades and ornamental elements, illuminated paintings, cloth banners, and drawings in manuscripts), rituals, and the written word. The constant dialogue between material, visual, and ritual cultures should be approached in tandem. Visual culture is a significant part of Buddhism and must be treated as part of the same social, historical, and geographical contexts as texts and practices. Buddhist visual culture, including art media, graphic aids, and physical objects or monuments associated with Buddhist practices, does not merely serve to illustrate sacred texts, legends, and doctrines. In addition, the textual tradition does not always have to explain or justify the presence—or absence—of a material object such as a Buddha icon or a Buddhist painting. While visual culture studies have become increasingly important in various academic fields over the years, a critical and complete overview of the precise relationship between art, ritual, and text in the study of south and southeast Asian Buddhism has yet to be written.

Article

Eric Huntington

Buddhist cosmology addresses the contents, structures, and processes of the world, especially with a view toward how these relate to the experiences of living beings. Some ideas occur broadly across various traditions, including that the world is disk-shaped, centers on the enormous mountain Sumeru, contains a human-inhabited continent called Jambudvīpa, and carries numerous layers of heavens above and hells below. At the same time, differing cosmological interpretations have been key to the development of many of the diverse philosophies and practices seen across Buddhist history. Over time, scholars, artists, and practitioners have reinterpreted cosmological features and frameworks to express new ideas about the personhood of the buddha, the nature of enlightenment, the techniques by which followers progress along the Buddhist path, and more. Some major innovations of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism were cast in explicitly cosmological terms. Such important cosmological statements appear not only in scriptures and treatises but also in other aspects of Buddhist culture, such as ritual performances, visual artworks, and material objects. The cosmology of Buddhism is deeply intertwined with everything from its most profound intellectual developments to the lives and activities of everyday individuals.

Article

The earliest extant illustrated biblical manuscripts date to the 5th century, and their descendants continued through the medieval era and into the era of print, including children’s bibles, artists’ books, and comics. The study of this large corpus suggests a wide range of ways in which decorations, images, and other kinds of nontextual visualizations in Bibles generate meaning. Most obviously, biblical illustrations always involve interpretive decisions about biblical narratives. Traditions of visualizing biblical texts also respond to previous artistic representations of that scene or character, as well as textual exegesis; indeed, visual exegesis parallels its textual counterpart in complex ways. Further, decorated and illustrated Bibles often reflect the events of their time, including images of kingship, ecclesiastical concerns, ideologies of gender and ethnicity, and polemics within and between religious communities. Images also serve a wide range of functions: to teach, to accompany preaching, to facilitate memorization of text, and to instill moral and spiritual virtues. Finally, a wide range of nonillustrative features of Bibles create meaning: ornament, word-image interplays, and symbols.