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.
Christine E. Joynes
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.
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.