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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

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

Mystics, Shamans, and Visionary Arts  

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

Diverse theories and cases are associated with artistic expression attributed to mystical experience. To showcase variety as well as underlying commonalties, the intersecting experiences of mystics, shamans, and visionary arts builds on understanding shamanic altered consciousness in multiple time periods, attunement to nature manifest through art and sacred sites, and modernist impulses beginning in the 20th century. Cases range from prehistoric cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux to contemporary shamanic rituals of Siberia, from oracles, amphitheaters, and firewalking in Ancient Greece to the calendrical mysteries of Egypt, Stonehenge, Crete, and Mesoamerica. The cosmology-saturated paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and the mystical mountains of Nicholas Roerich can be productively juxtaposed, since these artists created resonating movements of global followers. For deeper analysis, insights of artists, including poets and epic singers, into their creative processes can be combined with analytical literature on spirituality and visionary arts. Focus on roots of shamanic consciousness and on cases selected from cultural anthropology and art history shifts analysis away from famous examples of religious art within organized religions. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian mystical traditions should be celebrated, but not at the expense of fluid and open-minded definitions of spirituality in the arts. This shifted gaze enables some conventional distinctions to be dissolved, for example, that between “art for art’s sake” and art that may result in individual and communal healing. In some interactive contexts of mystical artistic expression, distinctions between artists and their perceivers may also dissolve. In sum, mysticism and art are “eye of the beholder” phenomena. Experiences of mystics, shamans, and artists can be viewed as having significant interconnections without overgeneralizing about mysticism, shamanism, or the arts.

Article

Islam and Art: An Overview  

Wendy Shaw

Modern terms like “religion” and “art” offer limited access to the ways in which nonverbal human creativity in the Islamic world engages the “way of life” indicated by the Arabic word din, often translated as religion. Islam emerged within existing paradigms of creativity and perception in the late antique world. Part of this inheritance was a Platonic and Judaic concern with the potentially misleading power to make images, often misinterpreted in the modern world as an “image prohibition.” Rather, the image function extended beyond replication of visual reality, including direct recognition of the Divine as manifest in the material and cultural world. Music, geometry, writing, poetry, painting, devotional space, gardens and intermedial practices engage people with the “way of life” imbued with awareness of the Divine. Rather than externally representing religious ideas, creativity fosters the subjective capacity to recognize the Divine. Flexible enough to transcend the conventions of time and place over the millennium and a half since the inception of Islam, these modes of engagement persist in forms that also communicate through the expressive practices of contemporary art. To consider religion and art in Islam means to think about how each of these categories perpetually embodies, resists, and recreates the others.

Article

Seyyed Hossein Nasr  

Muhammad U. Faruque

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a contemporary Islamic philosopher with global influence. His oeuvre covers an extended field from the perennial philosophy, which dominates his philosophical worldview, to religion, science, environmental studies, education, and the arts with particular attention to Islamic and comparative studies, as well as criticism of modernism. Grounded in Islamic tradition, Nasr’s far-reaching ideas have been acknowledged by the global scholarly community. Nasr is the only Muslim thinker included in the Library of Living Philosophers (LLP). Since its inception in 1939, the LLP has featured some of the greatest of the 20th century’s Western philosophers and scientists, namely A. N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, J. P. Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Nasr was also the first Muslim and non-Westerner to deliverthe prestigious Gifford lectures whose contributors also include prominent intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, William James, Iris Murdoch, Charles Taylor, and Rowan Williams. Nasr’s written corpus contains some thirty thousand pages in print, which have generated a great deal of interest, contention, and controversy in the Islamic world and beyond. One should also consider his innumerable media appearances, public lectures, and interviews that often complement and expand upon his written corpus. Nasr is perhaps most famous for being one of the first people to predict, diagnose, and provide a response to the ecological crisis, having spoken out on the topic as early as 1966. He is considered the father of “Islamic environmentalism,” which is now gaining momentum in the Muslim world. Nasr also made important contributions to topics such as Islamic science and philosophy, religious pluralism, Islamic art and spirituality, and Sufi-Chinese dialogue.

Article

Exhibitions and Displays of Religious Art  

Maia Wellington Gahtan

Exhibitions and displays of religious art have been an integral part of religion since the manufacture of the first religious objects and the adornment of the first sacred places. Growing more complex and varied with time, such manifestations within religions provided models for art exhibitions associated with academies, galleries, museums, and other institutions with secular purposes by the mid-18th and 19th centuries. Typically organized around the works of an artist, a group of artists, art academies, or the holdings of private lenders, such exhibitions included works with both sacred and secular subjects. Exhibition design drew on the shapes and materials of the works, privileging formal qualities over meanings, including any religious content, even for works that had once belonged to sacred settings but had migrated to private collections. The final decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by both exhibitions organized by religious authorities for the general public and exhibitions of specific genres of sacred art organized by museums and galleries. These, together with international exhibitions and World’s Fairs which showcased non-Western religious objects, helped form the modern notions of material religion that would find voice in the exhibitions of recent decades which have focused on particular faiths in geographical, historical, cultural, and iconological terms. These exhibitions have addressed the major religions of the world, especially Christianity and Islam, in both multi-faith and single-faith contexts. Input from practitioners and source communities at the planning and installation stages, as well as for public programming and events, has helped ensure greater authenticity in the displays and encouraged a movement away from considering religious objects exclusively in terms of art.

Article

Visual Arts: Postmodernism  

Meredith Munson

Postmodernism is notoriously difficult to define in any concise manner. Its start dates (and end dates, for that matter) exist in a state of flux, often varying by decades in the historiographies of major disciplines. In an attempt to begin to understand postmodernism, many theorists, art historians, and philosophers choose to take a rather apophatic approach by describing that which it is not, namely starting by understanding modernism. After all, that is embedded into the term postmodernism itself; at its core, postmodernism is connected to modernism. Essentially, modernism as a movement was predicated upon an avant-gardism that envisioned modern art as the cure-all for the broken world, working toward a utopian ideal. In understanding art’s engagement with religion in the postmodern era, it is also necessary to consider the shifting social landscape of institutional religion and politics at this time. The culture wars of the end of the 20th century both shaped and were shaped by postmodern art, with famous clashes between artists and the emerging religious right and/or prominent political figures dominating the headlines. Largely because of these events, many critical narratives have promoted the idea that art and religion had little to do with each other in this period. While secularization theories are gradually unraveling in the field at large, these ideas still figure prominently in many discussions of modernism and postmodernism. Regardless, artists have continued to engage with religious subject matter throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The appearance of secularization is imperative to note, particularly as a number of postmodern artists (indeed, some of the most recognizable names in the art world) have engaged with religion in their work. This is not to say that postmodern artworks with religious themes all celebrate religion uncritically, nor do they all examine religion from outside the realm of belief in a strictly anthropological manner. One of the main difficulties in interpreting postmodernism’s rather vexed relationship with institutional religion is the multivalence of many of the artworks. Multiplicity of meaning in both artistic intent (if such a thing is granted) and reception is common in postmodernism, which should caution critics from attempting to make concrete assertions about any presence of pure religiosity or pure secularism. Trends in postmodern artistic practices, such as the mixing of high and low art forms and media, the use of appropriation, pastiche, institutional critique, and more, along with the increasing diversification of artists and contexts, have resulted in the examination of religious subjects in ways that are particularly postmodern.

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

Kabbalah in Art and Architecture  

Batsheva Goldman-Ida

Kabbalah (literally “the receiving” [of tradition]) is an early form of Jewish mysticism. Key concepts include the ten sefirot (heavenly spheres), the Hebrew alphabet, Shiur Qomah (dimensions of the divine body), the archangel Metatron, and the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of the Godhead). The main books of the Kabbalah, written in early antiquity, include Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), an early and major source, thought to be from the 3rd century ce, whose commentaries constitute most subsequent Kabbalistic literature and Sefer ha’Bahir (Book of Enlightenment), first published in the early 12th century. Both works discuss the ten sefirot and the Hebrew letters. Other works are the Hekhalot (Palace) literature, which includes the ritual praxis of “descending to the Chariot” and hymns recited in a celestial Temple, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the book of Enoch, and sections of the Dead Sea scrolls. In the Mishnah Hagigah (220 ce), two variants of Kabbalah are mentioned: the study of Creation and the study of the Heavenly Chariot. These two categories are linked to biblical prooftexts: the study of creation to the first chapter of Genesis, and the study of the Heavenly Chariot to the first chapter of the book of Prophet Ezekiel. Of the Kabbalistic treatises and texts written in the medieval period, the most important ones are the book of the Zohar (Splendor) by Moses de Leon (c. 1240–1305) and possibly other authors, and the writings of Abraham Abulafia (1240–c. 1291) and that of his student Joseph Gikatilla. The book of the Zohar is distinguished by a reliance on the ten sefirot, although couched in esoteric references, while the many books by Abulafia present linguistic mysticism with permutations of divine names. The former emphasis on the sefirot is also known from the ‘Iyyun (Study) Group in Provence, and Azriel of Gerona (1160–1238), whereas in works by the Hasidei Ashkenaz (German Pietists), led by Judah the Pious (1150–1217) and Eleazar of Worms (c. 1176–1238), numerology and angelology are basic tools.

Article

The Study of Visual Culture in South and Southeast Asian Buddhism  

Nicolas Revire

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

Buddhist Cosmology  

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

Decorated, Illuminated, and Illustrated Bibles  

Jonathan Homrighausen

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.

Article

Monasteries, Holy Monks, Tridentine Saints: Port Cities of Seville and Valencia  

Karen Mathews

Religious art in Valencia and Seville reflected the international character of these port cities, attracting a diverse patronage base as well as some of the most talented artists in Spain. The city of Valencia turned east toward the Mediterranean and the movement of artists and artworks around the sea reflected its political, economic, and cultural importance in the region. Seville was the administrative center for Spain’s American colonies and its influence spread across the Atlantic. The international scope of these ports meant that their artistic culture played a defining role in Counter-Reformation Spain. This article addresses several interrelated themes in the religious art of Valencia and Seville. The thematic threads explored here include the international character of these cities and their outward focus on the Mediterranean and the Americas, the role of secular and ecclesiastical art patrons in commissions of painting and sculpture, artistic solutions for the representation of complex imagery and the requirements of Counter-Reformation art, and the accommodation of artists to new tastes in art that reflected a changing political and economic climate. The extraordinary wealth of religious art produced in these two cities can be seen as a manifestation of a central tenet of the Catholic Church in Spain—the power of imagery to inspire, teach, delight, and admonish. Artists and patrons collaborated to forge and perpetuate a veritable industry of image-making that served political ends, addressed social concerns, and highlighted the piety and devotion of each city’s inhabitants in the 17th century.

Article

The Revival of Animism in the 21st Century  

Kocku von Stuckrad

The academic concept of “animism” has a long and complicated history. Born from a colonial setting around 1900, it was used to identify premodern or “primitive” understandings of certain nonhuman entities or objects as being alive, ensouled, and agentic. Because of its European depiction as a “failed ontology,” and the heavy colonial baggage this depiction entails, the concept was criticized and went almost out of use in mainstream anthropology and the academic study of religion. Around the turn of the 21st century, however, a different interpretation of animism was (re)introduced, which focused on animism as a relational approach to the world rather than as ontological claims about nonhuman entities. Many scholars in the emerging field of “new animism” base their considerations on spiritual practices in Europe and North America that use the concept of animism in a positive way. This is true for many forms of paganism, nature-based spiritualities, and environmental activism. In a parallel, and in fact intertwined, movement, academic theories have been developed across disciplines and intellectual traditions that conceptualize relationality, nonhuman agency, and entanglements of life forms in a way that strives to overcome influential binaries such as subject–object, nature–culture, mind–matter, or human–nonhuman. These theories, in turn, materialize in literature and art, and they influence political and spiritual practice in many ways. In what can be called animism’s double-bind, new animism is a mode of critique of exactly those binary constructions that originate in European hegemonic thinking. While the idea of animism, due to its colonial legacy, should no longer be applied as a generic concept to a particular “type” of religion, its revival in Euro-American discourse at the turn of the 21st century can, ironically, be interpreted as a subversive attempt to decolonize the hegemonic tradition that constructed European (white, male) humans as detached from the rest of planetary life and as the pinnacle of evolution and creation.

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.