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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.

Article

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

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

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

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

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.

Article

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

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

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.