Religious art or sacred art is artistic imagery using religious inspiration and motifs and is often intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual. Sacred art involves the ritual and cultic practices and practical and operative aspects of the path of the spiritual realization within the artist's religious tradition.
Main articles: Christian Art, Art in Roman Catholicism, and Byzantine art
See also: Religious image § Christianity, Madonna (art), Icon, and Images of Jesus
Christian sacred art is produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form the principles of Christianity, though other definitions are possible.It is to make imagery of the different beliefs in the world and what it looks like.Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of religious image, and there have been major periods of iconoclasm within Christianity. Most Christian art is allusive, or built around themes familiar to the intended observer. One of the most common Christian themes is that of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. Another is that of Christ on the Cross. For the benefit of the illiterate, an elaborate iconographic system developed to conclusively identify scenes. For example, Saint Agnes depicted with a lamb, Saint Peter with keys, Saint Patrick with a shamrock. Each saint holds or is associated with attributes and symbols in sacred art.
Early Christian art survives from dates near the origins of Christianity. The oldest surviving Christian paintings are from the site at Megiddo, dated to around the year 70, and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, dating to the beginning of the 2nd century. Until the adoption of Christianity by Constantine Christian art derived its style and much of its iconography from popular Roman art, but from this point grand Christian buildings built under imperial patronage brought a need for Christian versions of Roman elite and official art, of which mosaics in churches in Rome are the most prominent surviving examples.
During the development of Christian art in the Byzantine empire (see Byzantine art), a more abstract aesthetic replaced the naturalism previously established in Hellenistic art. This new style was hieratic, meaning its primary purpose was to convey religious meaning rather than accurately render objects and people. Realistic perspective, proportions, light and colour were ignored in favour of geometric simplification of forms, reverse perspective and standardized conventions to portray individuals and events. The controversy over the use of graven images, the interpretation of the Second Commandment, and the crisis of Byzantine Iconoclasm led to a standardization of religious imagery within the Eastern Orthodoxy.
The Renaissance saw an increase in monumental secular works, but until the Protestant Reformation Christian art continued to be produced in great quantities, both for churches and clergy and for the laity. During this time, Michelangelo Buonarroti painted the Sistine Chapel and carved the famous Pietà, Gianlorenzo Bernini created the massive columns in St. Peter's Basilica, and Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Last Supper. The Reformation had a huge effect on Christian art, rapidly bringing the production of public Christian art to a virtual halt in Protestant countries, and causing the destruction of most of the art that already existed.
As a secular, non-sectarian, universal notion of art arose in 19th-century Western Europe, secular artists occasionally treated Christian themes (Bouguereau, Manet). Only rarely was a Christian artist included in the historical canon (such as Rouault or Stanley Spencer). However many modern artists such as Eric Gill, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Jacob Epstein, Elizabeth Frink and Graham Sutherland have produced well-known works of art for churches. Through a social interpretation of Christianity, Fritz von Uhde also
Since the advent of printing, the sale of reproductions of pious works has been a major element of popular Christian culture. In the 19th century, this included genre painters such as Mihály Munkácsy. The invention of color lithography led to broad circulation of holy cards. In the modern era, companies specializing in modern commercial Christian artists such as Thomas Blackshear and Thomas Kinkade, although widely regarded in the fine art world as kitsch, have been very successful.
The last part of the 20th and the first part of the 21st century have seen a focused effort by artists who claim faith in Christ to re-establish art with themes that revolve around faith, Christ, God, the Church, the Bible and other classic Christian themes as worthy of respect by the secular art world. Artists such as Makoto Fujimura have had significant influence both in sacred and secular arts. Other notable artists include Larry D. Alexander, Gary P. Bergel, Carlos Cazares, Bruce Herman, Deborah Sokolove, and John August Swanson.
Main article: Buddhist art
Buddhist art originated on the Indian subcontinent following the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama, 6th to 5th century BC, and thereafter evolved by contact with other cultures as it spread throughout Asia and the world.
Buddhist art followed believers as the dharma spread, adapted, and evolved in each new host country. It developed to the north through Central Asia and into Eastern Asia to form the Northern branch of Buddhist art, and to the east as far as Southeast Asia to form the Southern branch of Buddhist art. In India, Buddhist art flourished and even influenced the development of Hindu art, until Buddhism nearly disappeared in India around the 10th century due in part to the vigorous expansion of Islam alongside Hinduism.
Tibetan Buddhist art
Most Tibetan Buddhist artforms are related to the practice of Vajrayana or Buddhist tantra. Tibetan art includes thangkas and mandalas, often including depictions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Creation of Buddhist art is usually done as a meditation as well as creating an object as aid to meditation. An example of this is the creation of a sand mandala by monks; before and after the construction prayers are recited, and the form of the mandala represents the pure surroundings (palace) of a Buddha on which is meditated to train the mind. The work is rarely, if ever, signed by the artist. Other Tibetan Buddhist art includes metal ritual objects, such as the vajra and the phurba.
Indian Buddhist art
Two places suggest more vividly than any others the vitality of Buddhist cave painting from about the 5th century AD. One is Ajanta, a site in India long forgotten until discovered in 1817. The other is Dunhuang, one of the great oasis staging posts on the Silk Road...The paintings range from calm devotional images of the Buddha to lively and crowded scenes, often featuring the seductively full-breasted and narrow-waisted women more familiar in Indian sculpture than in painting. Major art included mosques and a madonna (art of Mary and possibly her child)
Main article: Islamic art
A prohibition against depicting representational images in religious art, as well as the naturally decorative nature of Arabic script, led to the use of calligraphic decorations, which usually involved repeating geometrical patterns that expressed ideals of order and nature. It was used on religious architecture, carpets, and handwritten documents. Islamic art has reflected this balanced, harmonious world-view. It focuses on spiritual essence rather than physical form.
While there has been an aversion to potential idol worship through Islamic history, this is a distinctly modern Sunni view. Persian miniatures, along with medieval depictions of Muhammad and angels in Islam, stand as prominent examples contrary to the modern Sunni tradition. Also, Shi'a Muslims are much less averse to the depiction of figures, including the Prophet's as long as the depiction is respectful.
Figure representation in Islamic sacred art
The Islamic resistance to the representation of living beings ultimately stems from the belief that the creation of living forms is unique to God, and it is for this reason that the role of images and image makers has been controversial. The strongest statements on the subject of figural depiction are made in the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), where painters are challenged to "breathe life" into their creations and threatened with punishment on the Day of Judgment. The Qur'an is less specific but condemns idolatry and uses the Arabic term musawwir ("maker of forms," or artist) as an epithet for God. Partially as a result of this religious sentiment, figures in painting were often stylized and, in some cases, the destruction of figurative artworks occurred. Iconoclasm was previously known in the Byzantine period and aniconicism was a feature of the Judaic world, thus placing the Islamic objection to figurative representations within a larger context. As ornament, however, figures were largely devoid of any larger significance and perhaps therefore posed less challenge. As with other forms of Islamic ornamentation, artists freely adapted and stylized basic human and animal forms, giving rise to a great variety of figural-based designs.
Calligraphy is the most highly regarded and most fundamental element of Islamic art. It is significant that the Qur'an, the book of God's revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, was transmitted in Arabic, and that inherent within the Arabic script is the potential for developing a variety of ornamental forms. The employment of calligraphy as ornament had a definite aesthetic appeal but often also included an underlying talismanic component. While most works of art had legible inscriptions, not all Muslims would have been able to read them. One should always keep in mind, however, that calligraphy is principally a means to transmit a text, albeit in a decorative form. From its simple and primitive early examples of the 5th and 6th century AD, the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly after the rise of Islam in the 7th century into a beautiful form of art. The main two families of calligraphic styles were the dry styles, called generally the Kufic, and the soft cursive styles, which include Naskhi, Thuluth, Nastaliq and many others.
Geometric patterns make up one of the three nonfigural types of decoration in Islamic art, which also include calligraphy and vegetal patterns. Whether isolated or used in combination with nonfigural ornamentation or figural representation, geometric patterns are popularly associated with Islamic art, largely due to their aniconic quality. These abstract designs not only adorn the surfaces of monumental Islamic architecture but also function as the major decorative element on a vast array of objects of all types.
- Evans, Helen C. & Wixom, William D. (1997). The glory of Byzantium: art and culture of the Middle Byzantine era, A.D. 843-1261. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780810965072.
- Hein, David. “Christianity and the Arts.” The Living Church, May 4, 2014, 8–11.
- The Vatican: spirit and art of Christian Rome. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1982. ISBN 0870993488.
- Morgan, David (1998). Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Sauchelli, Andrea (2016). The Will to Make‐Believe: Religious Fictionalism, Religious Beliefs, and the Value of Art. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 93, 3.
- Charlene Spretnak, The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art : Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present.
- Veith, Gene Edward, junior. The Gift of Art: the Place of the Arts in Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983. 130 p. ISBN 0-87784-813-0
In 1607, the first permanent British colony was established in Jamestown in the Chesapeake Bay region by the Virginia Company, a joint stock company that received a charter from King James I and sold shares to raise funds. The colonists, led by Captain John Smith, settled at the mouth of the James River. Early years were difficult; the colonists faced conflicts with natives, starvation, and difficulties finding stable sources of food and support. Experiments with tobacco proved successful and the exportable commodity became Virginia’s main source of revenue, providing many of its landowning gentry a comfortable lifestyle throughout the next century and beyond. Half of the settlers in the southern colonies came to America as indentured servants—laborers working on four- to seven-year contracts to repay an agency or person for passage across the Atlantic. Once free of their contract, they were given a small tract of land in the colony. The exception to this rule was African slaves.
Lord Baltimore of England founded the colony of Maryland. He was Catholic and drew up a charter allowing the establishment of churches of all religions. By the third quarter of the seventeenth century, Virginia and Maryland had established a strong economic and social structure; they were agrarian societies with expansive farmlands along the region’s rivers. The planters of the tidewater region, using abundant slave labor, had large houses, an aristocratic way of life, and a desire to follow the art and culture of Europe. Less wealthy German and Scots-Irish immigrants settled inland, populating the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as well as the Appalachian Mountains. Those on the frontier built small cabins and cultivated corn and wheat.
The Mid-Atlantic region was the second area of North America to be settled by European immigrants. In 1609, the Dutch East India Company sent Henry Hudson to explore the area around present-day New York City and the river north. His claims led to the establishment of a colony named New Netherlands. Its capital, New Amsterdam, looked like a Dutch town, with its winding streets, canals, brick houses, and gabled roofs. The Dutch focused on the fur trade, exchanging European-made metal utensils with the local Iroquois who controlled the industry. To finance settlement, rich Dutch gentlemen who agreed to transport fifty people to America received enormous estates along the Hudson. These “patroons” ruled their lands like feudal lords, and grew immensely wealthy from the labor and crops of the tenant farmers who settled on their land (52.77.46). In 1664, the British took control of New Netherlands and the name of the territory was changed to New York. The Dutch settlers were able to retain their properties and worship as they please. The Colonial Dutch style of art and life remained pervasive in New York throughout the eighteenth century (09.175).
In 1611, William Penn, a wealthy Quaker and friend of King Charles II of England, received a large tract of land west of the Delaware River. Penn encouraged other European religious dissenters to emigrate by promising them religious freedom. Quakers, Amish, Baptists, and Mennonites settled along the Delaware River. The middle colonies remained more tolerant of nonconformity than New England and the South. Pennsylvania grew rapidly. German farmers, mostly from the Rhine region, settled in the countryside of Pennsylvania, establishing prosperous farms and the industries of weaving, shoemaking, and cabinetmaking. In the early eighteenth century, large numbers of Scots-Irish also settled in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, supporting themselves with hunting and farming. By 1685, Pennsylvania’s population was almost 9,000. Within a hundred years, its main city, Philadelphia, had 30,000 inhabitants.
New England was the third region to be settled. Religious dissenters actively sought to reform the Church of England. A group of these “Separatists” (later known as “Pilgrims”) left England for Holland, then looked to the English land claims for a settlement where they could establish their own religious experiment. Their ship, the Mayflower, landed in Plymouth. A larger and more prosperous group of 900 Puritans, led by the lawyer John Winthrop, emigrated in 1630. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in Boston, ruled itself rather than be governed by company directors in England. Most of the settlers came over as whole families, and tried to re-create, as closely as possible, their lives in England.
Not all the English emigrants adhered to the Puritan lifestyle. When Massachusetts banished the young minister Roger Williams for his unorthodox views, he purchased land from the Narragansett Indians in the area around Providence, Rhode Island. This colony instituted the separation of church and state and freedom of religion (2010.356). At the same time, other areas were settled along the Maine and New Hampshire coasts and the Connecticut River valley.
The first New Englanders built towns of tightly clustered houses and small gardens. Homes were two-room dwellings (one room upstairs, one down) anchored by a single fireplace and chimney (Hart House). Few settlers were able to take more than a chest or box with them across the Atlantic Ocean, so nearly all the furnishings for their new life were made by hand with local materials (10.125.685). Immigrant craftsmen continued to make furniture that carried on the decorative tradition of their homeland (1995.98). By the 1700s, many villages had grown into thriving communities and houses had commonly doubled in size and accommodation (Hart Room; 36.127).
Education was very important to the early colonists. From the very beginning, institutions of learning were established in New England, from town-subsidized grammar schools to universities. The first emigrants to New England brought books with them and continued to import printed materials directly from London, including works of history, classical literature, science, and theology, as well as volumes of pattern books for silversmiths and furniture makers, and prints that were copied for needlework patterns.
Department of History, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY