Art and Religion: Theology, the sacred, and visual culture

Day: Friday 6 April


Ben Quash (King’s College London)
Ayla Lepine (University of Essex)

Session Abstract

When art enters religious territory, it can open new spaces of encounter that provoke, illuminate, challenge, and disturb. The attachments of religious conviction, meanwhile, can discomfit the disinterested analysis of the scholar of material culture. When scholarship in art history connects with research in religious studies and theology, dialogues necessarily open outwards, therefore, onto debates regarding religion and the sacred in visual culture and in public and private life. Building on recent scholarship by voices in theology, religion and the arts, including Sally Promey, Graham Howes, Gretchen Buggeln and Christopher Pinney, this session encourages new perspectives on diverse meetings worldwide between the
sacred and the arts.

Across the past decade, art historians and theologians have begun to probe new zones of common ground and collaborate fruitfully. As an example, Stations 2016, staged in London during Lent 2016, was a remarkable but almost uncategorisable event. It created a route across London which connected works of art hanging in museum spaces (Jacopo Bassano’s Christ on the Way to Calvary in the National Gallery, for example, or a Limoges enamel sequence in the Wallace Collection) with works of art in church spaces (many of them newly commissioned, temporary installations), and also with works of art in public and ostensibly ‘neutral’ spaces (such as a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square). It clearly showed that contexts are not only physical spaces; they are also human uses. The Bassano in the National Gallery could, at the very same instant that Lent, have been gazed upon by a tourist spending a morning enjoying art for art’s sake, and a pilgrim en route with Christ to Golgotha.

This session features papers from art historians and theologians in fields that explore any tradition or period in which art and religion interlace to produce new experiences and understandings of holiness and the sacred. These researchers break new ground in relation to liturgy and ritual, interdisciplinary methodologies and crossfertilisations between theology and art history. They explore the unique status of religious objects in museums and cultural institutions, interactions between sacred scripture and the arts, religious implications for representational and abstract art, diverse intersections of gender, identity, and religious art, and the capacity of art to break boundaries regarding conventional understandings of ‘religion’ and ‘faith’.

Speakers and Papers

Spike Bucklow (University of Cambridge) The Rood Screen – Gateway to paradise

Honor Wilkinson (Bowdoin College Museum of Art) The Journey to Divine Understanding in the Architectural Diagrams
of Richard of St Victor’s In visionem Ezechielis

Whitney Davis (Berkeley) Presence and Scepticism

Helena Capkova (Waseda University) Golconde as Concrete Crystal of Caves: A case of transnational intentional community architecture

Hannah Williams (Queen Mary, University of London) Sacred Space in the City of Enlightenment: Following religious art
through 18th-century Paris

Catherine McCormack (Sotheby’s Institute of Art) Relic as Image and Image as Relic: The body of St Teresa of Avila in

Jonathan Anderson (Biola University) The Retrieval of Theology in the Artworks of Kris Martin Amitai Mendelsohn (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem) Behold the Man: Jesus in Jewish and Israeli art

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