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What is religious art?
Religious art can be explained as the theory we use to show or portray biblical themes. In the earlier centuries religion was the main topic to use in paintings. It is still portrayed in today's art, but not as much as it used to. Religious art was often stated as whatever the church said it was, but now almost anything with a good biblical definition can be that. It does not have the same meaning as it used to have though: some artists use biblical themes in their paintings for nonreligious reasons. Even some of the most powerful religious art has been done by artists who doesn't share the same values and believes than the original Christian.
Religion simply means 'to tie things together'. It's our way to try to understand the world better; we humans strive for consistency and meaning in everything. The first cultures came one step closer to accomplish that, when they began to see a connection between birth and death and the seasons of the year. Without realising, they were creating a religious view. When I think about the word religion I automatically think of Christianity, not just because I'm a Christian, but Christianity is the most well-known religion there is. Thomas, F made a statement in the year 1987 that any felt passion or insight about the world, expressed with power, ought to be considered religious art.
How is religion depicted through the ages and what does it say about society, ideology, cultures and social aspects?
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, dated to the beginning of the 2nd century.
The biggest groups of the early Christian art originated from the tombs in the Catacombs of Rome and demonstrates the growth of the depiction of Jesus.
Up to the adoption of Christianity by Constantine, Christian art derived its style and much of its iconography from popular Roman art. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian art is still the liveliest form of art from Europe although this is largely because the endurance of church ownership has conserved church art better than worldly/irreligious works. While the Western European Empires political structure essentially distorted after the fall of Rome, its religious order changed. As a stable Western European society arose during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church led the technique in art, using its assets to commission paintings and sculptures.
I researched the Madonna and child depictions throughout the ages. Everything from the Gothic and Modern Era, the Medieval, Romesque, Rococo, Early Christian, Roman, the Renaissance and De Stijl art. This is what I came up with:
The Virgin and Child Enthroned - Icon in the Monastery of St. Catherine
Fig 1: Virgin and Child; Christ Pantocrater.
This outstanding icon has survived in two pieces, joined together with wire. It represents the Virgin crowned, supporting the Child Christ in her lap and with two warrior Saints at her sides, both standing in formal pose. Two Archangels are pictured behind the central group, their wide-open eyes staring with wonder. The virgin is portrayed on a slightly larger scale than the rest of the figures. She is seated on the red cushion of the pearl-studded throne, dressed in a dark blue veil, her feet resting on a golden footrest. An intense realism is reflected in the Virgin's white and pink face, in her strongly emphasized features and large dissimilar eyes with their vivid glance. Jesus Christ is pictured seated in a remarkably easy and comfortable pose on His mother's lap. It was painted using the encaustic technique and is believed to date to the 6th century.
Fig 2: An early Gothic Madonna and child. (293x352)
This figure is the ecstatic, emotional, imaginative expression of the spiritual as it seeks to throw off the necessity for faithfulness to material law in the expression of the godly idea. It does not seek to be human first. It is very dark and seems to be emotionless.
Fig 3: A medieval Madonna and Child in Santa Maria Della Consolazione. (2018x1536)
Set against a gold background and with gold halos, the viewer immediately sees that the figures are from a higher domain. All the lines are simple and curving gently. Mary's tender, loving motherly focus brings our eyes to Christ, who has an innocence yet also maturity about him, although he still looks vulnerable in his mother's arms. It is such a touching work demonstrating the love between a mother and her Son. Without trying to glorify humanity it somehow shows the human condition at its best - alive and full of the capacity for genuine love.
Baroque Silverwork Madonna and Child Icon
Fig 4: Baroque mother and child. (400x480)
This artwork shows the exceptional love between the virgin and her child. The two figures is more lightly toned, making it clear and outlined. I think the silver and copper portrays the presents Jesus got the night he was born.
Fig 5: Master of Pedret, The Virgin and Child in Majesty and the Adoration of the Magi, apse fresco, Spain, c. 1100, now The Cloisters.
It was in this period that stained glass became popular, although there is not much left of them. In the creation of this period, the tympanums of very important church portals were carved with monumental schemes; most of them were about Christ in Majesty or the Last Judgement. The artists were more free to do this version, because there were no comparable Byzantine models.
Structures usually had little depth, and needed to be flexible to squeeze themselves into the church tympanums. The tension between tightly enclosing frames, and sometimes it hardly fits, is a definite theme in Romanesque art. Figures are still not the same size as it should be. In relation to their importance, and landscape backgrounds, figures were closer to abstract decorations than realism.
Fig 6: Madonna and Child with Cherubs.1650. Sassoferrato. (400x400)
A realistic landscape behind the figures would distract the viewer from focusing on the human relationship of the Virgin and the baby Jesus, but the angels help set the mood without weakening the intended effect. Sassoferrato had the ability to take such simple elements and does so much, leaving the faces of the figures with convincing humanity while making the entire scene have a golden, heavenly glow.
Fig 7: Virgin and child. [12 (334x600)]
Although there is no colour in this picture, it is still grabs your attention with its contrasts and play with black and white. Both Jesus and His mother have big haloes and you can see the intensity between the two.
Fig 8: Madonna and child. (400x533)
Fig 8 is very colourful with edgy lines. Again, the angels in this figure are in the background to help enlarge the two most important objects-virgin Mary and Jesus.
Fig 9.Enthroned Virgin and Christ Child.1400s. (175/8 x 123/8x 57/8)
The history of this specific topic does not only consist of the Madonna figure in Christianity, but also to make people aware of the bond between a mother and her child. This limestone sculpture is made in the early 1400s and you can see the way Virgin Mary and Christ are depicted did not really change that much.
Fig 10: Virgin and child with a flower vase. [1, 2 (436x600)]
There's one thing that all this paintings have in common: The mother's great love for her child. In all of them Jesus is sitting in His mother's lap, looking comfortable. In most of the figures the virgin and her child looks more expressionless than affectionate, accept in figures 3, 4, 6 and 10. In those two pictures you can see their love on their faces. Gold and black are used almost in every figure, gold stands for royalty and wealth.
There are a lot of similarities like how the Madonna and Child are exactly in the middle of the painting or sculpture and also raised a bit higher than the other figures. Some of the same gestures and symbols are used in all of the different figures. This repetition of themes reflects Christianity's views of the holiness of the Madonna and Child, but differences in the styles of the paintings mirror societies changing views of Christianity. Madonna ("the Virgin Mary" or "Mother of God") had a son (Jesus Christ), implanted in her womb by the Holy Spirit. The archangel Gabriel came to Mary and told her about her virgin conception of a baby boy, and she must name Him Jesus. The Virgin Mary is a symbol of humbleness and purity and almost in all the figures the décor and setting is representative of her blessedness and purity.
The clothing in every painting or sculpture is that what we see these days as clothes from the old days: long, loose, layered and wide drape-like dresses with material covering the woman's head. Only in figure 4 you can see luxuriousness, décor is also absent throughout the years of portraying The Virgin and child, this shows more importance to the holy figures rather than concentrating on the scenery. The colour in my chosen images are very dark, except in figures 3 and 6.In those two paintings the Mother of God are wearing brighter colours like blue and red.
Baby Jesus depicts blessing and Mother of God, safety. The light source seems to be centered in every picture and by only lightening the faces it helps make an extreme contrast against the dark background. Haloes were very important, but strangely it's not being elaborately detailed, they are simply "shiny" disks. Most of my figures are set in a natural environment, which makes the atmosphere look earthy and graceful. The medium varies from paint, oil paint, silver, glass and carved out of stone. Only in figures 4, 8 and 9 the virgin is crowned with a halo-the others only have the halo. In figure 1, 6, 8 there's angels present and has the same light around them. They give the painting a warm feeling and represent the fact that with Jesus in your life you will never be alone and they will always look after you. The angels are always portrayed from the top corners or from the opposite sides looking down at Christ and His mother.
Something about Christ's face looks almost a little mature, as if he already knows so much. It is odd to think that because in the art he is still just an infant.
Although there are so many differences as well as similarities, it is us who decides what to believe and what to ignore. In this specific topic there is so many explanations for every painting's theme and style that it is easy to become confused or uncertain. Stay believing in what you have been taught, but don't ignore everything new that you learn-it just broaden your knowledge.