09 October 2005

Fine Art and Religion

In the western world, fine art and religion used to be fast friends, comrades in arms, peanut butter and jelly. They had a dynamic, symbiotic relationship, each informing the other's practices. Consider an obvious example: Michelangelo's Pieta, one of the classics of Renaissance sculpture.

The real thing in St. Peter's in Rome is unexpectedly small, one might even say diminutive. Certainly it is dwarfed by the immensity and grandeur surrounding it. Mary is seated, the lifeless body of her sacrificed son cradled on her lap. The prevailing high renaissance style is obvious in the deeply carved folds of drapery, the perfect stability of the triangular composition, utterly naturalistic anatomy, and flawless execution in marble. Likewise, religion provides all of the symbolic weight and emotional impact of the piece. Mary not only weeps for her son, but for the world he was to redeem. She is not shown in her role as goddess of heaven, the new Eve. Rather, her figure forms the foundation, the structure, the support of the sculpture. This is not unlike her role in the Catholic and other Marian churches. She is massive compared to the little man in her lap, the image of strength and stability.

Fine art and religion have long since parted company. Oh sure, you'll find the occasional overlap, but it is rare. I don't know if fine art abandoned religion or if it was the other way around. I do know that both pursuits have lost the power they held during the centuries when their efforts were more frequently united. Maybe that has something to do with it. These days, however, fine art and religion are largely the domain of the zealous few.


Jonas said...

There are many Christian artists. Just in the LDS faith there are more than a dozen nationally known artists.

A good question would be why is art so good when it seems to be inspired by good or evil.

Matthew said...


The point she is making is that the link between religion and fine art is a far cry from what is was previously, not that there aren't any Christian artists.

Mary Ann said...

My favorite "religious" artist is Lane Twitchell