Religion and Art

Religion and Art topic in AQA Religious Expression in Society

  • Created by: Mimzee
  • Created on: 10-01-15 18:23

What is religious art?

Art: a range of visual images made by people e.g. paintings, calligraphy, icons

Religious art -

  • Art which has a religious message within it, i.e. which is designed to present a religious / faith message.
  • Art produced by a religious person - may want to express or share their religious beliefs with others
  • Art paid for by a religious individual, group or community. Client may believe that comissioning the art shows their commitment to that religion or a religious message can be conveyed to others.
  • Art that produces a spiritual response e.g. thinking/reflecting about spritual ideas, conveying religious teachings, expressing religous beliefs about the meaning of life, help to understand spiritual truths, aid worship

It is produced by inspiration, revelation and/or devotion.

E.g. Da Vinci – Last Supper, Creation of Adam - Michelangelo Buonarroti

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Purposes of religious art

  • Aid to worship – to focus; for inspiration; to get / give a visual idea of what is being taught / discussed.
  • To decorate/aesthetic – a room giving a spiritual atmosphere; a religious building to emphasise beliefs.
  • To express their own spirituality – by creating them.
  • To bear witness – educating others about the faith
  • Display wealth/power/status e.g. The Annunciation of Mary - by Filipo Lippi
  • Propaganda e.g. Lucas Cranach - Passional of Christ and Antichrist
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How religious art is produced

  • Inspiration: stimulates or has a beneficial uplifting effect on the mood and senses. The artist has had a sudden idea about how a piece should look. God inspires the artist to create the work.
  • Revelation: God reveals himself. The artist suddenlt becomes aware of some spiritual truth previously unkown to them that they wish to share with others through art
  • Devotion: Dedication to something e.g. religion. The artist and/or client want to show devotion to religion through creation of artwork. This piece of art might be intended as a focus to aid concerntration during prayer and meditation or simply as a teaching aid.
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How spirituality influences religious art

  • people are inspired by religion to create art
  • people feel they must create art to show their beliefs and their devotion to them
  • people show their devotion to religion by creating art
  • people believe they have met God, and this leads them to create art
  • people produce art as an act of worship.
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Examples of Religious Art

  • Icons
  • sculpture
  • calligraphy
  • graffiti
  • stained glass windows
  • wall art e.g. Catacombs in Rome
  • architecture e.g. cathedrals
  • illuminated manuscipts
  • paintings e.g. The Transfiguration of Jesus - Raphael
  • furniture
  • symbols
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What is symbolism?

  • When an image or action stands for something else.

(You need to understand the symbolism in some icons, paintings and stained glass.)

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Stained Glass

How can stained glass be made?

Stained glass can be made by spraying different colous onto plain glass and firing it in a surface to fuse colour on to the glass. It can also be made by cutting coloured glass onto different shapes and connecting them to make pictures or patterns

Where are stained glass windows commonly found? What might their purposes be?

Windows on Christian and Jewish places of worship. It mat tell a story from the sciptures or commemorate a holy person or special event.

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Holy Icons

Holy Icons

Painting or mosaic of Jesus or the saints. They are more than simply aids to prayer, as they are seen as being filled with the spirit of the person shown.

Muslims don't attempt to draw Allah or Mohammed - not sacred enough

Christians have many images of sacred beliefs: statues, stained glass windows, paintings and icons

Painting Icon rules

  • Every action & colour from the Bible. Icons believed to be work of God
  • Red clay behind halo represents how God made man from red clay
  • Breathing on gold symbolises God's first breath into man
  • Each layer is a symbolic representation of darkness into light - God separated light from dark
  • Fine layer of varnish or oil applied making layers brighter
  • Glory of God not artist - icon not signed
  • Reliance on copying earliest images. No innovation. Tracing necessary to make God present in our eyes
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Religious paintings - are they important?

Painting is applying oil paint or watercolours to a surface like paper, wood or canvas. A painting can show abstract shapes or a representation of the real world.


  • clear message
  • instantly recognised
  • ancient usage
  • revelation or inspiration from God
  • valuable
  • reminds/represents an aspect of faith's teaching or an important holy person


  • some unattractive paintings exist
  • icons used as act of worship - paintings often not
  • quality of message surely counts more than type
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The Annunciation - Jan Van Eyck

Symbolism is the representation of something in a symbolic form; where something is used to represent something else or an idea


The Annunciation - Jan Van Eyck

  • Mary recieves news from God that she will give birth to the Son of God in Luke's Gospel
  • Dove - represents Holy Spirit
  • White Lillies - represent virginity
  • Ray of light - represents God the Father. May be Holy Spirit causing conception
  • Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit
  • Gold italics from 'Hail Mary' prayer
  • Staff and robe - worn by Gabriel
  • Mary accepts God's will
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Resurrection of the Soldiers - Stanley Spencer

Resurrection of the Soldiers - Stanley Spencer

  • Heaven emerged from hell of battle
  • Transition from old to new eternal life
  • Crosses - devotion, hope - carried to Christ at top of painting
  • Handshakes - greeting, sense of community
  • Great energy and happiness
  • Took almost a year to complete
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Census at Bethlehem - Brugel

Census at Bethlehem - Brugel

  • Census - going back to your hometown to be counted. CaesarAugustus ordered this - Luke 2
  • Dutch representation of Brugel's town - highly unlikely for snow in Nazereth
  • Mary and Joseph are hidden in the crowd - appears like a common occurence
  • Children are playing carefree in snow though they could be evicted/murdered due to financial slavery
  • Jesus' birth fulfills several prophecies
  • First thought - wintery scene but also represents povery and death
  • Refugees - migration, cruelty of power, authority
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The Resurrection in Cookham Graveyard

The Resurrection in Cookham Graveyard - Stanley Spencer

  • Inspiration:  a 'visionary experience' and meeting his future wide Hilda. He had a happy childhood in the setting of Cookham. Very Emotional tones
  • Revelation: His love for Hilda made him very happy. Through this, he became aware of paradise and that 'God is Love'
  • Devotion: Spencer was a Christian who accepted the belief that Christ would return, raise the dead and lead them to heaven. He believed it was possible to see God's creation in everyday thing and wanted to share this knowledge and understanding with others

Symbolism: Very detailed painting. Set in a churchyard with figures of people he knew and loved.

  • Porch: Christ is enthroned in the church porch, cradling three babies. God stands behind him
  • His friends are helping him ressurect into a new world of enlightenment. Everything is resurrecting into a state of happiness and peace. Risen souls transported to heaven in Thames River. Resurrection is an event to be celebrated.
  • Prophets contemplating (Moses, Elijah) and Moses is holding the 10 Commandments
  • Community extended - black and white residents in center. shows that everyone will get to heaven but sinners will find it difficult to leave their graves - takes them longer
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What is calligraphy?

Stylised writing which turns words into beautiful pictures

Importance of calligraphy

  • visual illustrations help religious ideas & understanding
  • expression of spirituality/belief
  • shows great devotion due to time taken
  • may have personal value of expressing faith
  • traditional format in many religions - all books were hand written by a scribe who took great care to make them as beautiful as possible. Copies of the Torah are still written by hand today which is greatly respected.
  • only form of art available for much of history - sentimental value
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What is Graffiti?

Street art, whereby words and images are sprayed onto walls.

Is it good or bad?


  • public
  • available to everyone
  • often elaborate/colourfuL. Considered as an art form to some and is specially commisioned.
  • intrigues young people who may lack faith - targets particular audience


  • illegal: shouldn't be used as a medium
  • considered visual atrocity to some
  • difficult to understand - stylation
  • depends on extent of good - could not be effective in conveying a message: may be misinterpreted
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C215 and GGC

Street artist C215

  • French street artist
  • Painted people with dark colour tones and expressions of unhappiness and fear
  • Done to shine a light on the issue of homelessness
  • Paints people you might pass on the street. Wants to bring attention to them so we don't ignore them.

Gospel Graffiti Crew

  • group of Christian graffiti artists
  • "We want to reflect the Light of the world – Christ Jesus – through our work and our whole existence."
  • "The good news of His sacrifice for us must be heard.. must be seen.. must be experienced by all men!"
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Video - Graffiti Bridge to life:

  • Discussion of philosophical questions e.g. Who am I? What is the purpose of my life on this planet? What does it all mean?

"A blank canvas waiting for a picture of purpose to be painted on us"

Mention of things to fill an unfulfilled, unfocused,searching life Friends, fashion, false faith, fornication and the facade of drug-induced fantasies God's plan

  • His plan was for man and him to be one.
  • Creator and creation communing together in beautiful harmony. We can overcome sin by Christ's sacrifice - he is the way, the truth and the life.

Messages illustrated by their graffiti: "Jesus Lives" "Jesus is forgiveness" Conveys a reflection of Christ and showing his love the the world

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What is a sculpture?

A work of art which has been made from solid materials and is 3D. Some are made by carving and others are moulded, assembled and fired together.

Are sculptures important?


  • lots of time taken
  • requires physical effort
  • focus on God - shows devotion. Can enhance the beauty of a place of worship. Easily recognised figures


  • may sculpt for fees
  • not out of devotion
  • sculpture not originally intended to be religious
  • could be a hobby
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Is all religious art used through images?


  • Symbolic messages
  • Pictures of Jesus
  • Mecca/Great Mosque
  • Buddha
  • St Paul's Cathedral
  • Inspires people therefore art by images is religious


  • Some used for blasphemy e.g. mainstream art
  • crucified frog
  • images outside religious context - wearing crosses or badges with no faith
  • landscapes & calligraphy don't have images
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How do religions use art?

Devotion, teaching aid, aid to prayer, making others aware of religion

  • Devotion: e.g. hand writing the holy book & reading the teaching = dedication. Importance of writings - shown by physical appearance and works of great beauty such as calligraphy. E,g, the importance of the Quar'an to Muslims is emphasised by decoration
  • Teaching aid: Helps people, especially who can't read, understand concepts. Stories and teachings can be shown visually by sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows. Christian Churches - stained class windows - often outline the life of a saint or a Bible story. Jewish Synagogues - windows - may show sacred objects like the menorah, a 7 or 8 branched candelabrum as instructed in the book of Exodus. Sculpture and painting can illustrate the teachings of a holy person in places of worship.
  • Aid to prayer and meditation: People pray before icons of Virgin Mary and the saints asking them to speak on their behalf. Buddhist temples - paintings or statues of the Buddha as docus of prayer and meditation. 
  • Making others aware: Symbolic art can identify the religion on the exterior of the place of worship e.g. The Sikh emblem (nishan sahib) and Star of David (Magen David) on synagogues. Many believers show importance of beliefs by wearing a symbol such as jewellery.
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Why religions use art

  • Effectively express a spiritual message. Believer can immediately see what the art is about and use it to think and evaluate the meaning of their faith.
  • Express their love of God or religion. Religious graffiti may be created since the believer feels so strongly about their faith at a particular moment that they need to share that emotion with others.
  • Spread message to members of other religions or non-believers. People are allowed to visit places of worship to become more aware of a greater power and they may even experience a conversion to that religion.
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How religious art is used in worship - Publi

Public worship - available to all. Occurs when followers come together to worship

  • To inspire/as a focus for a sermon / speech / prayer
  • focus for meditation; within the fabric of the building to create a spiritual focus / atmosphere
  • the creation of the art could be the act of worship, e.g. icons, mandalas


  • No representations of humans or animals - would break the 2nd commandment not to have images. Decoration restricted to extracts from the Torah or simple designs like patterns or flowers
  • 'Words' of the message are important so calligraphy is it's main art form.

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism

  • Allows humans and animals to be reprensented but the main message is to guide believers to their central faith and support prayer or meditation
  • Christian church - painting above altar reminds of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and links with the Holy Communion service
  • Sikhism: Paintings of Guru Nanak reminds them of his teachings and practice
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How religious art is used in worship - Private

  • Usually takes place in the home
  • Makes believers feel closer to God and directly communicate with him. 
  • Allows Buddhists to feel closer to understanding the meaning of life
  • Many Catholics have the statue of the Virgin Mary or a cross in their home to aid prater.
  • Buddhists may have statues/paintings of Buddha
  • Hindus may have statues of their gods and goddesses
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Impact of religious art (1)

Intended impact

Should make people think about God, religious truth or remind them of religious teachings. It is hoped that the art will help them understand religious messages better.

Religious art might put people off a religion in they feel the image or message is too harsh e.g. it seems unacceptable to think about

Impact of religious art on believers

Likely to understand the message and have an emotional response. Makes them think more deeply about beliefs. May give believer feelings of great love of God or (Buddhism) closer to achieving enlightenment

Blasphemy - the art might shock or cause offfence to the believer. Could result in protest or violent actions

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Impact of religious art (2)

Impactof religious art on non-believers

  • Might not understand outcry about paintings of a religious founder.
  • Many atheists feel that the differences between religions provide proof that God doesn't exist otherwise they would all share the same view
  • Religious art can change people's views about religion. E.g. Religious graffiti with the aim of making others aware which may encourage them to think about their way of life & spiritually improve it.
  • Non-believers can still experience spiritual response to messages of art or their beauty e.g. peace when looking at a holy figure or fear when looking at sinners going to hell
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Impact of religious art

‘Religious art is meaningless unless you are a religious believer'


  • Background knowledge to interpret symbolism
  • Interest
  • True appreciation
  • Links to what they know and comprehend
  • God opens people’s eyes to allow them to appreciate it.


  • Art is for all, so anyone can appreciate it
  • You don’t need a personal belief to be able to read some art, especially when it is not abstract
  • depends what counts as appreciating it, because anyone can appreciate a work of art, even those who disagree with the message in it
  • works of art are often on public view
  • appreciation is in the eye of the beholder
  • not all pieces of art were intended as religious, but they have been appreciated by religious people
  • the art could inspire someone to turn to a faith
  • not all religious people appreciate art / some art.
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God, Belief and the Artist

What does religious art tell us about God?

  • Many people argue that their inspiration & expression of spirituality proves God's existence and that some part of Him within people inspires their creativity.
  • The beauty of His creation leads them to express beauty from art. 
  • Buddhists - focus on works about the meaning od life
  • Muslims/Jews - religious art can't tell people about Allah/God himself since he is beyond human understanding. They use calligraphy to convey the beauty of God's message.

What does religious art tell us about belief?

  • Islam and Judaism beautifies words on the basis of their beliefs not only from holy books but teachings from religious leaders
  • Paintings and sculptures can reveal historical events so that believers understand how old their faith is and how their beliefs have been shared by many different people
  • Art can make people understand their faiths/beliefs more as they are clearer for some
  • Can help non-believers understand more about beliefs of a religion
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God, Belief and the Artist (2)

What does religious art tell us about the artist?

Depends on the reasons. We need to know about the artist's life and religious beliefs:

Commision - might tell us that it was only made for money. They may not properly express the message due to misunderstanding or just produce what others might expect.

Inspiration - might be inspired by genuine religious beliefs to create religious art - more successful in expressing beliefs and having an impact on the viewers of their work

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Symbolic nature of religious art

  • Symbols are used by all religions to convey messages related to their beliefs
  • Religious members can recognise certain symbols and explain underlying meanings
  • This may create a spiritual response making the individual think deeply about the religion e.g. using the cross in public and private worship.
  • Many Christians believe that Jesus died to save them from God's punishment for sin.
  • Crucifix - includes the body of Christ nailed to the cross to remind Christians of his suffering to gain forgiveness from God for the world's sins.
  • Empty Cross - reminds Christians that Jesus' sacrifice enabled Him to conquer sin and death. They hope that by following Jesus they will achieve eternal life with God after death. The Empty Cross helps them concerntrate on the rewards of following Jesus and being obedient to God.
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The place of religious art in the modern world

  • Many religions argue that art is a very effective way of expressing a spiritual messages - especially in areas where people can't read religious texts themselves.
  • Some believers argue that art doesn't have to be drawn from a religious perspective to make someone think about religious truths. e.g. Painting beautiful landscapes or sunsets could arouse wonder and evoke spiritual response
  • Many Atheists deny religious art's place in the modern world as it is becoming secular. Fewer people attend places of worship and no longer learn about the teachings of religion so the symbols and messages mean nothin to them
  • Not all religiously themes art is religious. The subject matter could be disrespectful to God and regarded as blasphemous. The aim might deny the existence of God or an underlying meaning of life
  • Other artists seek to show that religion has declined in modern society e.g. themes of abandoned places of worship. To them, we are becoming a secular world and there is a decline or end of faith in the world.
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Religion and Art - Summary

You should be able to:

  • Describe and explain what is meant by spirituality
  • Describe and explain what is meant by religious art
  • Describe and explain different types of religious art including icons, painting, calligraphy and sculpture
  • Describe and explain how and why religions use art
  • Explain how religious art is used in public and private worship
  • Explain the impact that religious art has on believers and non-believers
  • Explain what religious art tells us about God, belief and the artist
  • Explain the symbolic nature of this form of spirituality
  • Evaluate the plave of religious art as a way of expressing spirituality in the modern world
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