Art books chronicle the search for Christ’s likeness

Published December 1, 2000

FOR TWO millennia artists have struggled to create an image of the Christ – human and divine, with no information about his appearance. These books, all large format and rich in superb colour plates, present their varied attempts through the ages, together with interpretive commentary that will make them much more than mere coffee table gifts.

The author and other contributors bring together sculpture, prints, and paintings from the early Christian era to the twentieth century, focusing on the purposes for which they were made and exploring what they might have meant to their original viewers. They trace the development of representations of the Christ from symbolic imagery like the Good Shepherd to purported likenesses of Jesus based on “miraculous” images like the Shroud of Turin. They also explore the attempts of artists to translate the idea that Jesus lives today into contemporary images.

[pullquote]This elegant volume shows how Christian paintings through the ages conveyed their messages. The author, an Anglican priest, biblical scholar, and artist, combines technical analysis with theology and meditation, as he goes beyond picking out the symbols for identification and instead views the whole painting. The book is a compilation of the best from years of sermons and lectures in London and Oxford, commentaries in which he reveals paintings from the fourteenth through twentieth centuries as works filled with passion, stories, and meaning. They come alive in their portrayal of birth, death, sacrifice, love, and moral goodness and failure from both a human and divine perspective. Above all, it restores religious paintings from gallery display to their primary context of worship.

Seventeenth century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn produced almost every kind of picture: still life, portraits, scenes of everyday life, and incidents from the Bible. The author, a Christian Reformed pastor, takes a selection of the paintings on biblical themes and analyzes them through what can only be described as well-crafted sermons, complete with pictorial and anecdotal illustration. Art education is clearly secondary to his main goal of strengthening the reader’s Christian faith.

Bill Portman is the book review editor for the Anglican Journal.


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