Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

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Christian Art and Biblical Paintings

Christian Art

Famous Christian and Biblical Art

Christian Art uses themes and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups have used art to some extent, although some have had objections to religious images. 

There have also been many periods of iconoclasm in which icons and other images or monuments were deliberately destroyed.

Images of Jesus and narrative scenes from the Life of Christ are the most common subjects, and scenes from the Old Testament have played a part in the art of most denominations.

Images of the Virgin Mary and saints are more prominent in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy Art. However, there is also an important history of aniconism in Christianity during various periods.

Christianity makes far more extensive use of images than other religions, in which figurative representations are forbidden, such as Islam and Judaism.

A Virtual Tour of Famous Bible Paintings

Highlights Tour of Christian and Biblical Art

The Creation Of Adam – Michelangelo

The Sistine Chapel is the room where the College of Cardinals are locked in and required to decide on the next Pope.

The walls and the ceiling are masterfully decorated. The walls are painted with frescoes by various artists, and Michelangelo painted the Masterpiece of the ceiling fresco.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is one of the critical Renaissance sculptors, painters, and architects. He painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512.

The many figures painted on the high ceiling when viewed from the ground level look multidimensional and look like the sculptured figures we see in the Laocoön statute.

The figures are depicted with the muscular strength to give them a presence that is powerful and, at the same time, beautiful.

The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as told in the Gospel of John.

Da Vinci focused on representing the anxiety and confusion, as he imagined, would have occurred among the Twelve Disciples at the specific point, when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.

This masterpiece covers one end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan.

The room was used for communal meals of the Convent and was commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to the church and its convent buildings by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

 Pietà by Michelangelo

Pietà by Michelangelo depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. This theme was of Northern European origin, and Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà was unprecedented in Italian sculpture.

It balanced the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty together with extraordinary naturalism. Christ’s face does not reveal signs of his suffering.

Michelangelo did not want his version of the Pietà to represent death, but rather to show the serene faces and relationship of Son and Mother. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

The Pieta is triangular, starting with Mary’s head. The triangle then widens progressively downward with the drapery of Mary’s dress, to the rock of Golgotha.

Her monumental drapery covers much of Mary’s body, and the relationship of the figures appears mystically natural.

The Holy Trinity” by El Greco

“The Holy Trinity” by El Greco is a dramatic and expressionistic depiction of Jesus Christ ascending into heaven following his journey on Earth.

The Trinity is represented by God the Father, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit symbolized as a dove. Six grieving angels watch over the uprising of the body, while small, cherub faces gather at his feet.

El Greco skilfully captures the weight of Christ’s body by placing the elongated Christ figure at an awkward angle.

El Greco’s use of brilliant colors and the emotion imbued into the faces make this masterpiece a moving example of religious art. 

This painting is one of El Greco´s first commissioned pieces in Toledo. It was created for the attic of the main altarpiece at the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo.

Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Millais

“Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Milla depicts the Holy Family in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The painting centers on the young Jesus, who has cut his hand while assisting Joseph in his workshop.

The composition has a plethora of symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject. The most interesting aspect of this painting was how controversial it was when it was first exhibited.

It received many negative reviews because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor.

The portrayal of the Holy Family, in the painting, was in dramatic contrast to the general view of Jesus and his mother, traditionally represented in Roman togas and traditional costumes.

Charles Dickens accused Millais of portraying Mary as an alcoholic who looks: “…so hideous in her ugliness.”

Saint Helena by Andrea Bolgi

The Statue of Saint Helena by Andrea Bolgi depicts Saint Helena holding the True Cross and the Holy Nails. The sculptor Bolgi labored for a decade on this statue that epitomized his career.

Saint Helena (250 AD – 330 AD) was an Empress of the Roman Empire, and mother of Emperor Constantine the Great (272 –337), the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.

The Statue of Saint Helena was created for one of the four niches at the crossing of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. In St. Peter’s Basilica, four piers support the dome of the Basilica.

Each of the piers has a niche in which is set one of the four statues associated with the basilica’s most important holy relics. A piece of the True Cross Relic is kept near the colossal statue of St. Empress Helena.

Saint Longinus by Bernini

This statue of Saint Longinus holding the spear that pierced the side of Jesus is one of these four statues. The sculptor, Bernini, has depicted a dramatic narrative showing Longinus’ conversion.

Bernini’s skill in manipulating marble ensured that he became a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation.

Longinus is a mythical name of Christian history given to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance, the “Holy Lance” during the Crucifixion.

Saint Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy

Saint Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy was created for one of the niches at the crossing of St. Peter’s Basilica.

This artistic marble representation of Saint Andrew is one of the four larger-than-life statues which frame the Baldacchino in the transept of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Each depicts a venerated relic, which at the time was the property of the Pope and St. Peters. The statue of Andrew was created to honor the relic of the apostle’s skull.

Duquesnoy was disappointed when Bernini intrigued to have his statue of St. Longinus placed in the only corner that can receive direct rays of sunlight, enhancing the drama of Bernini’s sculpture. 

Saint Veronica by Francesco Mochi

This statue of the frantic Saint Veronica displaying the Veil of Veronica is one of the four larger-than-life sculptures which frame the Baldacchino in the transept of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Each statue depicts a venerated relic, which at the time was the property of the Pope and St. Peters. The figure of Saint Veronica was created to honor the relic of the Veil of Veronica.

The Veil of Veronica, known in Italian as the Volto Santo or Holy Face, is a Christian relic of a piece of cloth which, according to tradition, bears the likeness of the face of Jesus and is not made by human hand.

Various existing images have been claimed to be the “original” relic or early copies of it.

Saint Michael and the Dragon” by the Sienese School

“Saint Michael and the Dragon” by the Sienese School of the 14th century, is a mystical masterpiece depicting a miraculous event in dreamlike coloration.

Saint Michael the Archangel is referenced in the Old Testament and has been part of Christian teachings since the earliest times.

Saint Michael acted as the defender of the Church and chief opponent of Satan; and assists souls at the hour of death.

Saint Michael fighting the Dragon is part of an Apocalypse as related in the Book of Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John.

Black St George Icon

This icon of Saint George has become known as ‘The Black George’ because the horse is painted black rather than the white horse that has traditionally been used for St George Icons.

Russia converted to Christianity in 988, and the Byzantine traditions inspired much of its religious art. This icon made in 1400 was discovered in 1959 in a village in northern Russia.

It was being used as a window-shutter. The Black St George icon depicts Saint George and the Dragon, which legends describe the saint slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices and thereby rescuing the princess chosen as the next offering.

Some icons are depicting the saint as a horseman killing the dragon date to the 12th century. The motif became popular, especially in Greek, Georgian, and Russian icon traditions.

The saint is depicted in the style of a Roman cavalryman. He is mostly shown on a white horse, facing right, but sometimes also on a black horse, or facing left. From its Eastern origins, it was introduced into the Western Christian tradition by the Crusades.

The Repentant Saint Peter” & “The Tears of Saint Peter” by El Greco

“The Repentant Saint Peter” by El Greco shows the saint in tearful repentance with the “Keys of Heaven” tied around his waist.

El Greco painted at least six different autograph variants throughout his career in Spain. In this painting, St Peter raises his tear-filled eyes to Heaven. His hands joined in prayer.

The background scene on the left represents the Magdalen returning from the empty tomb after receiving the announcement of Christ’s resurrection from an angel.

Theologians of the Counter-Reformation used the tears of Saint Peter as a way of drawing a parallel between the saint’s weakness and mortal man.

The tearful image was used to elicit an emotional response from the believer for the church. El Greco made this subject, which was new in the Counter-Reformation period, one of his specialties.

Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco (The MET)

This painting of “Saint Jerome” by El Greco is one of five known paintings of Saint Jerome by El Greco. Saint Jerome is shown in the red vestments of a cardinal, although the office did not exist in his lifetime.

He is seated before an open book, symbolizing his role as translator of the Bible from Greek into Latin, in the fifth century. Saint Jerome’s translation is called the Vulgate and was in use throughout the Catholic Church for many centuries. 

El Greco’s painting shows him with gaunt, sunken features and a long white beard, which are symbolic of Saint Jerome’s story as a penitent and his retreat to the Syrian desert.

El Greco has successfully synthesized the two aspects of Saint Jerome, the scholarly and the ascetic.

During the Renaissance, paintings of Saint Jerome were famous, and they typically showed him either in his study or performing acts of penance in the wilderness. These pictures adorned the walls of the homes of many humanists and scholars.

Saint Jerome Penitent” by El Greco

“Saint Jerome” by El Greco shows him as an ascetic with gaunt, sunken features and a white hair and beard, which are symbolic of his history as a penitent and his retreat to the Syrian desert.

The cave-like setting recalls St Jerome’s years as a hermit in the desert. The book symbolizes his scholarly activity.

During the Renaissance, paintings showed Saint Jerome either in his study or performing acts of penance in the wilderness.

These pictures adorned the walls of the homes of many humanists and scholars. Jerome (347 – 420) was a priest, confessor, theologian, and historian. He was born in a village on the border of Dalmatia.

He is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin.

Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini

“Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini portrays Saint Francis of Assisi stepping out in the sun from his cave.

Francis lived under poor conditions in the beginning and used to take part in isolated spiritual retreats at monasteries.

The overall composition is thought to be a meditation of St. Francis, and although it has been cut down in size, the signature of IOANNES BELLINVS on a small, creased tag is visible in the lower-left corner. 

Bellini depicted Francis in religious ecstasy, whether receiving the stigmata or praying and singing his Canticle of the Sun.

This composition is a non-traditional and does not follow any of the established iconographic motifs.

Saint Luke painting the Virgin” by Master of the Holy Blood

“Saint Luke painting the Virgin” by an unidentified painter known as the “Master of the Holy Blood” is a devotional subject in art showing Luke, the Evangelist, painting the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.

This composition was often painted during the Renaissance for chapels of Saint Luke in churches. 

This scene became increasingly popular as Saint Luke became the patron saint of the Guild of Saint Luke, the most common name of local painters’ guilds.

These guilds were often conglomerate associations of various professions, including painters, paint-mixers, book illuminators, and sellers of these goods.

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael

“Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael shows Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion, at the moment when he fell.

The foreground of the painting is densely packed with emotional responses, especially his mother’s agony. Simon of Cyrene, who is centered above Christ, is lifting Christ’s cross momentarily.

The four Marys are depicted on the bottom right side of the painting. Towering on either side of the composition are the Roman guards.

This picture was created during the Italian High Renaissance and is part of the Museo del Prado collection in Madrid. This masterpiece is an essential work for the development of Raphael’s style and reputation.

Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano

“Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus.

At the foot of the cross is Mary Magdalene, who is hugging the cross, Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominicans is on the left of Mary and Saint Thomas Aquinas on the right, both kneeling with their hands together in prayer.

Also depicted are other saints and leaders from the Dominican order with Jerusalem in the background. Giovanni Donato da Montorfano was an Italian painter of the Renaissance who was born, lived, and worked in Milan.

This fresco painting in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan is on the wall facing Da Vinci’s masterpiece of The Last Supper.

The room was used for communal meals of the Convent, and both paintings were commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to the church and its convent buildings by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

Crucifixion Diptych” by Rogier van der Weyden

The “Crucifixion Diptych” is a diptych from 1460, attributed to Rogier van der Weyden. The two panels are noteworthy for their technical skill and their severe impact.

This painting possesses a directness unusual for the art of the time in the Netherlands. The background to the panels is unknown, and there are many unanswered questions about this “Old Master Painting.” 

The extreme starkness of this painting points to its creation as a devotional work, possibly for a monastery. Some art historians have mentioned that the work seems unbalanced and lacking in symmetry, which might indicate a missing panel.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci

“The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the grandmother of Jesus, her daughter, the Virgin Mary, and the infant Jesus.

Leonardo’s composition depicts the mother-daughter relationship between the two women.

St Anne is looking at Mary, as Mary is sitting on her lap, and Mary is looking into her Christ’s eyes. 

Christ is shown grappling with a sacrificial lamb symbolizing his Passion. The painting and its theme had long preoccupied Leonardo, who took many years to work on this painting.

Leonardo struggled to capture their relationships and personalities.

The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment Diptych by Jan van Eyck (MET)

The Crucifixion and Last Judgment Diptych consist of two small painted panels is attributed to the Early Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck, with parts finished by members of his workshop.

This diptych is renowned for its intricate and highly detailed iconography, and the technical skill evident in its completion. It was executed in a small format and was commissioned for private devotion.

The original gilt frames contain Biblical passages in Latin. The left-hand panel depicts the Crucifixion with a view of Jerusalem in the distance.

It shows Christ’s followers grieving in the foreground, soldiers, and spectators surrounding the cross in the mid-ground, and three crucified bodies in the top third of the painting. 

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin (MET)

Annunciation Triptych by Robert Campin, which is also known as the Mérode Altarpiece, is oil on oak in three panels format.

This masterpiece represents from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph as a carpenter.

 The painting contains many religious symbols, including the lily symbolizing the purity of Mary. The Holy Spirit is represented by the rays of light and a small white figure with a cross, coming from the left-hand window in the central panel.

The Belles Heures of Jean of France, Duke of Berry

The “Belles Heures” or “The Beautiful Hours” is a beautifully illuminated manuscript book containing prayers to be said by the faithful at each canonical hour of the day.

The French Duke of Berry (French: Jean, Duc de Berry) commissioned this book in 1409 for his private use. Belle Heures was designed for his wishes and is famous because of its many lavish decorations. 

The “Belles Heures” consists of a series of story-like cycles that reads like picture books. One hundred seventy-two illuminations in miniature are painted in the “Belles Heures,” mainly within rectangular borders.

However, the illuminators sometimes experimented by breaking across the boundaries to accommodate images that extending beyond the frame. The picture cycles are devoted to Christian figures or events that held particular significance for the Duke.

Wilton Diptych

The Wilton Diptych is a small portable diptych of two hinged panels, painted on both sides. It is a rare religious panel painting from late Medieval England.

It was painted for King Richard II of England, who is depicted kneeling before the Virgin and Child in what is known as a donor portrait.

He is presented by his patron saint, John the Baptist, and by the English royal saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr. 

The painting is in tempera, a painting process in which the paint was ground to powder and mixed with egg yolk then painted in thin glazes.

The background and many details are inlaid with gold leaf. In some parts, the panel has been molded beneath the gilding to add dimensionality.

The Raising of Lazarus” by Sebastiano del Piombo

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Sebastiano del Piombo is an altarpiece, intended for Narbonne Cathedral, for which Michelangelo supplied drawings for some figures.

Several preparatory drawings for this altarpiece by both artists plus letters between them have survived down to our time,

Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead was the most often depicted miracles in Medieval and Renaissance art, as both the most remarkable and the easiest to recognize visually in a composition.

This painting captures the moment just after: “Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” – John 11:45 In the upper left, a group of Jews and Pharisees, are depicted discussing the event, which completes the story in the gospels. 

Salvator Mundi” by Albrecht Dürer

“Salvator Mundi” by Albrecht Dürer is an unfinished painting depicting Christ as Savior of the World. His right hand is raised in a blessing, and his left holds a crystal orb representing the earth.

Dürer began this work before he departed for Italy in 1505 and only completed the painting of the richly colored drapery. The unfinished picture of the face and hands show Dürer’s detailed preparatory drawings.

This painting shows Dürer’s extensive and meticulous drawing skills. Salvator Mundi is Latin for the Savior of the World. This theme is the subject of many iconography paintings depicting Christ.

Salvator Mundi” by Andrea Previtali

“Salvator Mundi” by Andrea Previtali shows Christ as Savior of the World, who raises his right hand in blessing and his left holds a crystal orb representing the earth.

Salvator Mundi, which is Latin for Savior of the World, is a subject of many iconography paintings depicting Christ with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding an orb surmounted by a cross, known as a globus cruciger. 

The globus cruciger, which is Latin for “cross-bearing orb,” has been a Christian symbol of authority since the Middle Ages, used on coins, in iconography, and with a scepter as royal regalia.

The cross represents Christ’s dominion over the world, and this theme was made famous by Northern painters such as Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Albrecht Dürer.

Baptism of Christ” by Jacopo Bassano

“Baptism of Christ” by Jacopo Bassano was planned as an altarpiece that is expressive and unique in showing the baptism of Christ as a night scene.

Bassano left it unfinished at his death in 1592, and his heirs retained it for over a century. Bassano presents the baptism of Christ, not as a sunny event in a pastoral landscape.

It is also the foreshadowing of the suffering in the Passion of Jesus. The painting’s unfinished style can be seen as a step towards modernism.

Crucifix” by Master of Saint Francis

The Crucifix by the Master of Saint Francis was painted about 1265 – 70 with gold and tempera on a wooden panel.

In addition to the crucified Christ, it depicts the Three Maries on the left and Saint John the Evangelist, with the centurion.

The Centurion is one of the witnesses that recognized that Christ was the Son of God at the Crucifixion. The words ‘Rex Gloriae’ on the cross, just above his arms, mean ‘King of Glory.’

This type of crucifix was often painted on both sides and was carried in religious processions.

The Virgin and Child” by Master of the Clarisse

“The Virgin and Child” by the Master of the Clarisse was influenced by Byzantine icons and depicts the Virgin and Child, together with other Christian images.

The surrounding images represent the Redemption of Man by Christ, the Annunciation, and the Crucifixion. On either side is the Last Judgement, with trumpeting angels calling people from their tombs.

This icon was probably made for an individual for private devotion. The artist is named the “Clarisse Master,” which refers to an anonymous painter so-called after a painting of the ‘Virgin and Child Enthroned’ now in the Convent of the Clarisse in Siena. He was active in the last third of the 13th century when the influence of Byzantine icons was strong on Sienese painting.

The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes” by Margarito d’Arezzo

“The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes” by Margarito d’Arezzo depicts the Virgin, wearing a Byzantine crown and seated on a lion-headed throne while holding Christ who is sitting on her lap.

The earliest representations of Mother and Child were developed in the Eastern Empire, where Byzantine artists represented Mary with the royal crowns and the thrones of the Byzantine Empresses.

Byzantine art played a long and critical role in Western Europe, especially when Byzantine territories included parts of Eastern Europe and much of Italy. In the corners of the central scene are the symbols of the four Evangelists.

The narrative scenes consist of eight smaller scenes on either side of the Virgin show episodes from the lives of saints.

Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens

“Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens depicts an episode from the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was a Hebrew hero of the ancient Israelites described in the Book of Judges.

Samson was granted immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including defeating an army of Philistines. However, if Samson’s long hair were cut, then his vow would be violated, and he would lose his strength.

Unfortunately, he fell in love with Delilah, who betrayed him. Delilah had been bribed by the Philistines to learn Samson’s secret of his great strength.

The Annunciation” by Duccio

“The Annunciation” by Duccio shows the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.

Also depicted is the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove. This tempera on wood painting was the opening scene on the front predella, which visually describes Christ’s childhood in a series of pictures.

Named the Maestà of Duccio, it is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna.

The Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio

“The Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio shows Christ in the center of the scene, and the blind man is shown twice in the composition.

The man is shown being touched by Christ on his eyes, and then the man is shown looking up with his sight restored and dropping his guiding stick on the right of the canvas.

The two episodes are linked visually by the blind man’s rod. This painting is an early example of how Italian artists began leading the move away from the traditions of Byzantine art.

Christ by Emmanuel Lambardos

Christ by Emmanuel Lambardos depicts a plain and unadorned Christ in the Cretan School style and is executed with technical skill.

Sources document two icon painters with the same name, and it is difficult to distinguish between their signed works. They were uncle and nephew, who shared a workshop in Herakleion, Crete. 

Lombardo’s lived until the end of Venetian rule in Crete and then fled with other distinguished representatives of the Cretan school.

Prominent representatives of the Cretan School flourish during the early 17th century until the Ottoman Turks captured and occupied the island. 

Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas

This ceramic Pilgrim’s Bottle was used for holy water or oil from the shrine of Saint Menas in Egypt. It was used by pilgrims who wanted to take holy water or oil back to their relatives.

The Pilgrim’s flask depicts St Minas in supplication, with two kneeling camels on either side of his feet.

The camels represent the two camels who returned his body to Egypt for burial. St. Menas is dressed in a soldier’s tunic, his arms extended in the early Christian pose of prayer.

St. Menas was martyred in AD 296 and buried in the desert west of Alexandria in northern Egypt. Pilgrims came to the saint’s shrine for the healing powers of its sacred oil, carried away in these small flasks. 

Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens

This ceramic Pilgrim’s Bottle was used for holy water or oil from the shrine of Saint Menas in Egypt. It was used by pilgrims who wanted to take holy water or oil back to their relatives.

The Pilgrim’s flask depicts St Minas in supplication, with two kneeling camels on either side of his feet. The camels represent the two camels who returned his body to Egypt for burial.

St. Menas is dressed in a soldier’s tunic, his arms extended in the early Christian pose of prayer. St. Menas was martyred in AD 296 and buried in the desert west of Alexandria in northern Egypt.

Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt

“Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt depicts a scene of an old Bible tale from the New Testament. The Samaritan woman at the well is a figure from the Gospel of John.

In Eastern Christian traditions, she is venerated as a saint with the name Photine meaning “the luminous one.” 

According to the biblical account, Jesus was traveling through Samaria; when he came to a well and tired from his journey, he sat by the well. His disciples had gone ahead to the nearby city to buy food.

The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio

“The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio shows the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John.

This painting formed part of the predella, which is the lowermost horizontal part of a dismembered altarpiece. 

In this scene, Christ, on the left, informs his disciples that one of them will betray him, a prophecy that was fulfilled by Judas, who is positioned at Christ’s right without a halo. 

In this painting, we can also see how Ugolino explored how to paint perspective as seen with the ceiling and the table settings. Leonardo da Vinci was born over 100 years after this painting was made in Florence.

The Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael

“The Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael depicts the Virgin Mary playing with the Christ child and handing him carnations.

The Italian title is the Madonna of the Carnation. The botanical name of these flowers is dianthus, which in Greek mean ‘Flower of God.’ 

The sunny landscape through the arched window shows a ruined building, symbolizing the collapse of the pagan world at the birth of Christ.

The dimly-lit room setting demonstrates the influence of Netherlandish art on this painting.

Mary Magdalene” by Girolamo Savoldo

“Mary Magdalene” by Girolamo Savoldo is identified in this painting by the pot of ointment in the lower left of the painting, with which Mary Magdalene anointed Christ’s body.

She is also distinguished by the slight glimpse of a red dress beneath a silver-grey cloak. The landscape in the background appears to mirror the artist’s views of Venice and its lagoon.

Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman who, according to the gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio depicts the moment when the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to two of his surprised disciples, only to soon vanish from their sight, as told in the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31.

One of the disciples, Cleopas, wears the scallop shell of a pilgrim on his clothing. The other apostle, presumed to be Luke, wears the green torn coat.

The standing waiter appears oblivious to the unexpected event that is taking place. This event, according to the Gospel, took place in the town of Emmaus.

Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci

“Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the Madonna and Child Jesus with the infant John the Baptist and an angel in a rocky setting, which provides the painting with its unusual name.

This painting is in the National Gallery of London. It is one of two versions of this picture, which has the same name and similar composition but with several differences in the detail.

The earliest version of the two paintings is in the Louvre, Paris, and has been transferred to the canvas, whereas this painting is on the original wooden panel. 

The composition shows a grouping of four figures, the Virgin Mary, the Christ child, the infant John the Baptist, and an angel arranged into a triangular formation. 

Saint George and the Dragon” by Tintoretto

“Saint George and the Dragon” by Tintoretto depicts the legend of the saint slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices and thereby rescuing the princess chosen as the next offering.

The earliest Byzantine icons representing Saint George as a horseman killing the dragon are dated to the 12th century. 

Pictures of Saint George and the Dragon became popular in the Byzantine art of Eastern Europe and was introduced into the Western Christian art tradition by the Crusades.

The small size of this canvas suggests it was painted for personal use and not for display in a large church.

Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael

“Madonna in the Meadow” by Raphael depicts three figures in a meadow, all linked by looks and touching hands. The figures represent the Madonna with the Christ Child and Saint John the Baptist as a child. 

The Madonna is shown wearing a gold-bordered blue mantle, set against a red dress, and with her right leg lying along a diagonal.

The blue symbolizes the church and the red Christ’s death, with the Madonna uniting the Church with Christ’s sacrifice. In her hands, she holds up Christ, as he leans forward to touch the cross held by John.

The poppy refers to Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.

The Alba Madonna by Raphael

“The Alba Madonna” by Raphael depicts three figures all looking at the cross; they represent the Madonna with the Christ Child and Saint John the Baptist as a child.

The figures are grouped to the left in the round composition. The outstretched arm of the Madonna and the resting elbow on the stump with her enveloping cloak balance the group image. 

The painting is full of symbolism with Madonna shown wearing a blue mantle, set against a red dress, and with her right leg lying along a diagonal.

The blue symbolizes the church and the red Christ’s death, with the Madonna uniting the Church with Christ’s sacrifice. In her lap, she holds Christ as he stretches out to touch the cross carried by John.

Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael

The “Small Cowper Madonna” by Raphael depicts Mary and the Christ Child, with a 1500s Italian countryside as the background.

It was painted around 1505 during the High Renaissance. The composition is centered on the seated Madonna in a bright red dress; she is shown with fair skin and blonde hair.

She is sitting comfortably on a wooden bench, and across her lap is a dark blue drapery upon which her right hand delicately rests.

There is also a sheer translucent ribbon elegantly flowing across the top of her dress and behind her head.

 

Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli

The “Adoration of the Magi” by Sandro Botticelli is based on the traditional subject of the Nativity of Jesus. It shows the three Magi, who found Jesus by following a star and then laid gifts before him and worship him.

This story is in the Bible by Matthew 2:11: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, and they knelt and paid homage to him.

Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”.

In this painting by the Italian Renaissance master Botticelli, there are many more people present, and the scene is dominated by members of the Medici family and their close friends.

Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi

“Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi depicts the beheading of an Assyrian general by an Israelite heroine, as recorded in the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament.

In the story, the Assyrian General Holofernes, who lusts after Judith, a beautiful widow, invites her to his tent. Holofernes was planning to destroy the city of Bethulia, which was Judith’s home.

This knowledge forced Judith to find a way to kill the general. Judith, with the help of her servant, decapitated the general when he was drunk and passed out. 

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez

“Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez depicts the interior of a kitchen with two women in the foreground, and the background is a biblical scene.

The religious scene shows the story of Martha and Mary, according to the Gospel of Luke 10:38–42. In the kitchen, the older woman on the left is directing the younger girl in the preparation of a meal.

On the table are several foods, including fish, eggs, and garlic. Perhaps the ingredients of aioli with a garlic mayonnaise made to accompany fish.

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt

“The Finding of the Savior in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt was intended as a historically accurate depiction of the child Jesus debating the interpretation of the scriptures with learned rabbis.

The painting illustrates a passage from the Gospel of Luke and depicts the moment at which Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple.

Meanwhile, the rabbis in the temple are reacting in various contrasting ways to his questions and responses, some intrigued, others angry or dismissive. 

This depiction of the child Jesus debating with the rabbis who respond with different reactions is part of the tradition of this subject in art. Hunt was obsessed with the idea of revitalizing religious art by emphasizing ethnographical accuracy combined with detailed Biblical symbolism.

Maestà by Duccio

Maestà by Duccio is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the city of Siena in 1308.

The front panels depict a large enthroned Madonna and Child with saints and angels, and a predella of the Childhood of Christ with prophets.

The reverse of the panels has the rest of a combined cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. In a total of forty-three small scenes.

Unfortunately, several panels are now lost or can be seen in some leading museums across the world. 

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders is a story from the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Susanna was a fair Hebrew wife who was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs.

As she bathes in her garden, two lustful elders secretly spy on the lovely Susanna.

When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them. 

Susanna refuses to be blackmailed and is arrested and about to be put to death for promiscuity when the young Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent.

The Finding of Moses

The Finding of Moses’ story has become a popular subject in art, especially from the Renaissance onwards.

The earliest surviving depiction in art is a fresco in the Dura-Europos synagogue, datable to around 244 AD, whose motif of a “naked princess” bathing in the river has been related to much later art.

A different tradition, beginning in the Renaissance, gave great attention to the lavish Egyptian costumes. 

Moses is a central figure in Jewish tradition and was given a different significance in Christian thought. He was regarded as a typological precursor of Christ. The subject also represented a case of a foundling or abandoned child, a significant social issue in modern times.

“Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt

“Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt depicts a story from the Old Testament Book of Daniel.

The background of the story is that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had looted the Temple in Jerusalem. He stole the sacred artifacts, such as the golden cups, from the Temple. In Book of Daniel, his son Belshazzar used these cups for a great feast.

During the feast, the hand of God appeared and wrote an inscription on the wall. Belshazzar and his advisers were not able to decipher the inscription and had to send for Daniel to help them with the translation.

The inscription on the wall states: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.” Museum:         National Gallery, London

10 Famous Madonna and Child Paintings by Raphael

Raphael (1483–1520) was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance.

His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he is one of the great masters of that period.

Raphael was enormously productive, despite his death at 37, leaving a large body of work. 

His career started in Umbria, then for four years he spent time in Florence absorbing the artistic Renaissance of Florence and then his last twelve years in Rome, he worked for two Popes and their associates. 

Throughout his career, he painted many Madonna and Child images using different painting materials to celebrate the tender emotions between a young mother and her child.

“Moses with the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt

“Moses with the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt depicts Moses about to break the original two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

According to the biblical narrative, the first set of tablets were written by the finger of God. The tablets were smashed by Moses when he was enraged by the sight of the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf.

The second set of tablets was later chiseled out by Moses and rewritten by God. According to the traditional teachings of Judaism, they were made of blue sapphire stone as a symbolic reminder of the sky.

According to Exodus, the tablets were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. Museum:  Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

“The Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt depicts the moment of the prodigal son’s return to his father. In the painting, the son has returned home in a wretched state after he has wasted his inheritance through wastefulness and extravagance.

Having fallen into poverty and despair, he kneels before his father in repentance. The Prodigal Son returns to the farther wishing for forgiveness and a renewed place in the family. His father receives him with a tender gesture of his hands, suggesting compassion.

Rembrandt has made the left hand larger and more masculine, and set it on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture.

It has been suggested that the hands seem to indicate the inclusiveness of both the mothering and fathering gestures. Museum:  Hermitage Museum

“The Prodigal Son in the Brothel” by Rembrandt

“The Prodigal Son in the Brothel” by Rembrandt depicts the extravagance of the prodigal son, as told in the Biblical parable.

The son has asked his father for his inheritance, and this painting shows him squandering his fortune. In the Protestant contemporary Dutch world, the theme of the prodigal son was a popular subject for works of art due to its moral tale.

The people in the painting have been identified as Rembrandt himself and his wife, Saskia. The left side of the canvas was cut to remove secondary characters and focus the attention on the central theme.  Museum:    Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt 

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt, depicts the scene from the New Testament Bible. For the creation of this composition, Rembrandt experimented with drawings and etchings on this subject with differing configurations.

This scene is in a tomb with Christ standing in the cave with his hand raised to perform the miracle.

Rembrandt represents Lazarus’s rising as caused by Christ’s forceful gesture and his faith. Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha look on in amazement, as do the other spectators. The astounded witnesses’ expressions record successive states of awareness and awe.

The dramatic darkness of the cave is in contrast to the subtle colors in the costumes. Museum:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Vincent van Gogh

Rembrandt’s paintings have influenced many successive painters. Including Van Gogh, who also painted a picture called “The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt),” based on a print of the Rembrandt image.

Van Gogh depiction left out the central figure of Christ with his arm raised he focused on the human suffering and identified with Lazarus in the tomb.

Lazarus, in the Van Gogh painting below, has a red beard, just like Van Gogh. Prints from other masters inspired Van Gogh during his stay at the hospital in Saint-Rémy, and he made his version of the Raising of Lazarus from an etching by Rembrandt.

With his ginger beard, Lazarus bears some resemblance to Van Gogh himself. The painter may have seen a parallel between Lazarus’ return from the dead and his struggle from mental illness towards recovery. Museums: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

“The Woman Taken in Adultery” by Rembrandt

“The Woman Taken in Adultery” by Rembrandt depicts the episode of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery from the Gospel of John.

In the story, some Jews tried to catch Jesus condoning disobedience of the Jewish Law. The Scribes and Pharisees, knowing that Jesus empathized and forgave wrong-doers.

To trap Jesus, they placed in front of him a woman who had been caught taking part in adultery. Rembrandt shows the moment at which the Pharisees, attempting to outwit Jesus, by asking: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” Jesus replied: “He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone.” Museum: National Gallery, London

“The Feast in the House of Levi” by Paolo Veronese

“The Feast in the House of Levi” by Paolo Veronese depicts a banquet scene in which the tall figure of Christ is represented in the center dressed in a shimmering robe.

The surrounding people are portraited in colorful splendor, all actively participating in the feasts in various poses. The feast is set amongst great Venitian pillars and archways on a porch with a staircase to either side.

The background shows various forms of Italian architecture that were more reminiscent of Venice then the biblical lands. Museum:  Gallerie dell’Accademia

A Tour of Art

Religions of the World

There are over thousands of different religions in our world if all the regions are divided into church groups, denominations, congregations, religious bodies, faith groups, ethnic groups, cultures, and movements.

Below are estimates of the largest religious groupings, sourced from Adherents Data, for ordering the major religions and not for definitive numbers:

  • Christianity, 2.4 billion –  33%
  • Islam, 1.8 billion – 24%
  • Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist, 1.2 billion – 16%
  • Hinduism, 1.15 billion – 15%
  • Buddhism, 521 million – 7%
  • Chinese traditional religion, 394 million – 5.5%
  • Ethnic religions, 300 million – 4.2%
  • African traditional religions, 100 million 1.4%
  • Sikhism, 30 million
  • Spiritism 15 million
  • Judaism 14.4 million
  • Bahá’í 7.0 million
  • Jainism 4.2 million
  • Shinto 4.0 million
  • Cao Dai 4.0 million
  • Zoroastrianism 2.6 million

Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population practices one of the four most influential religions of the world, Christianity,  Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The Audacity of Christian Art

Early Christian Art History

The First Christian Art and its Early Developments

~~~

“Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.”
– Proverbs 12:25

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Photo Credit: JOM

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