Archetypes of grace and awe, symbols inspired by the three great monotheistic faiths have undergirded most Western art. This accessible study decodes the language of those symbols and illuminates art and faith anew.
From the big-bosomed Venus of Willendorf of 24,000 b.c. to the calligraphic sleekness of canvases by Siah Armajani, a kind of Quranic expressionist in contemporary Iran, art has served chiefly to bridge the sacred and the profane, maintains curator Soltes (Fixing the World, 2002, etc.). The ways artists informed by the Abrahamic tradition manifest materially the mysteries of the divine are shared in revealing ways: Ori traces affinities of shape, exemplified in the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Dome of the Rock; of color, in the Virgin Mary’s blue cloak and the blue tiles of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet mosque; and of number, in the four minarets of the typical Muslim house of worship and the four animals that symbolize the gospels’ evangelists. Gifted with a jeweler’s eye, a lucid prose style and sufficient erudition to masterfully review an astonishing range of work, Soltes moves briskly through several millennia of art. His commentary on Christian iconography is especially astute. And by pointing out the latent spiritual themes of much contemporary painting, from the Abstract Expressionists to African-American and Jewish artists, he underscores an essential point: that the impulse to, as Milton said, “justify the ways of God to man,” remains very much alive in art.
A valuable resource for both art history enthusiasts and students of comparative religion.