Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Afghan soldiers from the ruling Taliban movement and visiting journalists stand in front of one of the destroyed Buddha statues in the central province of Bamiyan, March 26, 2001.
Afghan soldiers from the ruling Taliban movement and visiting journalists stand in front of one of the destroyed Buddha statues in the central province of Bamiyan, March 26, 2001.
Calvinist Iconoclasm
Calvinist Iconoclasm

What happens when art is at the center of conflict?

The power of images and their role in religious worship have been sources of conflict and debate across time and cultures. Periodically, these debates have led to moments of iconoclasm, or the eradication of images. The examples of the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 and the Netherlandish churchs stripped of their art by the Calvinists in 1566 offer the opportunity to consider the religious as well as the the political and broader cultural underpinnings of iconoclastic acts. They also raise questions about the use of images as a means of recording the destruction of art.

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Questions to Consider

  • Both of these images are about the destruction of images—the attack on the Bamiyan Buddhas in the early twenty-first century and the attacks on churches that occurred in the Netherlands in the mid-sixteenth century. How were these two moments of iconoclasm different? Did the iconoclasts share any of the same motives?
  • The photograph above shows us the aftermath of an iconoclastic attack. The print presents a scene of iconoclasm in action. The destruction of visual culture is recorded and disseminated through visual media. Why do you think these images of iconoclasm might have been created? How did they differ in nature from the kinds of images that were destroyed in each case?
  • Within both Christian and Islamic religious traditions, attitudes and approaches toward images have varied over time, across geographic regions, and among distinct groups of people. Why is it important to consider these variations in thinking about the history of art?