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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Compare: How Can Art Facilitate Communication With the Divine?


Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir

Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir
Artist / Origin: Moscow School
Region: Russia, Central and North Asia
Date: Late 17th century
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Gold leaf and tempera on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 12 in. (30.5 cm.), W: 10 5/8 in. (27 cm).
Location: Private Collection
Credit: Courtesy of Mark Gallery, UK/ Bridgeman Art Library

Reliquary Arm

Reliquary Arm
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, Valley of the Meuse, (present-day Belgium)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1230
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Silver over oak; hand: bronze-gilt; appliqué plaques: silver-gilt, niello and cabochon stones
Medium: Glass, Jewelry, and Metalwork
Dimensions: H: 25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm.), W: 6 1/2 in (16.5 cm.), D: 4 in. (10.2 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

How can art facilitate communication with the divine?

In many religions, art and architecture have been used to concentrate spiritual energy or force in one spot. These “power points” might take the form of ephemeral chalked crosses on the ground as in Bakongo practice or monumental architecture as at Chichén Itzá. Often, however, they are precious objects and images crafted on a human scale and in permanent materials. Icons and reliquaries offer two examples of such “power points.” Both objects act simultaneously as loci of veneration and channels of communication between the pious and the divine.

Questions to Consider

  • In what ways are the functions of the icon and the reliquary similar? In what ways are they different? How does each speak to the beliefs, needs, and values of the religious community that created it?
  • Both the Icon of the Virgin and the reliquary arm incorporate rich materials. In what ways might costly materials such as gold enhance the function of such objects?
  • How do these objects attain their respective spiritual power? What role does visual form play in conveying the authenticity and authority of each object?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2