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Posted April 28, 2004

Book: Interpreting Christian Art: Reflections on Christian Art
Editors: Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons
Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, pp. 208

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

since the iconoclastic controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries, the visual arts have been the subject of much ecclesiastical discussion and contention. In particular, since the mid-1060s Protestant scholars and clergy have been paying more attention to the potential role of the visual arts in the theology and liturgy of the Christian Church. As a result, numerous programs have begun under a variety of nomenclatures, e.g., Religion and the Arts, Theology and the Arts, etc.

Most of the essays in this book were originally presented as part of the Pruit Symposium on “Interpreting Christian Art,” held at Baylor University in October 2000. The symposium provided the opportunity to bring together scholars, clergy, and laity who are interested in the question of how religious art can contribute to the life of the contemporary Christian community. The resulting essays are a rich fare in interdisciplinary exploration of Christian art by art historians, theologians, and biblical scholars.

An Excerpt from the Book:

A Byzantine Icon

Perhaps, maybe just perhaps, the Eastern Christian formulation of art forms for worship purposes will prove to be the most Christian of any Christian art ever created. The Byzantine tradition of Christianity is practiced on a worldwide scale today. However, the theology of that tradition has remained steadfast and its art forms have remained true to roots that are deep in Eastern Christian history. A good way to illustrate this intensely Christian form of art is to look carefully at a “Pantorcrator” image of Jesus from the Byzantine tradition.

This panel painting appears on wood, painted in tempera, and follows the compositional guidelines that were established early in the Byzantine tradition. Theologically this is a picture of the consubstantiation of the Father and the Son. The figure type is a portrait presentation from the waist up and always presented in a frontal pose with the right hand lifted in a gesture of benediction and the left holding an open book of scripture. Such a figure is found in many media: including ivory, mosaic, sculpture, and inlaid stone, metalwork and painting. Since these works are blessed by the clergy and are created by artists who have been commissioned to do this “spiritual” work, it is an intentional art that was believed to be as important as the scripture itself, and it functioned for the faithful as the presence of the image it depicted. Therefore, when an image presents a holy personage, the belief is that the presence of that personage is guaranteed. The veneration of these icons has led uninformed observers to think that the tradition of worships art, however it is clear from the teachings of that tradition that every form of veneration of the icons is worship of the one imaged rather than the image itself.

The theology behind the creation of the Pantocrator rests in the Christological debates of the eighth and ninth centuries. The arts were raised to the status of scripture, and Jesus was raised to equality with God, the Father. Such a figure was ubiquitous throughout that tradition, even to the present time. Although the compositional demands remain the same, stylistic variations, though subtle, may be discerned in the art. That which remains specifically Christian in this art is the added dimension that believes the real presence of the one imaged accompanies the icon.

Table of Contents:

1. Achieving the Christian Body: Visual incentives to imitation of Christ in the Christian West
Margaret Miles

2. The Fall and Rise of Adam and Eve in Early Christian Art and Literature
Robin M. Jensen

3. Agape, Eucharist, an Sacrifice in Early Christian Art
Graydon F. Snyder

4. A Sufficient Knowledge: Icon and Body in Ninth-Century Byzantium
Charles Barber

5. The Image of the Word in Byzantium and Islam: An Essay in Art Historical Geodesy
Anthony Cutler

6. Who’s Missing from Steinberg’s Who’s Who in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam?
William M. Jensen

7. Luke and Pontormo: The Visitation in the Third Gospel and at SS. Annunziata
Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C. Parsons

8. Jacopo Bassano: A Case for Painting as Visual Exegesis
Paolo Berdini

9. What is Christian About Christian Art?
John W. Cook