Throughout history, art has played a major role in defining cultures, sub-cultures and ethnic groups. By nature, we are born with a creative flair and desire to create, whether that is to portray our beliefs or simply as a method of self-expression.
This artistic drive is clearly visible throughout the ancient and modern religions that have emerged over time. From Christianity to Hinduism, sculptures, mosaics, architecture and traditional fine art have all been implemented to tell stories and embody faith. In fact, much of the history which we have learnt has come directly via artistic sources, such as the mythological Greek legends painted onto ancient.
Whilst much of this ancient artwork has been lost over time, we are privileged enough to still have access to some essential and truly impressive religious artwork. If you have a desire to discover more about faith-based art, these exceptional examples are a good place to start.
Christianity The Last Judgement
Due to the religions popularity, particularly in the West, theres no denying that Christian artwork is some of the most established and recognised. This has been significantly boosted by the impact of the Roman Empire, which was key in spreading the Christian faith and was based in Italy, a hub of artistic freedom, creation and growth.
Over the years, Italy has provided the world with a number of cultural and artistic revolutions, alongside key figures who pioneered these movements including the legendary artist and sculptor, Michelangelo.
Michelangelo is an infamous figure in the worlds cultural history and his work continues to be revered and enjoyed to this day. One of his most famous projects was the Sistine Chapel, found in the Vatican City at the heart of Rome. The chapel is covered in intricate frescos and whilst there are a host of different pieces you could talk about, all painted by Michelangelo, The Last Judgement is one of the most impressive.
Covering a full wall of the chapel, The Last Judgement depicts the second coming of Christ in vivid colour. Featuring a variety of symbolism regarding gods final judgement of humanity, the piece is both sobering and impressive, having taken over four years to complete.
Fortunately, The Last Judgement can still be fully enjoyed to this day. The Vatican accepts visitors most days and the Sistine Chapel, whilst busy, can usually be reached with a little patience. Whilst in Rome, discovering some of Michelangelos other art
is highly encouraged, particularly La Pietà.
Islam Hajj Certificate
Islam, as another of the worlds most prominent religions, has a detailed and varied collection of artwork documenting its growth, progress and tenets. As with all faith-based art, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific style and designate it Islamic as artists from many walks of life, countries and times have produced pieces related to the Islamic faith.
That said, symbolism and recurring motifs can be identified across artwork surrounding the Islamic faith. In particular, the use of geometry particularly geometric flowers have been described as Arabesque and can be seen widely throughout Islamic art. Furthermore, personified depictions of God are generally forbidden within Islam, which has resulted in much of the faiths artwork relying on calligraphic inscriptions and iconography to add meaning and give context.
An excellent example of this significantly different approach to religious art is the Hajj Certificate, a scroll dating back to the 15th century which serves as a certification for the completion of the compulsory pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims must perform within their lifetime. Hajj occurs just before Qurbani
, one of the most important events in the Islamic calendar, and is attended by millions each year.
The Hajj Certificate is an irrefutable example of just how old this tradition is and how important it was, and still is, to those of the Islamic faith. Created for a woman known as Maymunah, the certificate features illustrations of her journey to Mecca including various places of interest, providing us with invaluable historical and geographical information.
Housed in the British Library, the Hajj Certificate isnt easy to view in person but can be seen for free on the British Librarys website.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism Ellora Caves
Whilst usually, you wouldnt group these three quite different religions together, the Ellora Caves
are a particularly unique artistic site as they feature symbolism from multiple faiths. As a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ellora Caves is an ancient, 2 km long collection of caves and monasteries in the centre of India.
Dating back to between 600 and 1000 AD, each of the 34 temples still features many of the original sculptures, architectural designs and motives from over a thousand years ago, making for truly impressive artistic viewing. In particular, what makes the Ellora Caves special is how they show the spiritual openness and acceptance present in India during this period and over the years for that matter.
The caves include Hindu, Buddhist and Jain structures, deities, and symbols, all clustered together in a single holy site. Typically, for many of the worlds religions, this proximity would not be tolerated, which is what makes the caves such a significant part of past religious art history. This is without mentioning the impressiveness of the art itself, including how these communities carved dozens of rooms and building directly into the cliff face.
Fortunately, the Ellora Caves can still be visited and remain a popular attraction so be sure to visit if you find yourself in India.
These sites and artistic feats are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to faith-based artwork. From intricate carvings to prehistoric cave art, the world is full of faiths and significant artwork to support it. We encourage you to learn and discover as much as you can.