The Missing Theology of Art

How a plain white tablecloth and a dingy tavern scene can point to the divine.

How a plain white tablecloth and a dingy tavern scene can point to the divine.

“The very idea of making a painting of something had a very deep Christian purpose – at the beginning. Though at a certain juncture, it became very important for that to be set aside, so that art could be viewed through a purely secular lens and for purely secular purposes.”

There’s no denying the influence of Christianity on Western art. From Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam scene on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, to the use of religious symbols like the cross or figures of the Madonna and child – it’s pretty inescapable. 

But sometimes, it’s not so obvious. 

In this episode, Professor Thomas Crow shows us how artwork that seems devoid of religion – whether it’s a still life of a white tablecloth, or an Andy Warhol-inspired anti-war poster – can point towards something sacred.  

“Some of the deepest religious art is not overtly Christian at all. It could be a still life, or a little figure study of just an ordinary person, and you would read these ordinary things for the signs of the presence of the divine.”

Professor Thomas Crow is the author of No Idols: The Missing Theology of Art

The White Tablecloth by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Sainte Famille, dit Le Bénédicite by Charles Le Brun

The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio 

Take a look inside Rothko Chapel:

View the work of Sister Mary Corita Kent:

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