Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art

Neil MacGregor, Author, Erika Langmuir, With
Neil MacGregor, Author, Erika Langmuir, With Yale University Press $37 (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-08478-8
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This is no run-of-the-mill coffee-table book; art historian and critic MacGregor not only offers a rich feast for the eyes through lavish illustrations, but also shows how art reflects the church's development over the last two millennia. MacGregor traces through art, for example, the church's shift in attention from the Adoration of Christ to his birth, noting that the observance of Epiphany gradually became less important than the celebration of Christmas. MacGregor ascribes this change largely to St. Francis of Assisi, noting that ""the impact of [his] teaching on the art of Europe can hardly be exaggerated."" MacGregor documents a related shift away from depictions of Mary swathed in royal garments holding a stiff, miniature adult Jesus, to portrayals of a ""vulnerable and helpless baby, dependent on his mother."" MacGregor also credits the humble St. Francis with the evolution of images of Jesus as a suffering lamb. Following Franciscan theology, artists after the 13th century abandoned the ""triumphant apocalyptic Lamb of Revelation"" for the meek, crucified Lamb of God, Jesus the paschal sacrifice. In a compelling epilogue, MacGregor suggests that although the 20th century has seen depictions of Christ replaced with ""photographs of real people and real events,"" the image of the Christ Child remains ""universally valid""; even people who do not believe he was Lord are nonetheless moved by representations of the baby Jesus. (Sept.)
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