Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images

David Morgan, Author University of California Press $45 (283p) ISBN 978-0-520-20978-7
""The point behind the visual culture of popular piety is not principally an admiration of skill, which pertains to the manipulation of a medium, but admiration for the object of representation.... We can therefore speak of beauty in visual piety as consisting... in the reassuring harmony of the believer's disposition toward the sacred with its visualization."" So writes Morgan, associate professor of art history at Valparaiso University in Indiana, as he attempts to explain how modern American Christianity views popular religious art. Using a variety of cultural, theological and aesthetic theories, Warner focuses especially on the popular artistic representations of Jesus, most notably Warner Sallman's Jesus, as an indicator of ways that art expresses popular piety. Sallman's portrait, which depicts Jesus with flowing locks and intense blue eyes staring heavenward, adorns thousands of homes and churches in the United States and has become the primary face that believers associate with Jesus. In order to uncover popular attitudes to Sallman's painting and other popular religious artworks, Morgan solicited responses from readers of numerous religious periodicals. He uses these responses, as well as theoretical arguments, to examine the ways in which popular religious art and popular piety intersect. Morgan has collected a lot of information, but his argument is often hard to find and his prose is tedious and often sloppy. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
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