How Much of a Role has Religion Played in the Development of Art?

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Has religion played a role in the development of art over the centuries? To answer this question, you need only ask yourself another question. Is there any aspect of culture that religion has not affected over the centuries? No matter how far back you go, even to the cave paintings in Spain and France, you will see religious overtones to the work. However, here we are going to look at Pre-Renaissance through to Contemporary art.

In Pre-Renaissance art, Christianity was at its pinnacle. Religion was unified and was woven into every aspect of life. Art was not about the artist, for it was believed that the true creator of the art was god, but about the artwork itself. Thus the paintings had hugely Christian overtones. They were created in order to direct the imaginings of humans to the divine.

As the Renaissance came along, paintings began to lose their Christian identity. Renaissance comes from the French word for rebirth and this rebirth was taking place in every aspect of society. With it’s beginnings in Italy, Renaissance art went back to the mythology and nature of classical Greece and Rome. It was during this time that oil on canvass made its debut and the time when there was a new class introduced into society – the merchant class. These rich merchants now had much influence over art and funded it extensively. Thus, the art world no longer belonged to the church.

With Pre-Raphaelite art, there seemed to be a desire to bring back the structure and religious nature of art. During the mid 19th century, when Europe was in a societal upheaval, seven British artists created a group that aimed to bring back moral and noble ideals through their work. They went back to the time of late medieval and early Renaissance until the time of Raphael and renewed interest in detail and color. Thus, it was the aim of these artists to bring some normalcy and contentment back to European society.

Pre-Raphaelite art paved the way for contemporary art. This is, of course, the art of the 20th century and it is an art that has a large political and social influence. Ushered in with oil on canvass, a hint of its past, contemporary art moved into the abstract by the middle of the century. Thus, in the modern art movement, religion in the sense of Christianity no loner plays a significant role. However, spiritual ideas may play a role in the sense of artists expressing their spiritual selves through their work.

As with anything else in society, it seems that the art world sways back and forth from religious and older ideas to fresh new outlooks and back again. It is the way of the world. It seems to be the way to slow change and hold on to the past before realizing we have to let go and allow the current to take us. Of course, this begs the question, what is to come next?

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