If Christian meditation is thought, emotion, and imagination that leads to prayer, to conversation with God, then one way to approach it is not a book, but a work of art. Fine art will engage a different senses, and it will communicate. It was used for centuries as a teaching tool, even a catechism. The artist can help us to see something in a new way, or to feel the emotion of an event centuries before. We can use the image as a visual template to enter a scene in our imagination and thus experience the great events of our salvation. Although Christian religious art would be the safest to start with, all art could be useful if it is a method used to talk to God. Remember that God is the original source and author of all beauty. See, Wisdom 13:3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church., sec. 2129 last sentence. See CCC 2132, Catholic Tradition and Teaching on Religious Art, Sacred Images, and Aquinas, II II, 81, 3 (Reply to objection 3).
"The beauty of ...images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God." St. John Damascene. Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1162.
The image above is a reduced detail from the Last Judgment which gives ample material to think about, to feel, and even to imagine. To see a much larger version, click on image, or here.
To appreciate Michelangelo's work look at the entire Last Judgment so the "details" are more comprehensible. This painting is on the altar wall and is part of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings. The entire Sistine Chapel work and other art works are at Christus Rex.
The Damned Angel's Trumpet - The Judged
Giotto's St. Francis Preaches to the Birds.
Rembrandt: Three Trees and Crucifixion.
- Old Woman Praying, Nicolaes Maes. Giving thanks in all circumstances.
- Could some non-religious paintings have value for meditation?
- Van Gogh's Starry Night.
The Web Museum also has a number of paintings from the Renaissance (1420-1600) including Botticelli, and the great masters of the High Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, Titian, and later both Caravaggio, and El Greco. They have an artist index.
I especially like how El Greco depicted God's grace flowing like a yellow river to Mary at the Annunciation and to Jesus at His baptism. In Rembrandt's Prodigal Son, note the posture of the son. By kneeling down, through complete humility and repentance, the son physically allows the father to both embrace and bless him. Is this how we should be before God, and how He responds?
You can also look at the Gallery located at EWTN, and icons at the Orthodox Icons, and a large file of Russian Icons.
The images created by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Giotto are used with the permission of the owner of the copyright, Christus Rex. The images displayed here, and throughtout our web site, are for non-profit religious and educational purposes only. No other use is intended or permitted. The text is by the Rev. Roger J. Smith, unless attributed to someone else, and is presented "as is". ©1997, Roger J. Smith.
I am not an art critic or artist. I just invite others to think about the message presented by the work of art and then in meditation reflect on its application in your life. In addition, use your imagination. Put yourself in the position of one of the people depicted and feel what they feel. A painting may have tremendous spiritual meaning for you whether or not the artist intended it, or the art critics would agree. If you find meaning, work with that meaning thanking God.
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