Famous Religious Paintings
Some of the most renowned religious paintings include the exquisite Buddhist paintings in India’s Ajanta Caves which may date as far back as the 2nd century BCE; Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes in the Vatican, the most well-known of which being the Creation of Adam (1511-12); and the non-representational religious paintings within Islamic Art featuring intricate symmetrical designs and beautiful calligraphy.
Other famous religious paintings include“Maesta” (1280-85) by Cimabue, an artist renowned for being one of the first to break from the two-dimensional Byzantine style; “Lamentation (the Mourning of Christ)” (1305) by Giotto; Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” (1437-46); “Adoration of the Magi” (1481) and “The Last Supper” (1495-98) by Leonardo da Vinci.
History of Religious Paintings
Throughout history, the most commonly-produced forms of sacred art have been religious paintings. Some scholars even believe that Paleolithic cave paintings created over 30,000 years ago may have been religious in nature.
Several ancient civilizations in the mid and far east that practiced some form of ancestor worship employed artists to produce religious paintings to venerate their deceased antecedents. These ancestor spirits were believed to possess god-like powers to help or harm their descendents. 2000-year old cave paintings of Hindu deities still grace the walls of the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India, while the art of Buddhist painting proliferated in China between 317-1279 CE.
As Islamic doctrine bans the creation of figurative artwork within a religious context, both early and contemporary Islamic religious paintings feature abstract designs of symbolic religious significance and calligraphy of Quranic verses.
The oldest-known Christian paintings date to 70 CE (a time when Christian artwork was relatively rare) and were found in the ruins of Megiddo in Northern Israel. Eventually, the 4th century conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine I to Christianity would cause Christian themes to dominate western painting for the next millennia.
Religious Painting Traditions and Techniques
Religious painting traditions and techniques vary according to faith, geographical location, culture, and historical period. For example, the ages-old South Indian classical painting style is used for ‘Tanjore’ panel paintings which typically serve as devotional icons for Hindu rituals. These wooden panel paintings are characterized by the use of bold, saturated colors, gold leaf, semi-precious gem/bead inlays, and gesso.
Christian iconography panel paintings of the Byzantine tradition were created using the encaustic painting technique (i.e. pigment with a wax binder). Artists were required to paint high-fidelity reproductions of church-sanctioned prototype images of divinities, leaving very little room for creative license.
Today, although religious paintings are still used in religious ceremonies and rituals, many contemporary painters choose to incorporate various religious elements into works both figurative and abstract, for purely aesthetic or non-ritualized inspirational purposes. For example, a religious painting of Jesus may serve as a decorative reminder of Judeo-Christian values rather than as an icon used in ceremonial worship. Furthermore, artists may create works depicting religious symbols, deities, scenes from sacred texts, etc. to communicate messages both religious and non.