Just up this morning from The London Times is Rachel Campbell-Johnston's urgent and fascinating article calling for a renewal and re-birth of the relationship between the arts and the church.
The relationship between art and Christianity began in the catacombs. The two have been intricately involved ever since. You have only to look at the work of the great Western Masters — the devotional delicacy of medieval manuscripts, the grand biblical dramas of Michelangelo, Rembrandt’s dusky meditations upon divinity, the iconoclastic Picasso’s appropriations of religious symbolism — to see how closely the stories of faith and culture have always run.
Recently we have seen a flurry of contemporary art commissions in churches. Antony Gormley’s Flare II in the Geometric Staircase of St Paul’s Cathedral was recently unveiled and is proving to be enormously popular, and a decision on the winner of Chichester Cathedral’s current competition for a new work that will hang above the Arundel Screen (typically, Gormley is up for this one as well, as is the 2007 Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger) is keenly awaited.
But though this may feel novel, it’s worth remembering that for centuries the Church was the main patron of art. Art galleries are often termed the cathedrals of art, but it’s the real, great cathedrals of Europe that have long born grandiloquent testimony not just to humanity’s highest spiritual aspirations but to its loftiest cultural ambitions. Indeed, the latter often took precedence.