Temple Art

Temple Art

Culture, religion, and materials have dictated art throughout the ages.

Loving Couple
“Loving Couple”, 13th century, Eastern Ganga dynasty, India (Orissa). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Culture and religion mainly drive the difference between western art and non-western art. Visit a temple in India. Instead of statues of saints or frescoes depicting Biblical stories, you will find many erotic scenes in the form of sculptures. This is due to the Hindu belief that spirituality of a man and a woman is made complete with the joy of sensual pleasure of erotic love. To convey this to their disciples, scenes of erotic love augment sculptures of Hindu deities.


Hinduism, as it is known now, emerged at about the time that Christianity started. The religion is mixed and complex, with no single founder, no single spokesman, or no single prophet. There is an emphasis on the preeminence of the gods Vishnu and Shiva, along with the goddess Shakti (literally, “Power”). The sculptures of these deities have a perception of movement to them.

I chose these two pieces of Vishnu to show his different personas, a protector and a welcoming god.  I am impressed by the detail of the pieces. I can almost feel the strength of Varaha emulating from his thighs and chest as he devours the primeval serpent monster and rescues the goddess Bhudevi (earth), who is hanging from his tusk. His figure look so masculine and strong. The look of adoration from the surrounding figures for defeating the serpent demonstrates how they look to him for protection. The outstretched arm and the relaxing pose of the four-armed Vishnu provide a calming presence.

Bronze was introduced as a material for statues during the 9th century CE, becoming the standard around the 11th century. It is now the traditional material for the dancing figure of Shiva.

Shiva Nataraja
“Shiva Nataraja – Lord of the Dance”. 11th century CE. Musee Guimet, Paris

The fact that they created such an intricate piece from bronze in the 11th century astounds me. The piece has such fluid movement to it – the flowing ribbon, leg and arm movements, and the different rhythms within the flames. One can almost hear the music playing in the background.

The lone goddess I am portraying is Parvati. Parvati is the gentle and nurturing aspect of the goddess Shakti.

I chose these two pieces to represent Parvati. The stone sculpture from Orissa has such intricate details carved in the stone. The painstaking detail of the ornate jewelry allows you to see each stone distinctively.  Although time has worn away some of the details on “Kalyanasundara- the marriage of Shiva and Parvati,” I can see the outlines of the ornate jewelry here also.

Though the temple art of India is far different to the art of Roman Catholic churches, it is no less interesting. It speaks of their East Asian culture and their belief system. Their convictions to their religion are no less than Europeans convictions. They, too, choose to adorn their places of worship with art that tells the stories of their religion and show their disciples how to live within their beliefs.


Works cited:

Cartwright, Mark. “Vishnu”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. http://www.ancient.eu/Vishnu/. November 25, 2012. Accessed April 10, 2016.

Cartwright, Mark. “Shiva Nataraja – Lord of the Dance”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. http://www.ancient.eu/article/831/. September 8, 2015. Accessed April 10, 2016.

Unknown. “Parvati”. Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parvati Accessed April 10, 2016.

Dehejia, Vidya. “Hinduism and Hindu Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/hind/hd_hind.htm  February 2007. Accessed April 7, 2016.

Shrestha, Prajwal. “Non-Western Art”. Art Appreciation. http://appreciationofarts.blogspot.com/2011/07/non-western-art.html. July 17, 2011. Accessed April 7, 2016.

The Protestant Reformation and the Arts

The Protestant Reformation and the Arts

The Protestant Reformation had a profound effect on the arts during the Northern Renaissance period. As reformers rebelled against the Catholic Church, they tried to distance themselves from the sacred art prominent within the Catholic Church.

The Protestant Reformation can be traced back to the Martin Luther’s writing of the ninety-five theses. These theses outlined how many of the Catholic Church practices were counter to the teachings in the Bible. The Catholic Church preached that man’s salvation could be promised by doing good deeds, which included purchasing sacred art to decorate Christian churches. Luther, however, taught that man’s salvation was through faith alone, not good deeds or indulgences.

As many of the Reformers studied the Bible, they noticed that the Catholic Church practices did not match up to what they were reading. They soon saw sacred art within the church as a form of idol worship and destroyed most Christian art during iconoclastic riots.

While Luther is noted as being the “father of the Reformation”, Lucas Cranach the Elder could be noted as the “illustrator of the Reformation.” Luther used the printing press and paintings to advertise his teachings and publicize his clashes with the Catholic Church. Cranach was the creative means to broadcast the message.

Cranach was trained in Vienna during the Renaissance. After a court appointment by Fredrick the Wise to be the Saxon court painter, his work moved from scared and mythical pieces to more of portrait sittings. During his time at the Saxony court in Wittenberg, he because acquainted with Martin Luther who taught at Wittenberg University. As a printmaker, his woodcarvings were used to illustrate booklets and pamphlets produced by Luther. Cranach’s paintings helped to spread the message. The most influential image that depicts Luther’s teaching of faith-based salvation is, The Law and The Gospel (or Law and Grace.) It was produced as both a woodcut and a panel painting. The image demonstrates Luther’s belief of receiving salvation through grace and the word, as opposed to the Catholic Church doctrine of following Biblical law. The right side of the painting shows man receiving salvation through God’s grace, while man is driven from God by not being able to uphold Biblical law on the left side of the painting.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1529, oil on wood, 82.2 × 118 cm / 32.4 × 46.5 in (Schlossmuseum, Gotha, Germany)
Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1529, oil on wood, 82.2 × 118 cm / 32.4 × 46.5 in (Schlossmuseum, Gotha, Germany)

My Perspective on The Law and the Gospel

I am moved by this piece mainly for the message that it illustrates – true salvation is through God’s grace. Cranach’s attention to minute details keeps me riveted. The face hidden in the burning hell in the lower left corner. The feeling of peace in the town on the right half, as opposed to the destruction of war on the left. The symbolism of the lamb on top of the lizard and skeleton. As most artist of this period, they would add prominent people of the time to their pieces, most often the patron who commissioned the art. Cranach was no different. On the left half, standing with Moses and the Ten Commandments are Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther at the top of the group. As you read the altarpiece left to right, you see that Luther does not say that we should throw out the Old Testament, but use it as a guide toward God’s grace.


Works Cited

Zucker, Steven and Harris,Beth. “Reformation and Counter-Reformation”. Renaissance and Reformation in Europe. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/protestant-reformation1/a/the-protestant-reformation. Accessed January 28, 2016.

Noble,Bonnie. “Cranach, Law and Gospel(Law and Grace)”. Renaissance and Reformation in Europe. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/protestant-reformation1/a/cranach-law-and-gospel-law-and-grace. Accessed January 28, 1016.

Condry, David. Illustrator of the Reformation: Lucas Cranach and the Lutheran Cause. April 22, 2013. https://www.academia.edu/6387760/Illustrator_of_the_Reformation_Lucas_Cranach_and_the_Lutheran_Cause. Accessed January 28, 2016.

Unknown. “Lucas Cranach the Elder.” Reformation 500. http://reformation500.csl.edu/bio/lucas-cranach-the-elder/. Accessed January 28, 2016.

Unknown. “Law and Grace”. http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/image-gallery/c/cranach_lawgrace.aspx Accessed January 28, 2016.