PICTURES OF THE BIBLE © Serge Ceruti and Gérard Dufour 2008
Pictures of the Bible
The site was originally devised in French by Serge CERUTI, who is also its webmaster, but now this English version is the fruit of the collaboration between :
Professeur agrégé in History
Professeur des Universités, agrégé, docteur d’État in English Literature.
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For whom ?
|What is the objective of this site?|
|What kind of pictures?|
|Is this site religious?|
|Is this site artistic?|
|What biblical scenes are to be found in this site?|
About Pictures of the Bible
|What is the objective of this site?||
The objective of this site is cultural and didactic; it is a means to understand artistic works with biblical subjects.
In every period, the Bible has been put into pictures for the religious education of believers but it has also been a major source of inspiration for artists. These pictures from the Bible are engraved on ivory and gold, carved on stone, cut in glass, woven in wool and silk, painted on wood, wall or canvas… They fill churches but also civil buildings and they occupy a great part of museums.
Today, due to the lack of understanding about their subjects, the ignorance of their characters, the obscurity of their symbols… Bible pictures, for the majority of those who come across them, are reduced to formal beauty empty of meaning. Allusions, limited explanations are not sufficient and a systematic initiation through new channels is necessary. This site aims at being such a one.
What kind of pictures?
Bible pictures belong to several cultural units; those referred to in this site are specific.
The pictures are those of Christian culture. The Bible is not the monopoly of Christians; in the Jewish culture there are also beautiful and rich pictures from the Bible but historically Christian cultures have been dominant and it is not desirable to reduce Jewish pictures to what they have in common with Christian culture. Yet some artists are exceptions, like Chagall who transcends specific cultures.
The pictures are those of the Bible and not of the whole of Christian art. A large part of the representations come from legends and saints’ lives. This is another ensemble to be studied separately. Therefore, only the pictures about characters present in biblical narratives will be studied. But Christian art is mainly derived from the Catholic Bible of which certain books or passages are not acknowledged by Protestants. Such scenes like the so-called Susanna in the Bath are absent from Protestant and Jewish Bibles. Moreover, some artists have been inspired by apocryphal writings which were much richer in pictures than the canonical gospels; thus the scene of Veronica’s veil has been retained though it does not appear in any of the gospels.
The pictures are almost exclusively those of western post-antique art. If Bible pictures are numerous in antique art from the 2nd century to the 5th century, their deciphering supposes some knowledge of the art of that period and their cultural distance from us is great, so that only a few simple examples are proposed. On the other hand, Bible pictures have often been created by oriental art, Syrian or Byzantine, before inspiring the Occident, but these oriental pictures remain specific of an original culture. The explanations will not forget to mention these origins but the pictures chosen are those of the Occident.
In any case, this site does not aim to be encyclopaedic; its purpose is not to collect all the pictures on the web about a scene or a character, even if the author hopes to enrich the data over the years.
Is this site religious?
This site does not aim at any religious or denominational proselytism. Indeed, the Bible occupies a large part and the choice has been made to refer to the complete texts rather than to subjective compilations. But the site starts from the artistic works inspired by the Bible and if it puts them in relation with the texts of the Bible, it is in order to better understand these works, not the Bible. Nevertheless, biblical texts are often accompanied with some religious explanations. Actually, works are not simple illustrations of a text, more often than not they are based on a particular religious meaning; that is why the biblical text of reference is generally followed by a few elements permitting to make them more explicit.
The signification adopted is Christian, for almost all the works are inspired by Christianity and more particularly by the Catholic denomination. It has already been said above why Jewish and Orthodox pictures had been excluded; as for Protestant pictures, they are much rarer than Catholic ones. However, when it is useful to specify Jewish, Orthodox or Protestant meanings, this is mentioned.
The texts of the Bible are the canonical texts of the Authorised King James Version of 1611 and the apocryphal texts included in the original edition.
Other deuterocanonical texts not present in the original Authorised Version are taken from the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (1899 American Edition)
Is this site artistic?
The approach offered here is not directly artistic. Indeed, the patrimony constituted by all the pictures inspired by the Bible has an immense artistic value and it is to better understand these works that this site exists, but it only aims to be a help to decipher these pictures and not to comment on their artistic and aesthetic dimensions. It is a prerequisite for it seems difficult to appreciate a work of art without understanding its subject, except if one considers that any representation is a simple assemblage of forms and colours.
Is it possible to study biblical pictures outside its artistic context? Indeed, each work of art is dated but the strength of the biblical subject is superior to the forms of the artistic current of the period considered. Thus, once the Nativity of Jesus was represented as the adoration of an infant, the form remained stable from the Middle-Ages to Saint-Sulpician art; this is possible for Bible pictures are strongly stereotyped. For centuries, artists had to follow the texts and their official interpretations. The evolution of a representation happens by fits and starts, when the interpretation changes on the occasion of a religious upheaval (a new current like that of St Francis, or a reforming council like that of Trent) or when an artistic genius imposes a new representation (Michelangelo for the Last Judgment). This applies above all for the past centuries, for already in the 19th and 20th centuries, the freedom of artists became almost absolute and the will to get out of stereotypes has been growing, hence the difficulty to decipher the biblical pictures of certain contemporary artists even when they remain figurative. These great iconographic evolutions are simply suggested.
|A few references||
Two fundamental French books the first of which is out of print and can only be consulted in libraries:
Louis RÉAU, Iconographie de l’art chrétien ; PUF, Paris, 1956
Gaston DUCHET-SUCHAUX and Michel PASTOUREAU, La Bible et les Saints. Guide iconographique, Flammarion, Paris, 1990.
Navigation and Search
What biblical scenes are to be found in this site?
A biblical scene is to be understood here as one moment of a biblical narrative corresponding to a certain iconographic unity. For instance, the story of the combat of David against Goliath can be divided into several moments: the confrontation of the two men, David striking down Goliath with his sling, David killing Goliath and cutting off his head with the sword, victorious David carrying away Goliath’s head. The first three moments bring together the two men who fight each other with varied means and with diverse positions; this constitutes an iconographic unity. But the moment when David comes back alone with Goliath’s head is different; it constitutes a secondary iconographic unit.
Not all biblical scenes can be found, for not all of them have been artistically represented and some scenes have been eliminated for they are little frequent.
The files do not correspond to a character or to a biblical book but to a scene. In this way different characters can take part in scenes that are close if we consider their iconography (the Last Supper and the Wedding at Cana are scenes of banquets) and the same character can be seen in several scenes that are quite different (Abraham is present in 3 scenes: Abraham and Melchizedek; Abraham and the three visitors, The sacrifice of Abraham).
The present scenes are selected according to their frequency and to the relative standardization of their representation. A scene can have a great biblical importance and may have been represented very rarely, or represented in very different directions; this is the case of Exodus and particularly the crossing of the Sea of Reeds by the Hebrews, led by Moses and pursued by Pharaoh.
What are the different entries?
What are the possible usages?
One can have direct access through the pictures proposed, the biblical characters, the scenes but not through the artists since the purpose is not artistic.
Two usages are possible
To see works of art. One can simply choose a work by consulting the thumbnails, look at it by clicking on it.
To understand the representations of biblical scenes. This is the most important part of the site.
With the complete file one can choose
To understand the scene: to read the explanations about the iconography of the work of art proposed, by comparing it with other representations of the same scene and in distinguishing it from similar scenes.
The Biblical narrative: to put in relation the artisitc work proposed and the biblical narrative and its religious meaning, and even to refer to the full biblical text.
To see similar pictures: to compare the representations in other similar works of art.
Further developments: to find a few cultural notes related to each biblical scene such as iconography of topical interest, folklore in connection with the scene, linguistic legacy, cultural outlook...
Why aren’t the works directly accessible?
The pictures of works of art are subjected to copyrights that protect artists, owners of works of art and owners of their reproductions. To avoid any contestation we have chosen to reproduce a simple thumbnail that refers directly to the page of a site that presents the work. This solution has been suggested by the site “Biblical Art on the WWW” by Rolf E. Stærk.
This has a certain number of disadvantages:
The time of loading is more or less long, the picture is outside the text in a separate window.
Sites change their addresses and links are likely to be empty. If you discover such cases do not hesitate to contact me as soon as possible.
It has been impossible to propose certain pictures for the site owning them has refused to give a direct address for each picture.
It is easier to find sites proposing paintings than sculptures and far more works of the Renaissance than of the 20th century. The choice of works proposed is therefore dependent on these imperatives.