Showcasing religious themes in artists’ works

YOUNGSTOWN — The various religious themes of historic artists were showcased at a recent program for Holy Week at the Butler Institute of American Art.

Lou Zona, executive director of the museum, said symbolism is very common in many artists’ works that have religious themes.

He said Leonardo da Vinci did many paintings with religious themes, including of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

“He was so incredibly brilliant with his work, the symbolism being so remarkable. Once Leonardo developed an idea, his brilliance began,” Zona said, noting da Vinci was commissioned to do artwork for a monastery.

He said da Vinci images showed angels, Jesus and the Virgin Mary and used linear depth and dimensions to show spatial relations. He also conveyed a sense of realism in what was closer and bigger compared to what was farther away in the image.

“He wanted to depict space in a painting to make it look real and believable,” Zona said.

He said da Vinci often exaggerated the size of people in his paintings, not making them to scale.

Zona said on his trip to Italy, he saw “The Last Supper,” which was da Vinci’s most famous work.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian painter active in Rome for most of his artistic life. Zona said the artist was only 19 when he did the painting depicting Christ being taken down from the cross.

He said Michaelangelo painted many religious images in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, including saints, angels and historic events from the Bible.

“Part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is the creation of Adam and the spark of life from God,” he said.

“His work is special in my heart as an art historian. He was a brilliant painter with a great attitude about life. He depicted Christ in many paintings. He always had vivid compositions heavy with shadow. The images were more human like,” Zona said

He said Rembrandt, who was a Dutch Golden Age painter, had religious images with a lot of shadowing such as someone in the basement and light coming through the window.

“That is the feeling you get when you look at Rembrandt’s painting. The light hitting the images of angels in paintings. He depicted Christ and the Bible is more realistic than any other artist of that time, ” he said

Zona said Salvador Dali’s artwork had symbolism and the use of red.

“His scenes from the Bible included the color red, which had its own symbolism,” he said.

Zona said many artists over the years have used their own styles to depict religious images such as Andy Warhol when he did his own version of “The Last Supper.”

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