Godliness or Godless? Religion in Contemporary Art, Friend or Foe

‘GOD IS DEAD’ Nietzsche the renowned German philosopher famously quoted in 1882, and with that statement arts relationship with religion changed.

Historically art and religion have been interchangeable.

Some of the world’s most iconic artworks are religious, paintings with biblical themes flourished during the Renaissance and Baroque period, such as Michellangelo’s Sistine chapel or Caravaggio’s “Crucifixion of Saint Peter’.

After the church lost its tight grip on the art world, when artists were no longer sponsored by the church and nobility and as society moved towards secularism, artists started questioning the role of religion in society and the state. But still the great artists looked towards religion for inspiration, in Picassos Guernica there are subtle religious motifs or Warhol (who was a devout catholic) towards the end of his life produced “The Last Supper” series.

Towards the end of the 20th century artists views towards religion was almost viewed as hostile, a sneering subversive glance at irrelevant beliefs in a godless society. Think of the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s satirical sculpture La Nona Ora (1999), in which Pope John Paul II lies on a red carpet, crushed by a meteorite that has just plummeted from the heavens.

I’d like to think that today there is more room for contemporary works that explore spiritual themes more broadly; religion in art has shifted more towards spirituality.

And that religion and iconography is explored not with a mocking sneer but with sensitivity and profoundness. If we look at Peter Zelei’s work “Consummatum Est I.” which is an image of a female Jesus sitting in a bath of blood, the artist explains:

’Consummatum est – It is finished – are Jesus’s last words on the cross before his death. This image is about suffering and the suffering of women” this is a truly international subject and one that transcends religious beliefs.

This piece enters into a dialogue not of mockery of religion but of questioning beliefs and the human condition.

Whilst you wouldn’t expect to see art celebrating religion today I think you certainly see it promoting spirituality, viewing art serves as a quasi-religious experience in itself, visiting a gallery and viewing art in a place for quiet contemplation and retrospection, a chance to be moved, and perhaps transformed to the sublime.


The Leontia Gallery presents GODLINESS an exhibition exploring the gods, from 1st November to 22nd November