Christian Themes in Art

Gresham College

This is a series of free public lectures investigating the portrayal of Christian themes in art from the first Christians through to the modern day. These lectures were given by The Rt Revd the Lord Harries in London during 2010-11 as Gresham Professor of Divinity.

Course Lectures
  • The earliest surviving Christian art is in the catacombs in Rome. This lecture will look at how this developed, survived two centuries of iconoclasm and established itself with a distinctive rationale.

  • Jesus in Art
    Ian Harris

    Early Christian carvings depict Jesus as a beardless Roman youth. Yet the image with which we are familiar is very different. This lecture will explore the dominant imagery associated with Jesus in different ages and cultures.

  • The Nativity in Art
    Ian Harris

    The Nativity is one of the richest themes in art, showing an amazing development of associated ideas and images right up to the 21st century.

  • There are no surviving depictions of Jesus on the cross in the catacombs, but by the middle ages it had become the definitive and defining image of Christianity. Yet there have been, and continue to be, major shifts in what this image has been trying to convey.

  • The Resurrection is the most difficult of all Christian themes to convey in visible form and the early church approached it with proper reticence. Whilst the Western Church developed an over-literalistic image, the Orthodox Church gave it a powerful symbolic rendering. The 20th century, with its massive suffering, found this hopeful theme particularly problematic.

  • The reputation of Stanley Spencer continues to grow. All his life he painted Christian themes with his fresh and distinctive vision. For him art was the product not so much of talent as love, and this love enables us to see everything as it truly is, newly risen to life.