Theo Hobson

Biblical art, like Christianity, is always renewing itself

Biblical art, like Christianity, is always renewing itself
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This sign adorns a local church in Harlesden. I suppose it could be called a Pop Annunciation. Who says religious art is stuck in the past?

Then again, it is a perennial - and fascinating - question in Christian art: how much contemporary life to include in biblical scenes. For centuries artists have shocked the public by including ordinary-looking young beauties as Mary, ordinary working blokes as shepherds or apostles. Caravaggio is a good example, but even before him nativity scenes were transposed to Tuscan landscapes. In fact the first realistic landscapes in Western art were posing as biblical backdrops.

The shock was rehashed by the Pre-Rapahelites, whose sacred scenes featured people you might meet on the street. So there's nothing very new or trendy about mixing biblical scenes with modernity - it follows from the principle of incarnation. This is a religion that demands to be made new. I think we should revive the tradition of getting the most beautiful young women of our day to pose as Mary. Or as Eve - then we'd get a fuller view of their talents.