I know almost nothing about art history, but as a visually-oriented person, I love pondering beautiful images, statues, and stained-glass windows, especially when these works of art are faith-based. Jem Sullivan, PhD’s new book, Sacred Art Every Catholic Should Know, offers 50 masterpieces of sacred art; I recognized many of them at first glance but couldn’t tell you the name of the author, time period in which the art was created, or the place or circumstances surrounding their creation. This book fills in all that background information—and then some!
When I first saw the cover of this book, the image that caught my eye was the one on the bottom left: The Virgin Adoring the Host by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1852). I see that full image frequently; it’s on the ordination card from my pastor’s priestly ordination, and those are on every bulletin board in our church. Since this book doesn’t require a start-to-finish read, but rather invites the reader to flip through and read about whatever painting strikes the eye, I turned to this one first.
As with many of the entries in Sacred Art Every Catholic Should Know, this one began with a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church explaining a theological concept behind the art (in this case, Eucharistic Adoration). You can’t see it from the capsule image shown on the book’s cover, but in the full image, the Blessed Mother is looking at a Host depicted in the lower center of the painting. The description of the image sums up Mary’s Eucharistic faith, then explains the significance of the two saints shown on either side of the Blessed Mother in the full image: Saint Helena, who is believed to have discovered the True Cross, and Saint Louis IX, a king of France and Secular Franciscan. A discussion of the Eucharist as the saving and real presence of Christ concludes the entry for this image.
Some of the other images I recognized and was eager to learn more about (and prayerfully ponder) while reading this book include:
- Rose Window at Chartres Cathedral
- Fra Angelico’s Annunciation
- The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
- The Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
- Michelangelo’s Pietà
- Descent of the Holy Spirit by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- Giotto di Bondone’s Saint Francis Preaching to the Birds
- The Angelus by Jean-François Millet
I appreciated that for many images, the book shows capsule sections of particularly significant parts of the image, so the reader can more fully concentrate on that small piece of the image and ponder how it relates to the larger piece of art as a whole.
You don’t need to be an art scholar or a theologian to enjoy and learn from this beautiful new book.
Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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