Art In The Cathedrals

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Their message & vision of hope.

Because cathedrals have always striven to attract the highest standards of what human beings can offer to their faith, they have as a consequence been inextricably connected to art, in its many different forms. Churches and Cathedrals have provided the inspiration and springboard, as well as the financial resources, to encourage some of the Western world’s greatest music and visual art. Artists were often commissioned to produce work which would teach, inspire, challenge and even intimidate the faithful, illustrating to them the beliefs of the Church and the practices required of the people. Also at times of widespread illiteracy, visual art in churches was a powerful means of both communication and control.

Even though the emphases may have changed, this tradition continues today. In this article we will visit some of the most famous installations in Europe and we will learn more about this interesting aspect of art. Churches and Cathedrals might have been built to honour God, but in their conception and execution they reflect the creativity and industry of humankind. The following artists have seen the possibilities of such a setting and they brilliantly reminds us of our links to the mediaeval artists and crafts people who went before us.

Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

Liverpool Cathedral is a building of the modern age. In the course of its construction it incorporated into the fabric works of art by contemporary sculptors and stained glass artists. But it has in more recent years built up a worthy collection of works of art, including paintings and sculpture by eminent 20th and 21st century artists.

In keeping with the vastness of the building, Liverpool Cathedral has good examples of larger works by five Royal Academicians: Craigie Aitchison, Tracey Emin, Elisabeth Frink, Christopher Le Brun, Adrian Wiszniewski, alongside works by a number of other contemporary artists. Thanks to generous benefactors, donors, trusts and the artists themselves, Liverpool Cathedral has commissioned some fine examples of contemporary art. These are to be found from one end of the building to the other, and are all very different from each other, each in its own way contributing powerfully to the visitor’s experience.

Tracey Emin For You.
Tracey Emin For You.

Tracey Emin, 'For You' (2008)

Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, Emin was elected to the Royal Academy in 2008. 'For You' was commissioned by the Cathedral Chapter as the Cathedral’s contribution to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008. It is a pink neon, written in the artist’s handwriting, with the words: ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me.’ In 2009 Emin was the winner of the Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) Award for Art in a Religious Context for this work. This unique award highlights religious faith in art, design and architecture. The previous year this work also enabled the Cathedral to win the first Liverpool Chamber of Commerce Arts Award.

About this work, Emin writes: “The Church has always been a place, for me, for contemplation. I wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.”

Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral.

Founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1092, Chester Cathedral has a rich and varied history and as you’ll discover, a diverse and exciting future. Chester Cathedral’s mission is to celebrate God’s presence in the world by offering worship and prayer, hospitality, pastoral care, education, and a creative use of their heritage.

The original church was built in the Romanesque or Norman style, parts of which can still be seen today. This church was subsequently rebuilt from around 1250 onward in the Gothic style, a process which took about 275 years and resulted in the incredible structure seen today. Inside the former St. John’s Church, artist Liz West has added an immersive spectrum of light and colour to the gothic interior landscape.

Liz West Our Colour Reflection.
Liz West Our Colour Reflection.

Liz West Our Colour Reflection.
Liz West Our Colour Reflection.

Liz West, 'Our Colour Reflection' (2016 - 2018)

Liz’s piece occupies the elegant Chapter House (built about 1250-60) with its rib-vaulted ceiling and its five soaring lancet windows on the east wall. She has carpeted the entire floor in hundreds of coloured disks. They bring their own distinctive colours and tones, but also mirror and reflect their 13th Century surroundings. The mediaeval building and the 21st Century artwork pay sincere tribute to one another and now cohabit harmoniously. They seem to call out to one another across eight centuries. Each brings its own art and craft, and then they join to co-create a fresh work of stunning originality.

For the site-specific work, West has created a composition of hundreds of mirrored disks that reflect the gallery lighting into the roof space, projecting a spectrum of hues onto the interior beams and archways. Visitors can view their own reflections in the mirrored surfaces as they meander through the space, forming a dialogue between the participant and the architecture of the original site. The installation uses the intangible elements of light and colour to transform people’s perception and experience of the space. ‘Our Colour Reflection’ aims to bring about a deeper sensory awareness in the viewer, tapping into their innate relationship with chroma, and exploring how it can move viewers emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey in London is resplendent with stained-glass windows, many of which are deeply rooted in England’s rich history. There are, for instance, depictions of Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth I in St. Margaret’s Church and the towering memorial to the Battle of Britain in the RAF Chapel. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066, and is the final resting place of 17 monarchs. The church we see today was begun by Henry III in 1245. It’s one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, and has the medieval shrine of an Anglo-Saxon saint at its heart.

The latest addition to their collection of windows has a decidedly modern twist. The Abbey recently unveiled a colourful stained-glass window designed by pop art icon David Hockney—on his iPad.

David Hockney Glass Window.
David Hockney Glass Window.

David Hockney Glass Window.

David Hockney, 'Queen’s Window' (2018)

The window depicts blossoming hawthorn trees of Hockney’s native Yorkshire, rendered in bright blues, pinks, oranges and yellows. The piece was commissioned in honor of Elizabeth II’s lengthy reign (she has ruled longer than any other U.K. monarch), and according to a Westminster Abbey statement, it “reflects the Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside.”

“It’s celebratory,” Hockney said of the newly revealed window in a video interview posted by the Abbey, revealing that he crafted the trees to look as though “champagne has been poured out over the bushes.” Hockney was chosen for the commission because he is “one of the most influential artists of the Queen’s reign,” according to the Abbey. He is among the few people who have received both an Order of Merit and a Companion of Honor, prestigious awards established by the royal family.

When John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, asked Hockney to design the aptly named “Queen’s Window” the artist got to work on his iPad, which has become a favourite tool of his in recent years. “Everything is at your finger-tips, there is no cleaning up,” he told Australia’s ABC in 2016. “I realized I could just reach for my iPhone and draw, even in the dark, which you couldn’t do with watercolour or something.” Throughout Hockney's career, he has been known to experiment with new technologies—past projects have featured cameras, photocopiers and fax machines. He has previously described the iPad, which he began incorporating into his work in 2010, as a “terrific medium.”

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. The building is a busy place that serves as a place of worship, a visitor attraction and as a host for many events. A dedicated team of staff, volunteers and members of the Cathedral community are responsible for ensuring this building’s ongoing life.

In the summer of 2014, just before the beginning of the centenary of the first World War, the tree of remembrance was installed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This installation was meant to resemble the blasted, withered trees of the first World War battlegrounds. It was surrounded by barbed wire. Visitors to the cathedral were invited to leave messages of remembrance for relatives who died in the first World War or from conflicts of various kinds. To date 220,000 messages have been left at the tree of remembrance, which coincidentally is approximately the number of Irish who served in the British armed forces alone in the first World War.

St. Patricks Cathedral Inside.
St. Patricks Cathedral Inside.

St. Patricks Cathedral Inside.

Ciara Ní Cheallacháin, 'Fallen' (2014 - 2018)

Since its creation, the tree of remembrance has morphed into something different. It has become a repository of general grief with messages left in many languages. Some 36,000 of those messages were chosen at random and hanged from the ceiling of the cathedral, each one representing an Irish life lost in the war. The messages, resembling the leaves of a tree, are piled up around the bottom of the installation.

The installation artist, said the tree is a reminder that people are still being affected by violent conflict 100 years after the end of the first World War. “It is a much bigger response than we ever expected. It has become an important part of the visit to the cathedral for a lot of people,” she said. “When you talk to our tour guides, they will tell you that it is something that people immediately respond to in a way that we never anticipated they would.”

Liverpool Cathedral |
David Ward |
BBC News |
Chester Cathedral |
Nina Azzarello |
Kevin Fletcher |
Brigit Katz |
Ronan McGreevy |

This article has been edited by The Art Dose.


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