The National Gallery’s exhibition programme frequently explores different aspects of devotional art. These exhibitions may focus, for example, on a specific type of religious object such as the painted altarpiece or carved cult statue. Some have investigated various features of religious iconography or have focused on subjects, compositions and techniques employed in the spiritual works of a single artist.
As the products of new research the exhibitions and displays seek to promote a greater understanding of how works of art were, and still are, used as models of moral behavior, as celebrations of the deeds of holy figures or as a plea for one’s hopes, both in this life and in the afterlife.
Below are the exhibitions which directly relate to the Art and Religion research theme.
Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice
Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) was one of the most important painters of the Venetian Renaissance. He was particularly skilled as a painter of large-scale altarpieces but also excelled at creating smaller devotional paintings, as this exhibition amply demonstrates. Several works, such as the arresting ‘Martyrdom of Saint George’ have been generously lent by the churches for which they were painted, allowing them to be seen alongside related paintings and viewed in ideal conditions under natural light, revealing the painter's rich and vibrant colours at their best.
Michael Landy: Saints Alive
The saints are more often associated with traditional sacred art than with contemporary work, but Michael Landy has been inspired, by the lives of these holy figures and by their representation in National Gallery pictures, to create a series of large-scale kinetic sculptures. Landy transforms two-dimensional paintings into three-dimensional sculptures and animates them using scavenged old machinery, cogs and wheels.
Find out more about Michael Landy: Saints Alive
Barocci: Brilliance and Grace
One of the most talented artists of late 16th century Italy, Barocci fused charm and compositional harmony with an unparalleled sensitivity to colour. The exhibition showcases a number of Federico Barocci’s most spectacular altarpieces and devotional paintings alongside their preparatory drawings and oil sketches, revealing the fertility of Barocci’s imagination, the diversity of his working methods and the sheer beauty and grace of his art.
Find out more about Barocci: Brilliance and Grace
Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500
An investigation of the function, original location, and development of altarpieces in Italy during the late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance, examining both the evolution of the physical structure of altarpieces and their relationship to the monumental architecture that surrounded them. Part of the exhibition was devoted to altarpiece fragments, the reasons why they came to be dismembered and the methods that art historians now use to reassemble them.
Find out more about Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500
The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600 - 1700
A reappraisal of the highly naturalistic religious paintings and hyperreal polychrome wooden sculptures created in 17th-century Spain intended to shock the senses and inspire devotion in the beholder.
Art of Light: German Renaissance Stained Glass
This exhibition brought together a group of German 16th-century stained glass panels together with contemporaneous paintings from the National Gallery Collection to demonstrate the close stylistic, compositional and technical associations between the works. Most of the objects exhibited were originally made to adorn churches and the exhibition highlighted the frequency with which stained glass and paintings were designed to form a harmonious ensemble in sacred spaces.
Find out more about Art of Light: German Renaissance Stained Glass
Image above: detail from Sassetta, 'The Funeral of Saint Francis and Verification of the Stigmata', 1437-44