Cover image for Painting the word : Christian pictures and their meanings
Painting the word : Christian pictures and their meanings
Drury, John, 1936-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press ; London : In association with National Gallery Publications, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 201 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
Worlds and times -- Kind regards -- The incarnation of the word and the words -- The birth of the redeemer -- The sacrificial body -- Partakers of the altar -- The social body -- Two worlds/one world: Rubens -- Two worlds/one world: Velazquez.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ND1432.E85 D78 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Drury looks at religious paintings through the ages and presents them as works filled with passion, stories and meaning. He views the whole picture, its composition, colour, figures, even architecture, examining how they speak to audiences across time and space allowing us to respond at a more imaginative, empathetic level.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

During the 400-year transition from the medieval to the modern world, western Europe was Christian. That is foundational to Drury's study of great paintings of New Testament scenes by such masters as Duccio, Filippo Lippi, Piero della Francesca, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Velazquez. These artists drew upon the trove of religious thought and symbolism that was then common knowledge in constructing their handiworks. In the cataclysmic seventeenth century, Drury says, that knowledge began to lose its commonality as the Christian worldview was supplanted by a secular one in which the representations of art are increasingly presumed to refer only to the material world and not also to any spiritual realm. Drury explains how and what these paintings meant to their artists and to viewers during the long Christian ascendancy. In addition to symbolism, Drury takes account of composition, light, color, and whether a painting is set in mythic rather than historic time (e.g., by showing figures from different time periods at the same event). Throughout, he keeps track of the visual theme of the "kind regard" with which figures in the paintings look at one another and outward at viewers, encouraging kind regards from them. Such regard is essential, Drury says, to the Christianity of a painting, as the acknowledgment of the person and his or her personal value are fundamental to a religion in which the divine became flesh. This is fascinating, religiously revivifying, and just plain revealing art history, cleanly, intelligently, and, yes, reverently written. --Ray Olson

Library Journal Review

Historic Christianity is a foreign country, and we are tourists, just visiting but often not understanding. Drury offers a guidebook of sorts to help the contemporary reader decipher the messages conveyed in Christian art. Priest, scholar, and dean of Christ Church at Oxford, Drury is well qualified to offer this course. Using paintings from the 14th to 17th centuries, he attempts to show us the breadth and depth of culture at that time so that we can better understand the theology and meaning behind Christian art. Aiming at the educated lay reader, Drury peppers the chapters with poetry and Bible quotes. The paintings discussed are selective, focusing on religious theme rather than periods. Though one wishes the illustrations had been bigger, this well-written art history and art appreciation is a delight to read. Highly recommended for larger public libraries or any art history collection.--Karen Ellis, Nicholson Memorial Lib. Syst., Garland, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Drury's book is an outgrowth of lectures on art that he developed while Dean of Christ Church, Oxford; it examines how Christian paintings convey their messages. Though it is a fact that we are only visitors to the Christian world of the past, we may approach making these times our own with an informed and sympathetic imagination. To acquire this the reader/spectator needs to bring to pictures something like the quality of looking that the painters brought to their work--a mixture of curiosity and relaxed readiness to let things suggest themselves in their own good time, where the eye deploys the two constitutive and contrasting activities of analysis and admiration. In this respect, Drury suggests, worship and looking at pictures require similar kinds of attention. The reader needs to develop these skills by practice and example--a goal of this book. With a highly descriptive approach rich in history and iconography, the author, a thoughtful and enthusiastic scholar, treats whole paintings, not just symbols, and employs a prose that always remains subsidiary to the pictures themselves. A well-written, informative, and beautifully illustrated work that should be part of every collection. All levels. R. M. Davis; Albion College