Blood Tears Faith Doubt: Historical and Contemporary Encounters - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Blood Tears Faith Doubt: Historical and Contemporary Encounters

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Blood Tears Faith Doubt: Historical and Contemporary Encounters

17 June to 18 July 2010

An MA Curating exhibition
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BLOOD TEARS FAITH DOUBT, Historical and Contemporary Encounters has been curated by students on The Courtauld Institute of Art’s MA Curating the Art Museum programme. It brings together works from The Courtauld Gallery and the Arts Council Collection to explore themes of suffering, compassion, devotion and belief.

What makes religious imagery powerful and enduring? How do historical and contemporary artworks engage the viewer in questions of belief?

This exhibition explores these questions by confronting historical Christian art with contemporary art that continues to engage with the same visual tradition. The works were selected from two very different collections. Those from The Courtauld Gallery were originally created as devotional objects. They were understood to be imbued with sacred power and to inspire empathy with the suffering and compassion of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

Works from the Arts Council Collection demonstrate how a variety of contemporary artists continue to evoke and rework religious imagery.  Although their works may not be religious in intent, they can command a similarly strong emotional response to the enduring themes of belief, doubt, suffering and compassion. Displayed together the works are surprisingly resonant in form and meaning, inviting us to consider continuities and change in the use of religious imagery throughout history.

Podcasts from the exhibition

Blood Tears Faith Doubt MA curatingDo we have to see, or touch, to believe? In this room faith and doubt pervade both the stories and the subsequent representation of two saints. Polidoro da Caravaggio’s painting depicts Saint Thomas, who needed to touch Christ’s wounds to believe in his miraculous resurrection. Saint Christopher had his feast day removed from the Catholic Church’s calendar in 1969 due to lack of proof of his existence. Siobhán Hapaska’s sculpture rehabilitates the popular figure, widely revered as the patron saint of travellers.

Both the painting and sculpture are life-size, naturalistic and even disturbingly real. Caravaggio and his contemporaries represented biblical stories in a realistic manner to heighten their immediacy for the beholder. Here, the uncanny presence of Hapaska’s sculpture engages us in a similar way. Alongside, as if from a parallel reality, a blood-red ‘seepage’ travels down the wall. Alarming, beautiful, and uncertain of meaning, it makes us question what we see, and what we can believe, within and beyond the gallery space.

The painting and ivory diptych in this room were designed to deepen faith through private study and contemplation. Their scale and intricacy encouraged the beholder to meditate upon Christ’s suffering.

How can we relate to these works of art today? The atmosphere of this small room encourages us to engage more intimately with these works, and in turn to consider their original function as objects of devotion. Like Adam Chodzko’s Secretors, these tangible objects are indicators of a world beyond our own.

Christ crowned with Thorns
Follower of Dieric Bouts
Christ Crowned with Thorns
c. 1475
Oil on panel
32.3 x 23.8 cm
The Courtauld Collection

This image, Christ Crowned with Thorns, from the Circle of Bouts represents the sixth station of the cross (the representation of Christ’s final hours). Both the subject and size of this work are indicative of the viewer’s devotion. In part, the intensity of this image results from our reaction to the blood and tears emanating from the figure, which is further emphasized by Christ’s penetrating gaze, engaging the empathy of the viewer.

Bouts was a successful Netherlandish painter of the fifteenth century. He had an extensive workshop and many followers who replicated this popular type of devotional imagery. This image was often joined with the Mater Dolorosa to form a diptych. The size of these images made them portable and accessible for private devotion.

Vierge Glorieuse and Crucifixion diptych
Workshop of Visages Characterises
Ivory diptych with the Virgin and Child with Angels and The Crucifixion
15th century
Carved ivory and ebony
18.1 x 22.2 cm (open)
The Courtauld Gallery

The intricately carved scenes of Mary rejoicing in the Christ child’s birth and lamenting his death would have helped the often illiterate medieval viewer to understand these stories through sight and touch.

This ivory was principally a devotional object which would have originally been held in the palm of one’s hand like a prayer book. However, its power lay in the visual, not textual, description of Christ’s bodily anguish and the Virgin’s compassion.

When it is partly closed, the Virgin looks both at the Christ child and into the dead Christ’s face, as if to foresee his later suffering.

Blood Tears Faith Doubt MA curatingHow has the image of the Mother and Child been used to address themes of suffering and compassion?

As a subject that has dominated Christian art for over 1500 years, the Madonna and infant Christ stands as an archetype for every mother and child. Mary is at once the sacred mother of God and a human, grief-stricken parent who loses her son. The fundamental humanity of their bond explains the resilience of this motif through time, and its continued interest in a more secular contemporary society.

Here, contemporary artists draw on the Christian tradition of Madonna imagery expressed in historical works. They recast and reinterpret traditional representations of the Mother and Child, to challenge and reassess the enduring power of this familiar icon.

This exhibition has been curated by the students on the MA Curating the Art Museumprogramme at The Courtauld Institute of Art. The programme, now in its third year, is led by Martin Caiger-Smith and is aimed at art curators of the future. The exhibition project is the culmination of the practical side of this twelve-month course. The eleven students, from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Canada and the United States, were asked to mount a public exhibition in the Courtauld Gallery, from its initial concept to its realisation in the gallery space.

BLOOD TEARS FAITH DOUBT has been curated by:

Ariane Belisle | Elizabeth Buhe | Alexandra Burnett | Juliet Chippindale |
Louisa Elderton | James Ford | Aurica Garcia Schaible | Hannah L. Fuller | Rebecca Newell | Mareike Spendel | Rafaela Van der Heyden

The MA Programme Curating the Art Museum, 2009/10 is generously supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation

Find out more about the MA programme.

MA curating 2010

Acknowledgements

The MA Curating the Art Museum students would like to thank the following people and organisations for their help and assistance in making this exhibition possible:

The artists
The Arts Council Collection
The Courtauld Gallery
Robert Graham of Heath Lambert Ltd
Sarum Print
The White Wall Company
Display Ways
Arterium Ltd

Developing the exhibition

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Getting to know some of The Courtauld Gallery collections
The process begins with students exploring the different collections. There are approximately 20,000 prints and 6,000 drawings in The Courtauld alone!

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The Courtauld Institute of Art, Prints and Drawings Room
The Curating students exploring the Courtauld print collection with the Curator of Prints, Dr. Joanna Selborne.

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Too many works to choose from!
Students narrow down the object list, deciding which historical and contemporary works to bring together.

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Deciding where to place the works
The Curating students use a plan of the gallery space and scaled images of the works to decide where to place the objects before installing them.

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Final checks to the exhibition booklet design

Installation

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The Exhibition

Faith and Incredulity

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From left:

Adam Chodzko (b. 1965), 2101 Km/Hr (Secretor) 1993

Manifestation juice (food dye and glycerine), lead, plastic, acrylic and acetate
Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist, Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999
Polidoro da Caravaggio (1492-1543), The Incredulity of Saint Thomas c. 1531-35
Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Devotion

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From left:

Adam Chodzko (b. 1965), 9468 Km/Hr (Secretor),  9605 Km/Hr (Secretor) 1993

Manifestation juice (food dye and glycerine), lead, plastic, acrylic and acetate
Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist, Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999
Follower of Dieric Bouts the Elder (c. 1415-1475), Christ Crowned with Thorns, c. 1475, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Suffering and Compassion

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From left:

Style of Jacopo di Cione (1320-30-c. 1398), Virgin and Child with Four Saints, with Christ Crucified, 14th century, Tempera on panel, integral frame with arched top, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Mark Fairnington (b. 1957), The Greek Madonna, 1993, Oil and gold leaf on panel, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist, Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999

Attributed to Giampietrino, (active c. 1510-1540), The Virgin and Child with Saint Jerome, c.1510-1530, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Grayson Perry (b. 1960), Spirit Jar, 1994, Glazed earthenware, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

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From left:

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 18th century, Pen and ink, watercolour and black chalk on paper, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Phil Brown (b. 1958) Untitled (hand), 1994, Silicone and plaster, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999

From left: Mark Fairnington (b. 1957), The Greek Madonna, 1993, Oil and gold leaf on panel, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist, Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999 Attributed to Giampietrino, (active c. 1510-1540), The Virgin and Child with Saint Jerome, c. 1510-1530, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London Workshop of Jan Gossaert (1478-1532), Virgin and Child (Anna von Bergen and her son), c. 1525, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London Installation photographs © Ariane Belisle

 

From left:

Mark Fairnington (b. 1957), The Greek Madonna, 1993, Oil and gold leaf on panel, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist, Gift of Charles Saatchi 1999

Attributed to Giampietrino, (active c. 1510-1540), The Virgin and Child with Saint Jerome, c.1510-1530, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Workshop of Jan Gossaert (1478-1532), Virgin and Child (Anna von Bergen and her son), c.1525, Oil on panel, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Installation photographs © Ariane Belisle

Exhibition booklet

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Press Release

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Fact Sheet

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Photo Sheet

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