I’d like to devote some posts to featuring various pieces of Christian artwork over the centuries, to look at how the Church has communicated its beliefs through architecture, sculpture, stained glass, frescoes, tapestries, paintings, mosaics, and other media. The study of Christian art is fascinating–for centuries, visual art was one primary way in which the common people, who could not read, gained understanding of the narrative of Scripture and history. Christian art was laden with powerful and poignant symbols that, strangely enough were widely used and understood for many years, but often appear quaint and mysterious to us today.
|Stairs leading to entrance to Girona Cathedral, Catalonia, Spain|
In this post, let’s look at the Creation Tapestry in Girona Cathedral in Spain. This tapestry was produced in the eleventh century and it depicts the creation account found in Genesis 1 and 2. It is a collection of panels produced by needlework on a wool groundcloth. The eye is first drawn to the center of the tapestry, then is drawn to the 9 o’clock position on the wheel, clockwise to the 12 and 3 o’clock positions respectively. This upper half of the wheel depicts some of the events of Genesis 1. As the eye continues clockwise down around to the 6 o’clock position, Genesis 2 comes into view.
God is depicted in the center of the wheel, who is the Creator of the universe. In the circle surrounding God is the Latin phrase, Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux, And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen 1.3).At the 9 o’clock position, notice the circle of blackness, representing the earth “formless and void” (Gen 1.2). Moving clockwise to the 11 o’clock position, we see darkness covering the face of the deep (Gen 1.2), represented by an angel over the dark space. Next, we see the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep, depicted as a dove brooding over the space of the waters (Gen 1.2). At the 1 o’clock position, God says “Let there be light” (Gen 1.3), which is here portrayed as an angel bringing light to the world–the Latin word Lux (light) stands above the angel. Then, at the 3 o’clock position, God divides the light from the darkness, calling the light Day and the darkness, Night (Gen 1.4-5). The sun is depicted on the left as a man wearing a crown of light, and the soft moon is represented by a woman.
As our eyes move down to the 4 and to the 6 o’clock position, we are taken to Genesis 2. Adam is here naming the animals, birds, and fishes of the world (Gen 2.19-20). Finally, as we arrive at the end of the wheel, we see God drawing Eve out from the side of Adam (Gen 2.21-22).
|The animals and fishes being named by Adam. See also Eve being made out of Adam’s side in the upper left portion.|
The tapestry is Romanesque, which was known for its two dimensional depiction of scenes as well as flat and simple portrayal of human beings and animals. Romanesque art is clearly distinguished from later Gothic art, which saw its height in the high middle ages (13th century). It measures 3.65 x 4.70 meters and was originally used as the canopy overhanging the Altar of the Holy Cross in Girona Cathedral.
The detailed needlework, the colors, the symbols, the majesty of the artistic depictions, and the adoration of God that is sewn intricately into the fabric of this tapesty is astounding. What have we now to compare to such art today?