Deities and Holy Figures


A general category for artworks, both premodern and contemporary, that depict deities and other holy figures. Whether by creating prehistoric earth and fertility goddesses, Christian iconography, or African Yoruba deities, people from all cultures have long sought to depict the divine as a way to venerate it and communicate its origins. These representations range from iconic (the idea that the figures have symbolic meaning) to narrative (stories about the gods); they may be figurative—in Classical Greek statuary, for example, the gods took ideal human form—or abstract, as with Aztec art, in which figures are reduced to pattern. Many artists have appropriated sacred imagery for a secular context. Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary (1996), for example, is an image of a black Mary that incorporates elephant dung, a provocative melding of the sacred and the profane that caused an uproar when exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. More recently, Mexican artist Alinka Echeverria used 300 photographs of the backs of pilgrims bearing diverse renderings of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a way to explore the power of religious imagery and individual relationships to those images.

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1,688 Artworks
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