There was a time when I was writing quite a bit about iconoclasm here and there will be more to come as I finally, finally got my hands on a copy (not just the limited preview offered by Google Books but the whole book) of Ramon Sarro’s The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast. More on that some time next week, I think. For the moment being, note that the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York has sponsored an online forum discussion of the relationship between religion and modern art entitled The Spiritual (Re)Turn. (This links you to the first session)

Maybe its apt I acknowledge that I got the news about this online forum discussion via an article on Religion Dispatches. It contains the following lines pointing out that the detachment of art from religion occurring in 18th century Europe was in fact a specifically (Euro?) Christian development. - And as such, I’m tempted to add, not the establishment of a new universal standard of what it means to be civilized that then could be applied around the world to mark anybody who dared to disagree as barbaric without consideration of their motivations – which, btw. is where Sarro comes in. Anyway, here the lines:

The Pope correctly reminded the Rabbi that they do not have this book in common, that Christians not only read the Commandments differently, but no longer think all of them are in force. […]

Pope Clement XIII opened what is called the “Profane Museum” inside the Vatican Palace as early as 1767. […]

So a Rabbi and a Pope had a quick quarrel about the Ten Commandments in front of the first public art museum in the world. Where they disagreed most sharply was over the status of the second commandment. In the late 18th century, Art was being subtly detached from Religion, the Christian religion that is, as a separate source of public/private epiphanies.

Art was the new religion, and museums were their new temples. This profound cultural movement has not come to rest in our own time.


  1. On that note, the sacrosanct status of objects (in the widest sense) in museum collections:


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