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Catholic Review of: Saints in Art

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Author:  Rosa Giorgi

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This item received 5 stars overall. (07/22/2010)

Orthodoxy: Some questionable material.
Reading Level: Intermediate

 Dorian SpeedBy Dorian Speed (TX) - See all my reviews


Beautiful images of the saints for inspiration and education

Evaluator Comments

The J. Paul Getty museum's "Guide to Imagery" series is a wonderful resource for educators and anyone interested in visual portrayals of religious figures, and their Saints in Art  volume is no exception.  The series is intended to help reacquaint us with the symbolic vocabulary artists have utilized over the centuries to convey rich levels of meaning in a single work of art. As a relative novice to the art history world, I have learned a great deal just from thumbing through this book.  It contains artwork devoted to saints both well-known (St. Anne, St. Joan of Arc, St. John the Baptist) and less prominent (St. Florian, St. Januarius of Benevento, St. Petronilla).
The images collected in Saint in Art are not intended to act as a hall of fame for the most widely venerated saints throughout the world, but rather serve to show us the symbols and stories associated with various aspects of Christian history.  Each image is shown in full and vivid color, with notes around its perimeter that identify significant parts of the scene.  We learn to look more closely at these works of art and to understand that there is meaning to every small detail, and to enjoy "decoding" similar images.
For religious educators, this book would be a great resource for discovering new and unusual facts about saints, and for sharing with students to help them remember what made each saint unique. Some graphic scenes of martyrdom and occasional nudity would mean that this isn't a book you'd leave around for kids to page through, but there are many, many images that could be appreciated by even the youngest art aficionado.  I think it's great to use visuals like these in teaching and learning about our faith, because we can come to better appreciate beauty as well as having another way to remember important events in the life of a saint we're studying.
The book itself, although paperback, is of very high quality - the paper is smooth and sturdy and the quality of the images is well-preserved.  This book, and others in the series, have been on my shelf for years now and often give me a starting point to seek out more images of a particular saint or concept. 
I'm not sure how to rate the orthodoxy of this item, as it's not written from a Catholic point of view but certainly covers Catholic subject matter. I've chosen to say it has "some questionable material" because some of the images may be upsetting (like St. Agatha's breasts being removed with pincers) but not necessarily contrary to Church teaching.  There are aspects of saints' lives that may be pious legends, but I feel like those legends can sometimes be more instructive in a particular virtue than whatever the historic reality was that inspired them. So I wouldn't use this book as a church history text, but I'd definitely recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about either the communion of saints or the language of art.
You can purchase this book here.

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