The Five Significant Religious Paintings by Western Artists

The Five Significant Religious Paintings by Western Artists

Within the art world and beyond it, you can make a solid argument that religious paintings have had a stronger influence on ancient and modern life than any other kind of artistic creations.

Why? Because their influence is pervasive, and they also have a profound impact on our daily lives.

These include religious ceremonies, obviously, but that impact also extends to cultural mores and belief systems that are rooted in the world's major religions.


So let's explore. We'll stick to western art for the sake of convenience, and beyond that, we'll look at several of the most important religious artists and their paintings.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Almost any painting by da Vinci is considered of huge historical significance, but this one is especially so.

The last supper is easily the tensest and most emotional religious moment in history, and da Vinci captured that legendary combination in a way that no other artist could. What's special about it beyond that?

That quality is hard to pin down, but the best way to answer it is to recognize the comprehensiveness of the painting.

Da Vinci's expertise extended well beyond the art world into engineering and any number of other fields, and all of that expertise can be seen in this particular painting. It's the detail level of the painting that's the most captivating aspect of it.

The Last Supper, which was finished in 1498, captures the entire table with Jesus and his twelve disciples, on the eve of the final betrayal that would eventually end his life on earth.

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That detail can be seen in the demeanor of each apostle, along with their expressions.

Da Vinci went to extraordinary lengths to make sure those expressions corresponded to our historical knowledge of the apostles and their feelings regarding what was about to take place.

It was an enormous undertaking that has stood the test of time, which is one of many reasons why many art experts still consider it the most exceptional painting in recorded history.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti

This famous painting was also created during the Renaissance, but it's much more than just a painting.

The Creation of Adam, which was created in Rome in 1512, defines the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It depicts the creation of Adam, of course, according to the Biblical accounts in Genesis that told the story in all its beauty and eloquence.

As a historical work, one of the most remarkable things about this painting is how well it has stood the test of time.

The work was done in fresco, which was popular among artists of that era who specialized in making murals. But Michelangelo took things to a different level in this painting.

The figures of God and Adam are anatomically precise and proportional down to the last fingernail, and many experts have noticed that the red flowing cloth perfectly mimics the shape of the human brain, while the uterus was included to depict the origins of life.

It's one of the most iconic images in western art, and it remains the centerpiece of any visit to Rome in the modern era.

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Last Judgment is also a mural, but it's a very different painting from The Creation of Adam. It does live on in the same basic space as the earlier mural, occupying the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

But this painting was done much later in Michelangelo's life in 1541. The difference in his time lifeline is reflected in the level of the detail-a litany of religious figures are represented in this mural, with each being present as God made his final judgment of mankind as Jesus returned.

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There is a controversial element to this painting, however. Many religious figures actually accused Michelangelo of inserting pagan symbols and other related items into the painting, all in a way that made them very difficult to detect.

Controversy aside, though, there's little doubt that Jesus is the central figure of this landmark masterpiece, encircled by saints and other religious figures who are drawn from both Christian and Judaic theology.

Like The Creation of Adam, it remains one of the world's foremost masterpieces, although it is interesting that Michelangelo considered painting an inferior form of artwork when compared to sculpture, which he considered his primary vehicle of expression.

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Sistine Madonna by Raphael

Sistine Madonna by Raphael

The Sistine Madonna is yet another painting from the Renaissance, and as such, it stands as evidence of the astounding creativity that characterized that particular period of western history.

As is the case with the pair of Michelangelo paintings on this list, the level of detail is both incredible and impossible to replicate.

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This painting has a different level of historical significance to it as well. Raphael painted this work in 1512, and it was commissioned by Pope Julius II.

The painting was to be a gift to a monastery in Milan, but it went on to achieve a much greater level of significance. The central figure in the painting is the Virgin Mary, of course, holding the infant Jesus.

The figures on either side are Saint Barbara and Saint Sixtus, with each transfixed by the sight of the infant Jesus.

Historical significance aside, the painting has been widely praised as one of the greatest representations of beauty and gentleness, and the two cherubs gazing up at Mary are an integral part of its appeal.

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Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

Dali's name tends to inspire visions of surrealist paintings, but this work is very different. It's a provocative pose that depicts Christ on the cross from above, which is said to represent the view that God must have had when viewing the crucifixion.

Dali typically used irregular objects and warped figures in his paintings as part of his signature surrealistic style, but the imagining in this painting is relatively realistic.

It was based on a drawing by a 16th-century friar named John of the Cross, and when Dali completed it in 1951 it was instantly recognized as a masterpiece.

Another remarkable note of this painting is the lack of blood and gore considering the subject. Dali said it came to him in a dream that he should leave this out, and his restraint became part of its legendary appeal.

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