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Virginia Wesleyan College
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Student Research Projects

Religious Art in the Nineteenth Century

Student Kim Fahle
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Art History
Course ARTH 351: 19th-Century Art History (Honors section)


In the nineteenth century there seemed to be a decline in the amount of religious art being produced. In this project, I sought the reason for this decline. I researched the historical events going on during this period that might help explain this phenomena. I also examined the different religious art that did come out of this period. I looked at how some of this art was similar or different to the art that came before it and the art that was created around the same time. I focused specifically on the differences in motivation for painting about this theme, the chosen subjects, and the style used. This research looks at the very different art from William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Eugene Delacroix and Paul Gauguin all in the same century. In this research, I found that the decline in the power of the church as well as the development of scientific discoveries and theories that questioned long established biblical truths created an environment that led to religious confusion. This new confusion affected the kind of art that was being produced. Religious art became more about what the artist felt and wanted to paint as opposed to what the church or state wanted to be painted. William Blake’s art reflected his own personal struggle with religion. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood reflected the attempts to return to medieval times when there was religious certainty. Eugene Delacroix shows the historical and dramatic tendencies of artists during the early nineteenth century and how this played out in religious art. Paul Gauguin’s art also represents a longing for the past, but in a very different capacity. The historical events of this period left artist open to focus on what interested them within religion, which created very diverse art.


VWC Undergraduate Research Travel Grant


National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 2008, Salisbury, MD


VWC Undergraduate Research - Humanities Divisional Award


K. Fahle, Faculty Adviser - J. Howell. 2008. Religious Art in the Nineteenth Century. Proceedings of The National Conference On Undergraduate Research, Volume 22 (In Press).

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