Session 4 of our workshop Modernity and Religion in Central European Art and Architecture will take place at
18.00 CET on 1 April 2021
Mária Orišková (Trnava University)
‘The Virgin Mary’ or a ‘Woman in Black Hat’? Re-interpretations of Religious Imagery in Modern Art
The word ‘religion’ is not often found in the art histories of the 20th century. However, from 1918 to 1938 in the first Czechoslovak Republic and from 1939 to 1945 in the Slovak State (led by a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso) religious imagery had its place in modern art. Painters like Bohumil Kubišta, Jan Zrzavý, Ľudovít Fulla, Imro Weiner-Kráľ, Cyprián Majerník, Ján Mudroch and many others cultivated modern art language through religious iconography (e.g., the Crucifix and the Virgin Mary) and biblical references. ‘Christian values’ and the Catholic Church (Roman and Orthodox) ̶ were both confirmed and criticized (or even mocked) by modern artists. When examining religion in modern painting, it is necessary to remember that the line between the religious and the secular was not always well delineated and in many cases it was not religious but spiritual/cosmological implications that were brought to the forefront. The conjunctions of avant-garde language (mostly Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism as well as Abstraction) and transcendental ideas or existential contents received considerable attention.
Nevertheless, this paper sets out to explore interpretations of the coexistence of religious content and avant-garde forms in the art criticism and historiography of art in the 20th century. Those writers in central Europe who supported the constitutions of the new nation states after the First World War developed a narrower context of ‘national art history,’ and religious works of art by canonical great masters became associated with traditional Christian values and framed by national culture. In the writings of art historians who supported the revolution in Russia, left-wing criticism and the social history of art, with the rudiments of Marxism including the necessity to abolish all religions as the organs of bourgeois reaction used for the exploitation of the working class, prevailed. During the Communist era, Marxist-Leninist theory expanded into different forms of the de-sacralisation of religious art and architecture (including the re-naming of works of art with religious references).
Mária Orišková is Associate Professor at Trnava University, Slovakia. Her research areas are east central European art history, critical museology, gender/feminism and exhibition histories. She published Curating ‘Eastern Europe’ and Beyond: Art Histories Through the Exhibition (2013), ‘Museums that Listen and Care?: Central Europe and Critical Museum Discourse’, in From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum, eds Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius and Piotr Piotrowski (2015) and recently ‘”Looking from the Earth to the Moon”: US Art Through Czechoslovak Eyes 1947–1989,’ in Hot Art, Cold War: Southern and Eastern European Writing on American Art 1945–1989, eds Claudia Hopkins and Iain Boyd Whyte (2020).
This workshop is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 786314).