Visual art has always played a major part of church history—from the creation of the catacombs to centuries after the time of Constantine. Paintings, illustrations, and sculptures have been used as ecclesiastical ornamentation in early Christendom.
Church walls, ceilings, windows, furniture, altars, and liturgical vessels were adorned with images of prophets and saints, drawing inspiration from the words of the scripture.
The church monopolized the industry of sacred art, and religious paintings thrived all throughout the Christian era until the Renaissance period.
E. H. Gombrich, author of “The Story of Art,” wrote, “From its earliest days, Christian artists favored a certain clarity and simplicity … paintings were useful because they helped remind the congregation of the teachings they had received, and kept the memory of these sacred episodes alive.”
The art scholar said paintings became a “form of writings in pictures” and that artists during the Middle Ages were given a new freedom to experiment with more complex forms of composition by returning to more simplified methods of representation. He further wrote, “Without these methods, the teachings of the Church could never have been translated into visible shapes.”
In the Philippines, where Catholicism from the Spanish colonial era has been the dominant religion—and one with strong economic and political ties— adornment of church altars and santos, retablos and wall-paintings or frescoes are materializations of faith.
A retablo in Mexican folk art is a devotional painting that is distinctly characterized by the use of iconography derived from traditional Catholic Church art. But for Filipino Catholics, a retablo is a vertical multi-tiered structure behind the altar with an elaborate frame enclosing revered objects, which may include religious paintings, sculptures, or both.
“Retablo 2.0: Heritage and Art in Faith” shows images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary with eclectic elements and stronger visual components such as intensity of texture and colors.
Through this exhibit, artist Wilfredo OffeMaria hopes to widen the audience’s perspective on Christian iconography and sacred art and elicit free expression of diverse views as religion is and always will be an integral part of the cultural landscape of the Philippines.
The exhibit runs until May 31 at the NCCA Gallery (A), G/F, NCCA Building, 633 Gen. Luna St., Intramuros, Manila.
DELAN LOPEZ ROBILLOS