Religious Art
Christian, Hindu, Buddhist & Islamic Arts.

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Detail from The Isenheim Alterpiece,
showing the Crucifixion of Christ.
By Matthias Grunewald (1512-15) Musee
d'Unterlingen, Colmar. One of the
greatest religious paintings of the
German Renaissance.

Religious Art (700,000 BCE - present)
Definition, History, Types


Definition/Meaning of Religious Art
Purpose and Cost
History of Religious Art
Themes of Christian Art
Non-Christian Religious Art
Art Involving Ancestor Worship
Hindu Art
Buddhist Art
Islamic Art
Native Religious Art

Bronze sculpture of Shiva
the Hindu God (India).


What is Religious Art?

There are many ways of defining religious art. We can say it is:

(1) Any artwork that has a Christian or Biblical theme (Christian art); or
(2) Any artwork which illustrates the worship of any god, or deity; or
(3) Any artwork with an Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Juche Judaic, Bahai, or Jainist theme, or any art depicting themes of the Shinto, Cao Dai or traditional Chinese religions.

The Sagrada Familia (begun 1882).
A wonderful example of modern
religious architectural design, by
the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

For details of differing types
of visual and fine arts, see:
Meaning/Definition of Art

However, on further analysis, these definitions relate to religious "content", rather than religious "quality". For example, a painting of a crucifixion scene which drew attention to some fundamentally weird or blasphemous physical attribute of the dying Christ would hardly merit the description religious art. Furthermore, certain religions (Eastern Orthodox, Islam) have certain rules circumscribing the type of art permitted: a sculpture of Muhammad would be regarded as a blasphemy, rather than a piece of religious art. Thus, to qualify as "religious", the painting, sculpture or architecture concerned must have some recognizable moral narrative, that imbues the work with the necessary sacred "quality." As with the assessment of all art, determining whether or not this moral attribute is present, is essentially a subjective exercise, although in most cases the answer is likely to be fairly straightforward.

Therefore, our suggested definition of religious art goes like this:

Religious art is any work whose theme supports the moral message of the religion it purports to illustrate. In this context, religion means any set of human beliefs relating to that which they regard as sacred, holy, spiritual or divine - whether or not deities are involved.


Common Types of Religious Art

Since Antiquity, the most common type of religious art has been painting and portable sculpture. However, the form of religious art with the greatest visual impact is undoubtedly architecture. From the Egyptian Pyramids to the Stonehenge stone circle, from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to the Umayyad Great Mosque of Damascus, from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to French Gothic Cathedrals, from St Peter's basilica in Rome to the Taj Mahal, religious authorities have consistently turned to architecture to awe and influence their congregations. Interior and exterior artistic decorations for these Christian, Islamic and Buddhist churches typically include a wide range of decorative arts, including: calligraphy, ceramics, crafts, icons, illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, mosaic, stained glass, tapestry and wood-carving.

For more about the function and design of pyramid tombs in Ancient Egypt, see: Egyptian Architecture (c.3000 onwards).

Purpose and Cost of Religious Art

The function of religious art, directly or indirectly, is to win converts. Architecture is therefore the principal form, since a cathedral can inspire, teach and house a congregation. Public statuary can also inspire, while interior mosaics and stained glass can illustrate divine stories - not unimportant in ages where illiteracy was the norm. By expounding the message of an ordered Universe under God, Christian art also contributed to the creation and preservation of social order. But it came at a price. Thus in their attempts to revive the grandeur, beauty and prestige of Rome with the finest architectural designs, sculpture and frescoes, Pope Julius II (1503-13) and Pope Leo X (1513-21) nearly bankrupted the Church. In fact, Papal overspending on art was an important cause of the Reformation, as it led to higher taxes on the common people, and greater corruption among the officers of the Church. Even so, during at least the nine centuries between 800 and 1700, the Church of Rome was by far the largest patron of the arts.

History of Western Religious Art

Earliest Prehistoric Religious Art
No one knows for sure when man first started creating specifically religious art. We do know that various types of religious images began to appear during the era of Neolithic art: examples include: the "Enthroned Goddess" terracotta figurine (6,000 BCE) unearthed at Catal Huyuk, in Anatolia, Turkey; and the sandstone therianthropic figure known as the Fish God of Lepenski Vir (dated to 5,000 BCE), found at a Danube settlement in Serbia.

Religious Art of Antiquity (c.3,500 BCE - 400 CE)
Egypt was home to a significant amount of religious art. The role of Egyptian artists was to exalt their Pharaoh - a secular King who was worshipped as a divine ruler, supposedly the incarnation of the god Horus. The main focus of Egyptian art was the pyramid - the tomb of the Pharaoh and his household - which was typically filled with paintings, sculptures and numerous other precious artifacts to help him survive and prosper in the afterlife. Temples were also built for the living Pharaoh, as they were for the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome, during the period 600 BCE - 400 CE. Religious Greek art is best exemplified by the Parthenon (dedicated to the Goddess Athena) and other temples on the Acropolis in Athens. Up until 400 CE, surviving sacred artworks are almost exclusively architectural or sculptural. Virtually all painting has disappeared. It was the same in Northern Europe, where ceremonial - possibly religious structures began to appear from the end of the fourth Millenium BCE, such as the Newgrange tomb in Ireland and Stonehenge in England.

Christian Art
Christian art (mostly Biblical art) emerged some 150 years after the death of Christ. Initially early Christian art - including early Christian sculpture - was actually a type of Christian Roman art, combining Roman imagery with classical Greek motifs: the image of Christ in Majesty derives from both Roman Imperial portraits and depictions of the Greek God Zeus. Over the coming centuries, Christian iconography was gradually standardised, and harmonized with Biblical texts. For the world's most ancient illuminated Christian manuscript, see: the Garima Gospels (390-660) from Ethiopia's Abba Garima Monastery.

[For a short guide to Jewish art, see Jewish Art Museum Jerusalem, which has the world's most extensive collection of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental Jewish arts and crafts.]

Byzantine Religious Art (c.400-1000)
Byzantine art in Constantinople created a number of extraordinary examples of Christian architecture, including: the Chora Church, the Hagia Irene, the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, and the awesome Hagia Sophia (532-37). In addition they built the Church of St. Sophia in Sofia, Bulgaria (527-65), and the Church of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki. Mosaic art was also common. For more, see: Christian Art, Byzantine Period.

Russian Religious Painting: Icons, Murals (c.950-1700)
The technique of icon painting spread throughout the Eastern Orthodox area, notably to Kiev, Novgorod and Moscow. Indeed, it became a major feature of Russian medieval painting. For the greatest Russian iconographers, see: Theophanes the Greek (c.1340-1410), founder of the Novgorod school of icon-painting; his young pupil Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430), famous for his masterpiece, the Holy Trinity Icon (1411-25); and Dionysius (c.1440-1502), noted for his religious icons for the Volokolamsky monastery. The Moscow School of painting (c.1500-1700) featured the Stroganov brothers, Procopius Chirin, Nicephorus Savin and Simon Ushakov (1626-1686).

Religious Art in Ireland (c.600-1150)
Protected from Romanization and Barbarian invasion by its isolated position, Ireland became an important centre for early Christian art. Irish monasteries produced a number of outstanding illuminated manuscripts (eg. Book of Kells), whose illustrations drew upon designwork from the La Tene Celtic culture. Celtic metalwork art was also exemplified in a range of Irish ecclesiastical vessels, such as the Ardagh Chalice, the Moylough Belt Shrine, as well as processional crosses like the 8th/9th century Tully Lough Cross and the great 12th century Cross of Cong. The third type of Christian art produced by this fusion of monastic devotion and Celtic artistry was Celtic High Cross sculpture, which was produced in great numbers across Ireland during the period 750 to 1150.

Romanesque & Gothic Religious Art (800-1400)
King Charlemagne of the Franks led the resurgence of Christian religious art from his court at Aachen. Carolingian art encompassed works of architecture, medieval sculpture, murals, illuminated gospel manuscripts, and more. Charlemagne's successors maintained these traditions during the era of Ottonian art - noted for its precious metalwork - supported by a revitalised Church based in Rome. Romanesque art and architecture followed from the 11th century until about 1200 when it was superceded by Gothic architecture (both Rayonnant and Flamboyant) with its soaring arches and glorious stained glass windows. Gothic sculpture was more evocative and expressive. The Gothic period witnessed one of the great flowerings of monumental Christian art, exemplified by a massive building program in France - see, for instance, Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris) and Chartres Cathedral - and thereafter across Europe. Gothic Cathedrals were built in Laon, Paris (Notre Dame), Chartres, Soissons, Bourges, Reims, Amiens, Beauvais, Auxerre and other cities. In Germany, the Gothic style is exemplified by structures such as Cologne Cathedral, while in England cathedrals appeared in Lincoln, Wells, Salisbury, Canterbury, Durham, and Ely, along with York Minster and Westminster Abbey. Underneath the architects, an army of stone masons and other craftsmen were employed to produce a mass of decorative holy artworks including column statues, mosaics and statue sculpture. The Late Gothic era was noted for its exquisite altar wood-carving, by craftsmen like Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533) and Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531).

Northern Renaissance Religious Painting (1400-1600)
Altarpiece art was a regular feature of Netherlandish religious art during this period, as exemplified by The Ghent Altarpiece (1425-32) by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) and Hubert van Eyck (d.1426), The Portinari Altarpiece (1475) by Hugo van der Goes (1440-82), The Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) by Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528) and The Deposition (1435), created by Roger Van der Weyden (1400-1464) for the Church of Notre Dame du Dehors (now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). See also the extraordinary and compelling fantasy paintings Garden of Earthly Delights and The Haywain Triptych (1516) by Hieronymus Bosch, and the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Italian Renaissance Religious Art (1400-1600)
Anticipated by Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel frescoes (1303-10), quattrocento Italian Renaissance art was financed by the Christian Church and also by secular leaders, like the Medici and Gonzaga families, as was the more conservative Sienese School of Painting. However, a huge proportion of early Renaissance painting and sculpture had religious motifs or themes: famous examples include: Masaccio's Holy Trinity (1428) and Brancacci Chapel frescoes (1424-8), The Annunciation (c.1450) by Fra Angelico (1395-1455), and The Last Supper (1495-8) by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519). High Renaissance painting included such religious masterpieces as the Sistine Madonna (1513-14) by Raphael (1483-1520), and the amazing Genesis fresco (1508-1512) and Last Judgement fresco (1536-41) in the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo (1475-1564).

The most famous work of Renaissance architecture was the redesigned and rebuilt St Peter's Basilica in Rome (1506-1626).

Venetian painting possessed a number of outstanding painters of religious themes, notably Titian (1477-1576) and Tintoretto (1518-94), as well as the colourist Paolo Veronese (1528-88) - noted for his huge Biblical banquet-scenes, such as Wedding Feast at Cana (1563, Louvre) and Feast in the House of Levi (1573, Venice Academy). See: Legacy of Venetian Painting on European art.

Renaissance religious art in the provinces is perhaps exemplified by the Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30) by Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489-1534).

Religious Mannerist Paintings (1530-1600)
The Roman Catholic Church had an ambivalent attitude towards the stylized Mannerism art movement. In Italy, for instance, following the Council of Trent, the stylized forms and artificiality of Mannerist painting was viewed as an unnecessary interference with the liturgical message. For an example of a Mannerist painter who changed his style in line with the Church's teaching, see: Federico Barocci (1526-1612). For more, see: Venetian altarpieces (1500-1600). In Spain, however, the expressiveness of the new style was seen as a perfect vehicle to depict intense religious experiences.

One major development at this time, thanks to the likes of Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) and Caravaggio (1573-1610), among others, was the use of more realistic human forms when depicting the Holy Family and other Biblical figures. See, for instance, Christ Crowned with Thorns (Ecce Homo) (1470) by Antonello da Messina. Religious Renaissance architecture is exemplified by the Dome of Florence's Cathedral, designed by the architect and artist Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), and by the rebuilding of the 1,100 year old church of St Peter's in Rome (1506-1626) by Bramante, Raphael, Sangallo, Maderno, Michelangelo and Bernini. This project extended beyond the High Renaissance into the Baroque era.

Spanish Renaissance School (16th Century)
The Renaissance in Spain lagged behind that of Italy and elsewhere. Even so, Spanish piety and devotion to the religious dogmas of Rome was absolute. Not surprisingly therefore, their artists were heavily involved in propagating and illustrating the Christian message. They included: Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561) the greatest of all Renaissance sculptors in Spain, whose masterpieces include: the altarpiece for the monastery of La Mejorada Valladolid (1526), and the choir stalls in Toledo Cathedral (1539-43). Also, Juan de Juni (1507-1577), the famous French Mannerist sculptor, who specialized in religious themes and in the dramatic expression of emotion, as exemplified by his two groups of the Entombment of Christ (1544, Valladolid Cathedral) and (1571, Segovia Cathedral). Spanish religious painting of the Late Renaissance period is exemplified by the Mannerist painter El Greco (1541-1614), whose major works include: The Holy Trinity (1577); The Disrobing of Christ (El Espolio) (1577); The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586-88); Christ driving the Traders from the Temple (1600); The Opening of the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse (1608); The Adoration of the Shepherds (1612-14); The Repentant Peter (1600); and Christ Carrying the Cross (1600).


Baroque Religious Art (1600-1700)
Following Martin Luther's Reformation (c.1517), and the emergence of the new forms of Protestant Reformation Art, - the Vatican launched a vigorous campaign of Catholic Counter-Reformation art, designed to win back its wayward congregations in Europe. Painting, as well as painterly techniques such as Caravaggism, was a key element of this religious propaganda campaign. The church wanted to communicate its message directly to the faithful and demanded from its artists an uncompromising clarity. To comply with this, paintings had to be, above all, realistic, and Caravaggio's brand of unsophisticated realism was absolutely tailor-made for the Counter-Reformation campaign. By stripping away the intellectual and stylistic pretensions of late Mannerism - a style which had become appreciated only by an educated minority, he gave to painting the instant inspirational impact demanded by the church of Rome. Examples of his religious realism include: The Calling of St Matthew (1600), The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1600), Supper at Emmaus (1601), The Crucifixion of St Peter (1601), Conversion of St Paul on the way to Damascus (1601), Death of the Virgin (1601-6) and The Entombment of Christ (1601-3).

Another type of art favoured by the Catholic Counter-Reformation was quadratura church fresco painting, designed to inspire congregations with illusionistic devices. See for example: Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1694) by Andrea Pozzo.

In Spain, the devout Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), strongly influenced by Spanish Quietism, produced holy paintings for numerous monasteries and Religious Orders (Carthusians, Capuchins, Dominicans, Jeronymites, among others), as well as Cathedrals and other ecclesiastical authorities. Among his noted works are Christ on the Cross (1627), Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas (1631), and Adoration of the Shepherds (1638). The great Diego Velazquez (1599–1660), while famous as a virtuoso portraitist, also produced a number of holy paintings like The Immaculate Conception (1618), Joseph's Coat (1630) and Christ Crucified (1632). Spanish Baroque religious sculpture is well represented by the Seville artist Juan Martinez Montanes (1568-1649), who was dubbed the God of Wood for his carving skills, sculpted mainly wooden crucifixes and religious figures. His best known works include The Merciful Christ (1603, Seville Cathedral) and the Santiponce Altarpiece (1613); and also by the explosive Alonso Cano (1601-1667), known as the "Spanish Michelangelo", whose masterpiece is The Immaculate Conception (1655, Granada Cathedral).

In Flanders, the greatest exponent of 17th century religious Flemish painting was Rubens (1577-1640), the undisputed leader of the Flemish Baroque school, following in the footsteps of earlier religious artists like Robert Campin, Hugo van der Goes and Hans Memling.

In Italy, home of the Roman Catholic Church, painters like Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), and Claude Lorrain (1600–1682) received numerous religious commissions. The greatest exponents of Italian religious sculpture were the incomparable Bernini (1598-1680) - see his Ecstasy of St.Teresa (1645–52), created for the Cornaro Chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome - and his great rival Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), both of whom were given numerous Papal commissions. The Catholic Baroque style gave rise to an emotional style of architecture, exploiting to the full the melodramatic potential of the urban landscape. This is exemplified above all by Saint Peter's Square (1656-67) and its approaches, in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Protestantism had its own religious art. 17th Century Dutch painting features some outstanding Old Testament works by Rembrandt. In addition, Dutch Realists like Harmen van Steenwyck (1612-56), Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-83), Pieter Claesz (1597-1660), Willem Kalf (1622-93) and Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1681), introduced a genre called Vanitas painting (based on Ecclesiastes 12:8 "Vanity of vanities saith the preacher, all is vanity"), whose principal theme was the ephemeral nature of life and the absurdity of human vanities. See also the church interior paintings of Emanuel de Witte (1615-92) and Pieter Jansz Saenredam (1597-1665).

It was during the period roughly 1650 to 1750 that the nature of the European art market began to change. Up until 1650, most art had been public art aimed at the masses - mostly in the form of architecture and sculpture, and most of it religious. By 1750, this type of public art had been superceded by portable easel art - mostly paintings for commercial customers. The era of large-scale spending by Church authorities was over.

Decline of Religious Art (1700 onwards)
The 18th century was the era of absolute monarchs, whose despotic rule was based on the so-called 'Divine Right of Kings' appointed by God. However, these monarchs, like Louis XIV, Louis XV, the Russian Romanovs, and the Austrian Habsburgs, were too concerned with exalting their own secular status and propping up their creaking empires to invest money in religious painting, sculpture or architecture. Furthermore, except in the Iberian Peninsular, where Spanish piety never slackened, the power of the Roman Catholic Church had been severely weakened by the destruction of its monasteries during the previous two centuries. This combination of secular and ecclesiastical weakness meant that - with odd exceptions, such as the Catholic commissions awarded to Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) in Bavaria and Venice - there was a significant reduction during the 18th century in the amount of money devoted to religious art. Moreover, this period saw a huge increase in demand on behalf of merchants and land-owners, for portraiture and topographical landscapes. As it was, the period ended with the French Revolution, which heralded a change in sentiment across Europe. Henceforth, art would celebrate people rather than deities.

The 19th century produced even less religious art. Although the Industrial Revolution created significant surplus wealth for both nations and individuals, it wasn't invested in Christian art. Instead it went into the development of social and public services. The only regular commissions offered by Church authorities were for free-standing sculpture to commemorate deceased Bishops and other clerics. And while a few painters continued to paint Biblical scenes, the demand for religious compositions slumped - a trend which continued into the 20th century. But see A Burial in Ornans (1850) by the realist painter Gustave Courbet, and the strange symbolist works of the Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949), notably Christ's Entry Into Brussels.

20th Century Religious Art
A feature of modern Christian art in the West has been the temple architecture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Its development - from the simple church-like design of the Kirtland Temple (constructed 1830s), to the intricate Gothic styles of the early Utah temples, to the mass-produced modern temples of today - chronicles the evolution of modern religious architecture itself. The most recent postmodernist churches include the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri; Unity Temple, the Unitarian Universalist in Chicago designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959); the Pietro Belluschi-designed Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco); and the Jose Rafael Moneo-designed Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Los Angeles). Sadly, the 20th century has also witnessed enormous destruction: many beautiful churches and other religious works of art were destroyed by the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. As far as sacred painting is concerned, 20th century painters have, with a few exceptions, ignored it, preferring to cater for the more secular modernist and contemporary art collector. Exceptional modern religious paintings include: Christ on the Cross (1936) by Georges Rouault (1871-1958); Ecce Homo (1925) by Lovis Corinth (1958-1925); Christ at Emmaus (1963) by Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005); Crucifixion 3.85 (1985) by Antonio Saura (1930-98); and the strange abstract work St John (1988) by Gerhard Richter (b.1932). Meantime, postmodernist religious sculpture is surely exemplified by Virgin Mother (2005) by Damien Hirst (b.1965), which stands in the Plaza of Lever House, New York City.

Themes of Christian Art

Painters and sculptors have been commissioned by Popes, religious and secular authorities to illustrate a very wide range of scenes from the Bible. The choice of scenes may be determined by religious politics, as well as the type of art form and media involved. One of the most famous themes of religious sculpture, for example, is David and Goliath: witness the three Davids sculpted by Donatello (1386-1466), Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488), and Michelangelo (1475-1564). Leonardo handled the difficult theme of the Immaculate Conception in his beautiful Virgin of the Rocks (1484-6, Louvre, Paris). Occaisonally, artists specialized in certain biblical themes: for instance the female Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656) painted 'Judith Beheading Holofernes several times.

Popular Art-Subjects From The New Testament Gospels

- Annunciation
- Adoration of the Magi
- Ascension of Jesus
- Assumption of the Virgin Mary
- Coronation of the Virgin
- Crucifixion
eg. The Crucifixion by Tintoretto
- Descent from the Cross
- Kiss of Judas
- The Lamentation
- The Last Supper
- The Last Judgment
- Madonna and Child
- Maesta
- Mocking of Christ
- Nativity of Jesus
- Noli me tangere
- The Parables
eg. Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt.
- Pietà
- The Raising of the Cross
- Transfiguration
eg. The Transfiguration by Raphael.

Popular Art-Subjects From The Old Testament Gospels

- Adam and Eve
- Cain and Abel
- David and Goliath
- Bathsheba with David's Letter
- Genesis
- John the Baptist
- Judith and Holofernes
- The Prophets
- Sacrifice of Isaac
- Flight of the Jews Into Egypt
- Scenes from the Life of Moses
- Wedding Feast at Cana

Non-Christian Religious Art

In this brief overview, phrases like Hindu art, Buddhist art and Islamic art, are no more than umbrella terms for arts and decorative crafts created within the territories occupied by the culture concerned. Architecture and sculpture (often combined) are the two most visually arresting art forms. See, for instance, the 11th century Kandariya Mahadeva Temple (1017-29) in India, the 12th century Angkor Wat Khmer Temple (1115-45) in Cambodia, and the famous 17th century Taj Mahal (1632-54) - all of which are outstanding examples of non-Christian religious architecture. Other art forms include relief sculpture, body-painting, bronze-casting, calligraphy, carpet-weaving, ceramics, costume decoration, drapery, drawing, embroidery, face-painting, friezes, furniture making, gemstone carving, goldsmithing, illumination of manuscripts, ivory carving, jewellery-making, lacquer-painted bookbinding, lustre-ware, metalworking, mosaics, painting, pottery, tapestry art, textile design, wood carving, among others.

Art Involving Ancestor Worship

This type of religion embaces a variety of different practices and beliefs regarding the spirits of deceased relatives. Societies whose arts and culture were closely connected with the celebration of religious ancestor worship, include several from the ancient civilization of the Mediterranean area - see, for instance, Aegean Art (2600-1100 BCE) - as well as Asian art from Japan, China, Korea, SE Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Ancestor worship was particularly widespread in ancient China. For a close look at the Chinese cultures involved, see the following resources:

- Chinese Neolithic Art (7500-2000 BCE)
- Xia Dynasty Culture (2100-1600 BCE)
- Shang Dynasty Art (1600-1050 BCE)
- Zhou Dynasty Art (1050-221 BCE)
- Qin Dynasty Art (221-206 BCE)
- Han Dynasty Art (206 BCE - 220 CE)

Hindu Art
Hinduism, dating from the 2nd Millennium BCE, is the main religion in India, with about 850 million followers and some 64 types of traditional art. Hindu painting, for instance, is exemplified by early and medieval works from Ajanta, Bagh, Ellora and Sittanavasal, while Hindu sculpture is marked not by a sense of plastic fullness but rather by a linear character with an emphasis on outline, as in the Shiva statuette [left]. Hindu architecture embraces temples like the Akshardham in Delhi, Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura, Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, and Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam.

Further Reading About Hindu Art
For a brief survey of Indian art, see: India: Painting & Sculpture.
For more specific articles, see the following:
- Classical Indian Painting (Up to 1150 CE)
- Post-Classical Indian Painting (14th-16th Century)
- Mughal Painting (16th-19th Century)
- Rajput Painting (16th-19th Century)
- Indian Sculpture (3300 BCE - 1850)

Buddhist Art
Buddhism, founded by Siddhartha Gautama around 600 BCE, has about 380 million adherents spread across India, central and southern Asia and Japan. Buddhist architecture is mainly devoted to temples, monasteries and shrines, including stupas, dagobas and pagodas, across Asia. But Buddhist iconography used in arts like sculpture, varies according to region: in Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia), Theravada traditions encourage images of Buddha in mediating or reclining positions; in central Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Bhutan, Vietnam, Afghanistan), Mahayana traditions have led to a wider range of representations, including different Buddhas, saints, bodhisattvas and other deities. For more, see Chinese Buddhist Sculpture (c.100-present). Buddhist 3-D art is illustrated by the sandstone sculptures of Mathura, India. (For more, see: Japanese Art, and Chinese Art.)

Note: Chinese Buddhist art - notably painting, sculpture, and building design - proliferated during the Eastern Jin (317-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581), the Sui empire (589-618), most of the Tang (618-906) and the Song (906-1279) eras. For more, see the following resources:

- Arts of the Six Dynasties Period (220-589)
- Sui Dynasty Art (589-618)
- Tang Dynasty Art (618-906)
- Song Dynasty Art (906-1279)
- Yuan Dynasty Art (1271-1368)

In Korea, where Buddhism arrived from China around 370 CE, Buddhist culture remained strong for longer: for details, see Korean Art (c.3,000 BCE onwards). In India, the relationship between Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam has been extremely complex. Hindu art was influenced by the younger Buddhist art, until Buddhism faded around 950 CE century partly as a result of the growing influence of Islam (and Islamic art) in parallel with Hinduism. Because of this influence, Hindu architects adapted their designs to accomodate the traditions of the new religion, as illustrated in the design and construction of Taj Mahal, and Gol Gumbaz. But note also the recent clash of religious ideologies which occurred in Afghanistan, when Taliban muslims destroyed the monumental stone sculptures known as The Buddhas of Bamyan.

For more about the evolution of Buddhist arts and culture in East Asia, see: Chinese Art Timeline (c.18,000 BCE - present).

Islamic Art
Islam, founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE, has around 1.5 billion followers. Like its fellow faiths, Islamic art is a mixture of many cultures. Although it reflects the Muslim creed concerning the absolute power of The One God (Allah), it combines elements from Greek and early Christian art, as well as the great Middle Eastern cultures of Egypt, Byzantium, and ancient Persia, along with the eastern heritage of India and China. Even so, the influence of the Arabs, who conquered the ancient Islamic world, is paramount. It has propagated the Koran (Qur'an), the Arabic form of writing, the Kufic and Naskhi scripts of traditional Islamic calligraphy, an infinite variety of abstract ornament, and an entire system of linear abstraction (Arabesques) that is peculiar to all forms of Islamic Art. This abstract designwork balances the Islamic ban on figurative reproduction.

Other notable Islamic arts and crafts include: ceramic art notably lustre-ware, stone-carving, textile silk art, and wall painting. Book illumination was an Iranian specialty, as exemplified by the Manafi al-Hayawan (Usefulness of Animals) manuscript (1297), and the Jami al-tawarikh by Rashid al-Din. Enamelled glass and metalwork were also highly prized, take for example the exquisite metal basin of Mamluk silverwork known as the "Baptistere de Saint Louis" (Syria, 1290-1310). Islamic architecture is especially famous for religious structures such as: The Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem, built by Abd al-Malik, 691); the Great Mosque of Damascus (finished 715); the Alhambra Palace (Granada, c.1333-91); the Great Mosque of Samarkand (begun 1400); The Ottoman mosque of Sultan Ahmet I ("the Blue Mosque") (Istanbul, 1603-17); the domed mosque of Shaykh Lutfullah (1603-18), built by Safavid architects in Isfahan; Mughal architecture includes the palace complex of Fatehpur Sikri (c.1575) built during the reign of Akbar, as well as the sublime Taj Mahal (1630-53), built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Native Religious Art
Tribal art (aka Primitive Native art), meaning arts and crafts produced by indigenous natives from tribal societies in Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, Australia, the Americas and Alaska, typically is much more sacred or religion-oriented than Western art. This is because tribal religions were all-pervasive. Thus tribal pictorial imagery (paintings), sculpture (stone or wood-carving) or 3-D models (masks) embodied the vital forces believed to exist in all living matter. Sometimes these images represented the spirits of the dead, the vital essence of tribal ancestry. Unfortunately many such artworks have perished or been bartered away with white explorers. What remains is mainly stonework (sculpture, temples), some earthworks, or various forms of rock art. Even so, some extraordinary finds of native religious art have been made, including: (1) prehistoric paintings in the Laas Gaa'l caves at Hargeisa in Somalia, which contained drawings of men and women worshipping cattle and performing religious rituals; (2) paintings at Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, South Africa, portraying animals and humans which, according to experts, represent religious beliefs. For more details of primitive religious art, see: Tribal Art.

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