Michelangelo: From the Editor - A Flood of Pictures

I had a succession of wonderful Sunday School teachers growing up, but there was one I never had, and I was secretly jealous of my younger brother, who did: His name was Marvin Jarboe, and he was (and still is) a professional artist and stained glass window maker. Most Sunday School classes listened to the story of Noah's ark. Marvin's class made Noah's ark—a large, elaborate replica built out of toothpicks, with handmade ceramic animals. Such artistic sophistication was the deep envy of someone whose earliest, cherished church-related memory was pasting cotton balls on pictures of sheep. Oh, how I wanted to be in Marvin's class.

You can imagine, therefore, how much I have loved editing this issue of Christian History & Biography. I have spent three months surrounded by photographs of the some of the world's most magnificent masterpieces of religious art. The hardest decisions facing our team have been how to narrow down the vast array of possible images to what will fit into the magazine, and whether to picture the intense, almost iconic gaze of Michelangelo's David or the dynamic colors of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on the cover. Rough life.

In addition to the theme section's focus on Michelangelo and the Italian Renaissance, art has found its way into every one of our departments in this issue, from David Morgan's story behind the most beloved modern painting of Jesus, to the late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan's love of pelican iconography, to St. Antony's fight with the demons in medieval painting. This is not entirely a matter of editorial selection. Quietly, vibrantly, without words, with subtle power, the visual tradition of the church has exerted a profound and widespread influence on Christian belief and practice. Alongside those who have helped us understand the story of Noah's ark with our minds, there have always been those who have re–made Noah's ark for a new generation and expressed the eternal truths of Christianity through pigment, marble, clay, graphite, glass, or even toothpicks.

Perhaps it is more important than ever for us to understand this artistic heritage. After centuries of being a word-based culture, the West is moving back to being a visual culture. For better or worse, it is becoming more and more the case that the way to people's hearts is through their eyes.

This issue of CH&B is, therefore, our attempt to make sure artists have their rightful place among the theologians, preachers, teachers, missionaries, writers, and social reformers who populate our Christian history hall of fame. It is also an attempt to tell the story of a particular historical moment through art— to examine what art can tell us about what artists and their communities believed, how they worshiped, what important issues were at stake in the church, and how the church was responding to the cultural changes of that time. Special thanks to Laurel Gasque, John Skillen, and Rachel Smith for lending us their expertise at various points in the editorial process.

In all of our issues we take great pride in compiling the best visual material to enhance the story we're telling. In this issue, the images themselves take center stage. Therefore assistant editor Rebecca Golossanov deserves extra kudos for her efforts in finding and securing permissions for high-quality art reproductions. We are also very grateful to Doug Johnson for his beautiful design work as guest art director. Our prayers continue to go out to our art director emeritus Raymond Whitlock and his family as he battles cancer.

By Jennifer Trafton

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #91 in 2006]

Next articles

The Face That's Everywhere

We've all seen it. An entire generation grew up with this image of Jesus in their minds. But who made it, and how did it become so popular?

David Morgan

Painting the Town Holy

Rebirth and reform in Renaissance Italy.

Jennifer Trafton

Larger Than Life

Michelangelo Buonarotti reached the pinnacle of fame as a sculptor, painter, and architect, yet he longed for something more.

Laurel Gasque

Scripture on the Ceiling

Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel make a profound statement about the creation story— and the artist's own creativity.

James Romaine
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