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Object Narratives explicate religious images, objects, monuments, buildings, or spaces in 1500 words or less.

Conversations

MAVCOR began publishing Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in 2014. In 2017 we selected a new name, MAVCOR Journal. Articles published prior to 2017 are considered part of Conversations and are listed as such under Volumes in the MAVCOR Journal menu.

  • A busy painting captures a profusion of 19th century figures in one crowded section of the sunny street. Men dig trenches or toss back drinks. Women grasp babies, hand out pamphets, hold baskets of flowers, and stroll by with parasols.
    Tim Barringer
    Ford Madox Brown’s allegory of labor in all its forms is the most ambitious Pre-Raphaelite painting of modern life and a profound meditation on the relationship between art, religion, and labor in Victorian society.
  • Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Peter Ahr
    The internationally famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1789–1838) was asked to produce a series of colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and the apostles for the new Neoclassical Vor Frue Kirke of Denmark. Of these, Christus (Christ) has become best-known. Copies of the sculpture, often true to size or even larger, can be found around the world.
  • The homemade cover of a book depicts a young man reclining in a row boat as he reads a book. The background of the watercolor and ink illustration is a deep red. A set of red and black beads are affixed to the flat image as a necklace on the man's neck.
    Kristin Schwain
    Rolando Estévez Jordán, a visual artist, and Alfredo Zaldívar, a poet, co-founded Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía (Watchtower Editions) in 1985 to create an open forum for writers, musicians, and artists.
  • A gold border encircles a braided piece of hair arranged in an arc on a book page. Bows are tied on the hair tips. Handwritten script below reads, "Mother. Died Dec. 16th 1867. Aged 56 years."
    Rachel McBride Lindsey
    What photograph albums teach us about nineteenth-century viewing habits is that the reach of religion extended beyond compositionally “religious” subjects. Modes of beholding were often forms of religious practice that did not require a regulated rift between sacred and secular.
  • A wood-engraving depicts a woman sitting on a bench staring off into a grassy landscape with a house and trees.
    Sonia Hazard
    That “Protestants don’t have pictures” remains a common generalization. Yet in the early nineteenth century, nothing could be further from the truth. Protestant publishers like the nonsectarian American Tract Society (ATS) lavishly decorated their tracts with small but expressive printed illustrations.
  • A black and white photo shows a space with adults and children on kneelers before an altar arrayed with devotional statues. The walls are lined with small framed images. One devotee stands on crutches.
    Timothy Matovina
    No exact date is known for the founding in San Antonio, Texas, of the Capilla de Nuestro Señor de los Milagros (Chapel of the Lord of Miracles), or Capilla de los Milagros, as it is sometimes called. Visitors to the shrine and its central Christ image offer both their orations and material expressions of prayer.
  • Shira Brisman
    This object is an example of a type of small-scale Christian moveable-part medieval sculpture called a Vierge Ouvrante (“Opening Virgin”).
  • A light-skinned figure of a young boy wears a shiny blue robe, brown stole, and wide-brimmed hat. He is seated in a gold throne with an ornate canopy carved with a lamb insignia. The child holds a basket and staff.
    Jennifer Scheper Hughes and Daisy Vargas
    Each year, certain special religious images are ceremonially brought from Mexico and Central America to visit Catholic devotional communities in Southern California. These devotional statues of Catholic saints are “imágenes peregrinas,” pilgrim or traveling images.
  • Two half-naked female figures gather around a brown ox in a dark, painterly image. Thick brushstrokes also render fruit-bearing trees in the background.
    Emily Gephart
    Two maidens, one bright and one shadowy, lead an ox through a curiously dense, shallow, and cubistically-fragmented woodland, heading (one presumes) through the titular sacramental trees and towards an uncertain destination.
  • In a grayscale photo, a female stone torso with carved jewelry protrudes and swoops off a building. There is a jagged stone space where the figure's head should be.
    Tamara I. Sears
    Hovering above the central courtyard of a Hindu monastery at the rural central-Indian village of Chandrehe was once a set of finely sculpted flying celestials, known within their original, tenth-century context as gandharvas, heavenly singers in the court of the gods, or vidya-dharas, meaning “carriers of truth.”
  • A colorful but weathered ink painting shows a pale-skinned, many-armed figure sitting cross-legged at its center. A large halo of hands surrounds him, each with a single eye. Accompanying figures lie outside the halo against a blue background.
    Michelle C. Wang
    Avalokiteshvara, one of the most important bodhisattvas in Buddhism, was popularly known as the “perceiver of the world’s cries.” Bodhisattvas, meaning literally “enlightened beings,” were devoted, out of a deep sense of compassion, to aiding other sentient beings in their quest for enlightenment, even to the point of postponing their own entry into nirvana.
  • A stone plinth holds a sculptural group of two stone, male figures. One concerned-looking robed man crouches down to adjust the cloths on the head of a supine male figure. The lying man has a bare chest and a pained expression.
    Annette Stott
    In the summer of 1900, Denver acquired an unusual sculpture to mark the last resting place of pioneer attorney Vincent Daniel Markham (1826-1895) and his wife Mary (ca. 1834-1893).
  • A pale gold tall cap that rises to a peak is decorated with ornate embroidery all over. The colorful embroidery depicts swirling floral and vegetal designs in red, blue, and green.
    Maya Stanfield-Mazzi
    The Cathedral of Cuzco, Peru holds several liturgical ornaments from the Spanish colonial period in its treasury. Among them is a magnificent embroidered miter, the headdress worn by bishops for blessings, baptisms, and processions.
  • A dark-skinned man wearing a white t-shirt holds a large, broken mortar transformed into an art object. It is painted orange with a large eye depicted at center. Other smaller eyes cover the object's surface. Neat, white text also covers the piece.
    Birgit Meyer
    During a trip to Ghana in May 2010, I visited the roadside shop and atelier of painter Kwame Akoto, alias “Almighty,” a name he adopted so as to praise the power of God.
  • A grayscale chart consists of a series of different size ovals set in a horizontal line. Each oval contains more circles with illustrations inside them. Text labels the spheres and thin lines make connections between events.
    A.T. Coates
    Clarence Larkin’s dispensationalist chart “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth” (1920) offers a detailed schematic of biblical history. The artistic product of an individual with experience in mechanical draftsmanship, Larkin’s chart shows how events and epochs fit together like parts in a salvation machine.
  • A painting of a light-skinned Mary with a large, oblong disk of gold leaf light behind her head is painted on a red background. She has large stylized eyes, red lips, and wears a burgundy cloak.
    Elena Kravchenko
    Icons move. They cross national borders and traditional boundaries. They show up in the least expected places.
  • In a mural on a cave wall, robed figures gather around a painted tablet. Two larger figures kneel while their attendants hold offerrings. Much of the colorful paint has chipped off the figures.
    Winston Kyan
    The integration of “secular” figures into a Buddhist cave complicates the separation established by both medieval Chinese authors and modern scholars of Buddhist art between practices of familial commemoration and religious devotion.
  • Mia Mochizuki
    “Why, some people may lose their faith looking at that picture!” Dostoyevsky famously had his fictional character Prince Myshkin exclaim over Hans Holbein the Younger’s Dead Christ Entombed.
  • Three shelves of small gable-roofed and house-shaped boxes are displayed behind bars. Each box is black and white with a cross affixed to the top. All have text inscribed on the front.
    Maura Coughlin
    Skull boxes that both memorialized a dead individual and displayed the deceased person’s skull were made in Brittany from the eighteenth century to about 1900.
  • John E. Cort
    These glass eyes seem to look intently at the viewer, seizing the viewer’s attention. This is precisely what they are intended to do by the Shvetambar Murtipujak Jains of western India; it is also precisely why the Digambar Jains of western India strenuously object to them.
  • Jeanette Favrot Peterson
    This Marian icon cannot be characterized as a single object as the perception of her authenticity, from which she gains her numinous power, draws on two distinct representations, one nested inside the other.
  • Allison Stielau
    In 1890 two men working in the area around Dolgellau in North Wales discovered this pair of objects in a crevice between rocks. Encrusted with soil and plant matter, the objects were not at first identifiable.
  • Emily C. Floyd
    Credited with saving the town from sure disaster, the Cross of Motupe became the centerpiece of a devotion that drew pilgrims from throughout the region, and eventually from throughout Peru.
  • A painting provides a view into a forest clearing with a green canopy of trees over a muddy, watery expanse.
    Rebecca Bedell
    In June 1840, Asher Durand wrote in his journal: “Today again is Sunday. I have declined attendance on church service, the better to indulge reflection unrestrained under the high canopy of heaven, amidst the expanse of waters—fit place to worship God and contemplate the wonders of his power.”

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