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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 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.”
  • A pale stone slab is covered with low relief carvings. A central niche holds an ethroned figure carved in higher relief among his attendants. A variety of figures and processional scenes surround him as well as abstract vining and floral motifs.
    Kate Lingley
    This is a Buddhist votive stele made in the sixth century in north central China. It probably stood either in the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery, or in a public place such as a market square, or at a major crossroads.
  • A pale white statue of a thin woman draped in a dress stands on a pink marble pedestal. The work is located against a red wall in a spare room.
    Lauren Lessing
    Given the fact that Benjamin Paul Akers was a Protestant working at a time when nativist and anti-Catholic sentiments ran high in the United States, his choice to depict a miracle performed by an Eastern European saint seems peculiar, as does the popularity of his sculpture.
  • A series of large white and black paintings hangs on the walls of a white gallery space. The white canvases are painted with black lines of differing thicknesses.
    Valerie Hellstein
    According to the art critic Harold Rosenberg there is nothing religious about Barnett Newman’s series of fourteen roughly human-sized, black and white paintings, The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachtani.
  • A painting depicts a small child, a woman, and a suited man gathered around two urns on a plinth. They are framed by the drooping leaves of the golden tree that they stand under. The man gestures in oration and the woman leans on the plinth.
    Jamie L. Brummitt
    Mary Lyman’s mourning piece served as visual and material evidence of her education, participation in mourning practices, and her religious and social formation.
  • A woodcut depicts a female-figure holding a small, haloed child close. Hand-colored vignettes surround the group in delineated architectural spaces with patterned borders. The top vignette shows Mary at Christ's crucifixion.
    Lisa Pon
    Forlì's Madonna of the Fire is a large fifteenth-century woodcut almost twenty inches high and sixteen inches wide.
  • A manuscript page with black and red text depicts Christ on a blue, floral cross. A pale, blood-spurting Christ is nailed to the cross. The geometric figure has large open eyes but stiff limbs and drapery. Two angels swoop around the crucifix.
    Lawrence Nees
    The image of Christ on the Cross, either as an element of a narrative scene (a Crucifixion) or as an isolated object of devotion (a Crucifix) is so common in the artistic and religious traditions of the last millennium of Western art, especially but not only in the Catholic tradition, that it is seldom recognized that such images are altogether absent during the first centuries of Christianity, and remain rare at least through the eighth century of the common era.
  • A small red metal heart is fashioned with a white and blue banner unfurled across it. The banner is inscribed with "te Amo" in black, handwritten script. Abstract, metal flames emerge from the top of the heart.
    David Morgan
    This object was purchased in an upscale novelty shop catering to tourists in downtown Boulder, Colorado, in 2010 for $11.95. Although at first blush it appears to be a Sacred Heart of Jesus, on second look the banner, which reads “te amo,” Spanish for “I love you,” indicates that the heart may not belong to Jesus.
  • A large, shiny jade figure sits cross-legged on a carved platform. The head is gold with large eyes, long earlobes, a black topknot, and serene expression. It holds a small black object. The figure sits against a red background and among yellow flowers.
    David L. McMahan
    Numerous photographs appear to reveal what adherents are calling “mandala lights” around the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace as it makes its way around the world on a tour of Buddhist temples, monasteries, town squares, and museums.
  • Gray, jagged stones stand in the foreground of a photo that captures a stone architectural ruins and green mountains in the background.
    Claudia Brittenham
    For the Inca, the landscape was both sacred and animate, full of forces that demanded respect and offerings. Distant mountain peaks, called apu—a term of respect meaning “lord”—were among the most powerful of these forces.
  • A woman sculpted of gray stone emerges from a rocky outcropping. She reaches her arms out over a sculpted basket with two thin birds in front of it and small chicks underneath it.
    Karil J. Kucera
    To most modern visitors, the Chicken-Feeding Girl displays the stereotypical concern of a doting mother, and a number of scholars have described this image as representative of the pastoral life of the region during the Song Dynasty (960—1279 CE). While this is in fact one way to interpret the work, the Song dynasty audience for Chicken-Feeding Girl read her presence at the site in an entirely different manner.
  • Stained glass windows with red, yellow, and blue panels let colorful light in on a cozy and cluttered room. It is filled with couches, chairs, tables, and rugs,
    Gretchen Buggeln
    Lake View Lutheran Church on Chicago’s north side is the fourth building of a congregation founded by Scandinavian immigrants in 1848. About 1960, demographic changes pushed the congregation to relocate and rebuild.
  • A wooden sculpture depicts a skeletal figure pulling a bow and arrow taunt. He has a flat chest imprinted with ribs, a head of wispy gray hair and large teeth, and oversized hands.
    Miguel de Baca
    This dramatic death cart is an object that was used in acts of corporal penance performed by the Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno (Brothers of the Pious Fraternity of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth).
  • Two enthroned figures are carved in high-relief on a light-colored slab of stone. Parts of their faces and bodies have fallen away. They wear long robes delineated by a incised lines of drapery. One figure's face has plump lips and a placid expression.
    Tamami Hamada
    This form is replicated in over 70 statues remaining at Longmen. The votive inscriptions of the statues inform us that they were given the specific title “King Udayana Image,” and not considered as a general Tathagata image, such as the Buddha Sakyamuni.
  • Half of a deeply pigmented painting depicts a dark night sky and flowering trees. A terrace scene fills the other half. A woman sits on the terrace and performs ritual devotion before a white shrine. Low yellow walls are on either side of the terrace.
    Holly Shaffer
    In this single folio, a woman is engaged in prayer. She sits on a pink cloth, her head in profile, with her body turned three-quarters to the viewer. Her right hand is covered by a golden textile, under which she counts beads on a rosary in meditation. She has garlanded the linga, or symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, and its three stripes of orange are mirrored on her forehead.
  • A small book lies open to expose a marbled interior cover which faces an illustrated page. This page depicts a muscular Christ in flowing drapery. He grasps a t-shaped cross in his left hand. Blood flows in long spurts from his hands, feet, and side.
    Jason David LaFountain
    This is the only known drawing by John Valentine Haidt, the most important Moravian artist of the eighteenth century. It appears at the opening of a small black-leather-bound hymnal that belonged to Haidt, upon a sheet of paper lightly stained and speckled with rusty spots.
  • A color-saturated painting depicts two figures aligned along a vertical axis of gold light. The lower register depicts an crystal lake, green trees, snowy mountains, and a purple sky. The upper register includes a large multi-color concentric circle.
    Erika Doss
    The Chart of the Magic Presence is the visual synopsis of the self-centered teleology of “I AM,” a new religious movement founded in 1932 by Guy and Edna Ballard.
  • A wooden object consists of three crucifixes stacked vertically. A cast metal, Christ figure is affixed to each crucifix. Their hands are outstretched, their waists covered with loin cloths, and their ribs visible.
    Cécile Fromont
    Elaborately crafted artworks, jealously kept insignia of power, and piously cherished devotional paraphernalia, central African crucifixes illustrate the Kongo people’s deep and enduring engagement with the visual forms and religious message of Christianity.
  • A leafy, carved pedestal on a stone pillar holds a pale stone sculpture of a horse with a regal rider. The rider wears a crown and draping robes and cloak. A sculpture of castle in miniature is affixed to the wall above the group.
    Shirin Fozi
    A young king sits tall in the saddle, gazing intently at something in the distance. There is apparently nowhere for the steed to go: horse and rider are perched on a leafy pedestal that is just large enough to bear their life-size forms, and they have stood frozen there since they were carved into the fabric of Bamberg Cathedral in the thirteenth century.

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