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Reading the Bible through images

Art interacts with God’s word in online exhibitions

If you have ever pondered the wonder of Tedice’s Madonna painting or immersed yourself in the fields of The Sower by Van Gogh, then prepare to tuck into a hearty visual feast.

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A new website is reimagining the way we read the Bible by interpreting Scripture through the “visual language” of art.

“Visual language is a new kind of currency among young people …” – Ben Quash

The recently-launched The Visual Commentary on Scripture (VCS) is a free online resource that uses classic and contemporary artworks to illuminate particular Bible passages, from both the Old and New Testaments.

The website, which went live in November 2018, is the brainchild of Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London.

“Visual language is a new kind of currency among young people who talk to each other all the time in visual language by sharing images on [social media.] So churches who want to communicate the Gospel for young people who talk in images are having to take images seriously. I think that is very exciting because it means that there is a new opportunity to draw people into reading the Bible through using visual arts,” said Quash in a recent interview with The Christian Post.

According to The Christian Post, the VCS website cost $2 million (donated by US-based philanthropists) and took one year to create.

The site is comprised of ‘virtual exhibitions’, with each exhibition containing a Bible passage and three artworks, selected by a curator (including biblical scholars, artists and writers). These artworks range from famous paintings – such as Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus –to photographs and images of sculptures, video projections, electric-light installations and decorative stone plates.

The curator provides commentary on each individual artwork, as well as a comparative commentary that draws together reflections on how all three artworks shed new light on that particular Scripture. In doing so, the commentaries draw on three academic disciplines: theology, biblical studies and art history.

“It’s that sense of epiphany, of an unveiling, a discovery, that we really want to achieve …” – Ben Quash

Currently there are around 100 exhibitions on the site, but the future goal is to cover every book in the Bible by making around 1,500 exhibitions available.

According to the VCS website: “The virtual exhibitions … aim to facilitate new possibilities of seeing and reading so that the biblical text and the selected works of art come alive in new and vivid ways.”

Quash further explained the purpose of these VCS exhibitions in an introductory video: “The curators of our online texts will want to introduce a work of art to a scriptural text when they’ve never, so to speak, met before. But it will be because that curator believes that together they’ll have great chemistry.”

“It’s that sense of epiphany, of an unveiling, a discovery, that we really want to achieve in the visual commentary. And we’ll believe that we’ve done a good job when people who’ve visited our online exhibitions never quite read the biblical text in the same way again because of what the art has brought to their reading of it. And indeed, will never looks at those works of art in quite the same way again because of they’ve had a new way of looking at them that’s been generated from their conversation with the biblical text.”

“We can reach people who probably wouldn’t otherwise be reading the Bible.” – Ben Quash

Quash also hopes that VCS will open up the Bible to a whole new audience, including school students across the world. Future VCS plans include translating the passages and commentaries into different languages.

“This is something that people wherever they are … can engage with a short passage of Scripture and have their imagination kindled by the works of art and be stimulated to come into the presence of the biblical text through their hand-held devices and [computers],” he told The Christian Post.

“Wherever they are, they have an invitation to read the biblical text through the attractiveness of visual imagery. That for us is a big motivation.

“We can reach people who probably wouldn’t otherwise be reading the Bible and also enriching people who have a great relationship with the Bible already by giving them new ways to explore, new ways to relate to it.”

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