Religious Arts For Devotion and Décor
By Linda Dorland
Growing up as a Protestant in the South pretty much meant few if any religious items in the home. We had a Bible, of course, and possibly a framed Baptism certificate; you get the drift. Unless you were Catholic you pretty much did not know about such things and the early Nashville Catholics were poor German immigrants with little possessions. Most of the religious “goodies” were up north. And the religious items stayed in their place, on an altar, bedside table or bedroom wall, waiting for the private devotion of the owner and often not for others to admire.
Times have certainly changed over the years. In particular, thanks to the internet, people are discovering the beauty of the old religious sacramental items and wanting them for their homes (photo, right, French pipe clay statue of Mother and Child, $395; Showcase S-510). Being able to view Old Master religious paintings from museums online has created a new appreciation for religious art. I can remember when a Virgin Mary statue would only be in a Catholic church, or maybe an Episcopal one. Today, these statues grace yards and gardens, swimming pools, and every room in the house, including the bathroom. Having Mary around has become hip!
So first let’s talk about what is available today. There are statues of every conceivable size, of Mary, Jesus and many of the saints. There are rosaries of materials ranging from simple woods to rare mother-of-pearl or semi-precious stones. There are crosses and crucifixes, from tiny to church size, along with candlesticks, incense burners, medals, charms, tapestry and art; this all ranges in size from huge paintings down to tiny icons or prayer cards, and includes Bibles and prayer books (photo, left, large wall rosary from France, $165; Showcase S-501).
Old religious prints abound, and although you probably won’t find an Old Master in an antique mall, you will find some wonderful paintings, both vintage and new. One trip to GasLamp Antiques can fill your car full of all the above; simply peruse the photos to see a few of our offerings (photo, right, antique painting on porcelain of Mother and Child in gilt frame, $2,685; Booth B-225).
Now the tricky part is how to display your newly found treasures tastefully. You want to be able to see and enjoy these without potentially offending guests in your home; more about that later. Can you put a Madonna statue in the bathroom Sure, if done properly, such as on a side table possibly surrounded by a few green plants, or on the counter if it is large enough. Always be aware that moisture can potentially damage some items, which is something to remember in the kitchen as well. I suggest ceramic items for these settings, or concrete that is smooth and not too porous. Any room in the house is game, if you always remember to put these items in a respectful place in each room. This means no statues on the toilet or anyplace considered “unclean.” And it is best to keep these items off the floor, as that is considered a disgrace in many of the world’s religions. (Photo, left, chalkware Jesus statue, $885; Showcase S-502).
If you own a fine Bible, display it open to a favorite passage on a book stand or a library table, possibly surrounded by other similar books, a statue, or possibly a single candlestick. Periodically change the open page to avoid damage.
Many homes now have a small altar area, and if you have such a special spot, this is a choice place for a display. Some Hindu homes will have an entire room for religious iconography. I have seen a fabulous icon collection displayed on shelves built inside a closet with the door removed. If creating your display in part of a room, use an old cabinet or table for starters. Then line it with some type of tapestry or fabric for color, and add your statues. You can decorate them with rosaries if you wish, or add some books, candlesticks, prayer books; the sky is the limit. Small items can be framed in groupings. The main point to remember is that these items were originally all considered “art”; fine sculptors and painters found inspiration in the religious subjects more than any other. So you can also feel free to display them as with any fine art (and no altar necessary). (Photo, right, Concrete or stone statue of Mary, $165; located in the front display ).
Many collectors of religious arts today do not specialize, and you will find homes with items from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and other faiths. If going for the eclectic look, try to keep groupings; don’t put Mary with the Buddha or Shiva with a Menorah. I suggest emphasizing your own religion in such a case, with items from other religions used as décor in other areas of the home. If objects are in a garden or yard setting, you can be more liberal with placement. I really think having a few items from several religions makes your guests in your home feel a little more comfortable, as it creates less of a feeling of being in a shrine. (Photo, left, antique bronze French statue of Jesus, $895; Showcase S-530).
As with any collectible, buy what you love and love what you buy. We would love to show you all the lovely items at GasLamp Antique Mall and many of our staff members are designers that can advise you on placement in your home.