Wolfson scholars collaborate on a unique exhibition on the art of major world religions at the Ashmolean Museum.
A new exhibition, Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, opened at the Ashmolean Museum on 19 October 2017, curated by Jaś Elsner and Stefanie Lenk with the full participation of the Empires of Faith team.
The exhibition is the result of new collaborative research produced by members of the Empire of Faith team at Wolfson College and the British Museum, contributed to by leading scholars, showing the fundamental importance of imagery in the development and explanation of religious ideas.
Several members of the team are Junior Research Fellows and DPhil students at Wolfson and have enjoyed the support and fellowship of the Ancient World Research Cluster.
Examining imagery from those religions that have survived (Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam as well as the polytheisms of India), the Empires of Faith project also examines imagery from many lost religions from the cults of the Roman Empire to Manichaeism.
In the words of Co-Curator, Professor Jaś Elsner, the exhibition “demonstrates how an earlier era of religious transformation and turmoil generated dialogue, encounter and visual exchange which formed the key identities of the world religions. A parallel with the world of today, when cultural exchange, migration and globalisation are of critical importance”.
Exhibition consultant Mary Beard commented: “This is a groundbreaking show. Not just fabulous things to look at (though there are plenty of those) – but an attempt to raise big questions about how different cultures have made their gods visible to themselves, how the imagery was formed and evolved, and how different traditions of representation interacted with one another. It couldn’t be more relevant.”
The exhibition draws on the rich holdings of the Ashmolean Museum alongside loans of precious objects that have survived from the earliest periods of each of these religions. Among the rare treasures on show will be some of the oldest surviving Qurans; early Christian sarcophagi from the Ashmolean collection, on display for the first time; a rare cult- statue of Dionysus; early figurative and pre-figurative images of the Buddha; Vishnu avatars; late ancient Jewish artefacts; and a variety of rare maps, scrolls, drawings, coins, manuscripts and amulets.
A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition which runs until 18 February 2018.
Empires of Faith Project