Seeing Salvation
The National Gallery Exhibition
(ended 7th May 2000)
A Personal Reflection by Kathryn Wright (Head of RE, Woodbridge High School)

William Holman Hunt's The Light of the World was the impressive and dominant image as one entered this exhibition; an exhibition which has been highly acclaimed in the media and visited by thousands. The aim of the exhibition was for viewers to discover the intention of the artists and understand the significance of the artwork for the original viewers. A TV series was also shown with similar aims, although a personal quest of self discovery was by far my preferred approach.

To me many of the images were powerful and had spiritual depth. They evoked a sense of awe and wonder; the splendour of Hunt's image, the passion and pain of Mostaert's Christ as the Man of Sorrows, the calmness of Murillo's Heavenly and Earthly Trinities, the intrigue of images of St. Veronica's cloth and the pleadings and desperation of Bosch's Crowning with Thorns. The ability of artists to strike the heart and allow the viewer (believer or not) to become involved in the image is truly moving and challenging.

The overwhelming purpose and intention of the artists is to show Christ in relation to their own and other's experiences. Thus, whether one is a believer or not, each image can have an impact on one's spiritual journey. There has been much debate about the purpose of Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross, however my lasting impression was that it is the individual viewer who must interpret these images and seek to discover for him/herself what the image portrays. This may not have been the purpose of the exhibition, but it is one which I think was inevitable. Some may say Dali's image shows a Christ who is distant from the earth and cannot show his face, others will say that the painting demonstrates Christ's holiness and lordship over the earth. The paintings raise questions. Why did Spencer show Jesus as a mother figure? Why do so may artists in the 14th - 16th Centuries focus on Christ's wounds? Why is Jesus 'looking at me' in this picture? What is the symbolism in this painting?

Do our different interpretations matter? In my opinion no, although I am not an Art teacher, but an RE teacher!! If we be asking our pupils to develop along a journey of self discovery, isn't it right that we all do the same? We cannot dictate their thoughts and responses, only give them the opportunity to express them, thus I believe the Seeing Salvation exhibition has provided the same opportunity for the masses. This must be 'life long learning' at its best!!!

I bought a number of postcard versions of the paintings which I intend to use in the classroom. Some of the images are on the National Gallery website, and they have also produced other resources to go with the exhibition, including a video.

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