The current exhibit at Washington’s National Gallery of Art — “The Sacred Made Real” — would likely please St. Teresa of Avila if she were alive today. The 16th-century Spanish mystic who reportedly liked to pray before images of Christ’s passion would find much to contemplate among the 22 sculptures and paintings from the Spanish golden age that portray Jesus, Mary and some saints with intensely precise detail.
Her contemporary, St. John of the Cross, also from Spain, would most likely appreciate the exhibit too, and not just because it includes a sculpture of him. The saint, who received some sculpture training, also seemed to get one of the main ideas of the current exhibit — that sculptors and painters at that time worked together and also influenced each other.
As he once said: “Not everyone who can hew a block of wood is able to carve an image; nor is everyone who can carve it able to outline and polish it; nor is he that can polish it able to paint it.”
But everyone that can get to Washington (until May 31) can at least appreciate the work that went into this artistry. And the exhibit’s curator, Xavier Bray from London’s National Gallery, is hoping the art that was created to “shock the senses and stir the soul” will have a similar impact on the modern museum-goers. When he appealed to church officials to loan some of these works, he stressed that since they would be on display during Lent they could still be “incredibly powerful even out of context.”