Sacred art exhibit spans seven centuries

| September 26, 2013 | 1 Comment

Many of the works on display at the University of St. Thomas are from a collection donated by the school’s former president

This Greek or Russian Orthodox icon, dating from the late 19th or early 20th century,  is made of gilded brass with enamel. Photos courtesy of the University of St. Thomas

This Greek or Russian Orthodox icon, dating from the late 19th or early 20th century, is made of gilded brass with enamel. Photos courtesy of the University of St. Thomas

A collection of sacred art spanning seven centuries, 21 countries and a range of media is on display through Jan. 4 at the University of St. Thomas.

“The Face of Faith: Sacred Images From the St. Thomas Collection” is being exhibited at the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center’s lobby gallery on the school’s St. Paul campus. Admission is free.

The exhibition’s 58 pieces are organized in glass cases containing crucifixes, non-Western art, icons, and art pertaining to Mary and the life of Jesus.

“Many of the works are traditional Western depictions, while others represent the Orthodox tradition, and yet others are from non-Western cultures,” said Shelly Nordtorp-Madson, chief curator and clinical faculty member for the university’s art history department. “Made of metal, stone, glass, paper, wood and a variety of other materials, these works express both individual and cultural interpretations of Christianity over time and space.”

Global flavor

In addition to the United States, the exhibition has art from Russia, Mongolia, Romania, Armenia, Germany, England, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Flanders (a former country that is now a region mostly in Belgium), Greece, Italy, Cuba, Guatemala, Indonesia, Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, Congo and Botswana.

Of the items on display, 39 are crucifixes or images of crucifixes.

Thirty-eight of the items are from a 47-piece collection recently donated to St. Thomas by Father Dennis Dease, who retired earlier this year after serving 22 years as the university’s president.

Father Dease has been collecting art for about 30 years.

“When I travel, I pick up stuff,” he said. “Some of the collection came from my journeys, and some came as gifts from friends.”

“The extraordinary meaning that the crucifix holds for people of faith has been expressed in countless ways over time,” he said. “It shows the limitless nature of human imagination when applied to a single form or object, in this case the image of Christ on the cross.”

The 19th-century work from Russia pictured above is made of enameled brass and depicts the Virgin Mary.

The 19th-century work from Russia pictured above is made of enameled brass and depicts the Virgin Mary.

Unusual pieces

Lauren Greer, an art history graduate student, said one piece her fellow students thought was especially interesting is a large contemporary image of Jesus created by Mitchell Scherer of Bloomington. He made the work from hundreds of variously shaded, wood veneer tiles, each about the size of a pencil eraser. All the tiles came from Minnesota trees.

While Father Dease said the Scherer piece is among his favorites, his vote for “probably most unusual” goes to the French crucifix that has a clock and chimes in it. The clock takes the form of a revolving globe.

“I think the artist was expressing to us that Jesus’ death bridges time and eternity. However, I can’t recall ever seeing another crucifix with a clock in it.”


What you can see

Here’s a sample of what visitors to “The Face of Faith” exhibition will see:

  • Late 15th-century wooden crucifixion scene, from southern Germany, that stands more than 5 feet tall.
  • Collection of Russian icons, all painted on wood, from the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • 1652 Rembrandt etching, “Adoration of Shepherds.”
  • 9th-century French crucifix with a clock and chimes in it.
  • Madonna carved from a tusk.
  • 19th-century illustrated genealogical Bible from Sweden.
  • Wood carvings by the Asmat people from Papua Indonesia.
  • Crucifixes from Cuba and East Africa.
  • Triptych of the Madonna from Egypt.
  • A French, 19th-century wooden house altar that has a crucifix adorned with a rooster, ladder, lantern, sword and tools used to both nail and remove Jesus from the cross. The rooster refers to Jesus’ prediction to Peter that before the rooster crows Peter would deny him three times.

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Category: Faith and Culture

  • Carmen

    how did we go from such beauty as seen above to the stuff found in too many recently built or “renewed” parishes

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