More than homage – sacred art in the 20th-century

It is sometimes said that we live in a post-Christian era.  I wonder about that.  One of the things that makes me wonder is contemporary sacred art, something that my Protestant childhood didn’t really tell me about.

The modern artist in sacred art is pressured as never before in circumstances that change at a bewildering pace.  S/he creates from anguish.  Perhaps the images of Christ from this anguish are enigmatic and strange.

This image of Christ is by the Mexican artist Sequericos.  I find it powerful though the visage has sadness.

This image of the meal at Emmaus is by the Polish artist Yugolski.  I find it quite expressionist with stylized figures.  The radiance draws the eye.

This relief image of the Last Supper done by a Greek artist in 1960 verges on abstract expression.  I find the movement prompted by the forms restless around the central figure of Christ which stands tall above the swirling lines.

Paul Klee, the Swiss-German artist, did this image of Christ the king in 1926.  I find the features delicate and the eyes, unrealistic as they are, hypnotic.

Bernard Buffet did a number of sacred images and this crucifixion scene in 1970.  It is said that the figure on the right is a self-portrait.

This image of the cricifixion by Italian artist Boudini is upsetting for me and he would probably feel, So it should be.  The traditional crucifixion scenes have held emotion.  This one screams in agony.

This delicate, even fragile image of the crucifixion is found on the altar in the chapel at Vence, in the South of France, designed by Henri Matisse.

This image of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali intrigues me in that the body of Christ is transparent and in the background you see the landscape that Dali knew as a child.

This image was also painted by Dali.  It seems to me that the lighting is electrical, judging from the shadow of the arm.  The hairstyle of the Christ figure is contemporary.  The agony of the back is for me unparalleled in the history of art.

Epstein produced this sculpture of Christ in bondage in the 1950s and it is set in the ruins of cathedral at Coventry that was bombed in the Second World War.  It is a departure from traditional images of Christ.  There is for me an ancient primitive force here, reminding me of images from central America and Africa.  I spent time looking at this figure and the experience has inspired me to do this blog.

(c) Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2019



Some of these images come from a book named “He had a face”, though I do not have the book with me at present and will add in the details at a future date.

I have had other images before computers became public and have lost the sources.


The artist is Wimmer, a German.  The year is 1951.  I find this image haunting in that, if the body is tortured, the face stands the pain.


Will will travel

I am a part of all that I have met

Ek is deel van alles wat ek ontmoet het

Je fais partie de tout ce que j’ai rencontré

Είμαι μέρος όλων αυτών που έχω γνωρίσει

Soy parte de todo lo que he contrado

Ich bin ein Teil von allem, was ich getroffen habe

나는 내가 만난 모든 것의 일부이다.

Sono parte di tullo quello che ho incontrato

Ik ben onderdeel van alles wat ik heb ontmoet

Namibia from space


I am a part of all that I have met; 

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ 

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades 

For ever and forever when I move. 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, 

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! 

From Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2017



The earth




Space Panorama NASA 1969





Coventry Cathedral – contemporary sacred art

Coventry Cathedral, a 14th-century gothic church, was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  For me, it was an unusual experience to stand in those ruins which they have preserved.  I can’t express the many emotions I experienced, from anger to sadness, from wonder to inspiration.  The modern cathedral abuts these ruins, almost as if the new has grown out of the old and the building began from 1950.  Amongst the engineers was a team of young Germans.  

                          Cathedral ruins


      Cathedral ruins with reconstructed cross

The modern cathedral, remarkable architecture, is a treasury of contemporary sacred art.  Everything has been carefully considered.  The baptism font is a hollow rock from the hills near Bethlehem.  One chapel is approached through a crown of thorns.  A moving likeness of Christ was made from the torn metal of a car accident.

                               Baptism font


Above the nave is the tapestry Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  In every aspect there is majesty, except, for me, in one, which has left me uneasy over the years.  It is the expression on the face of the Christ visage.  Perhaps it is my Rorschach, but for me there is a creeping cynicism in the faint smile.

               The Cathedral nave with tapestry

                              Detail of tapestry

Amongst these art works in the cathedral there is a figure of Christ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the old cathedral, sculpture of the 1950s. (Observe to the far right against the wall in the photograph of the ruins.)  This work is a radical departure from the usual portrayal of Christ as a wrung out, vulnerable figure on the cross.

    The Epstein Christ figure

What came up for me was the word primitive, with exclusively positive connotations.  This mode, it seemed to me, takes its cue from the jungle cultures – the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and even Easter Island.  I grapple for words to contain this – winter clouds over night mountain ranges; the deep voice of a coming volcano … This prehistoric figure, I feel, will burst through his bonds and stride the curve of the earth in thunder.  It is sacred art that stirs much in me.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July , 2016






Cathedral ruins –

Altar with nail cross –

Baptism font –

Chapel with crown of thorns  –

Cathedral nave –

Detail of tapestry  –

Epstein Christ figure  –  source lost


Dedicated to my niece Dawn Denton for the support she has given me. 




Out of the mists …

This is an inward journey.  It is about two places and a voice.  I spent 20 minutes at Stonehenge and then fled from the sub-zero temperature to the car.  I have not been to Easter Island and I have spent many hours listening to the voice of Lisa Gerrard.

They hunch over me …

I could speak about the speculations concerning Stonehenge, that it was a burial place, probably an observatory and is the biggest of the Neolithic monuments, at least 5000 years old.  But it is what the place does to me.  I stand in an archway, these gargantuan blocks made by bloodied hands, hauled and pushed with raw shoulders.  I feel the tonnage, the weight of millennia.  They hunch over me, these monoliths, faceless and impenetrable.  The Henge is a broken circle, but somehow still calls into the unfathomable night.

They stare beyond galaxies …

The Statues of Easter Island have riveted me since my childhood.  There too, theories proliferate.   Those giant visages of granite with their long ears, solemn, taciturn … the eyes are nights without stars.  Some have fallen under the weight of who they are.  Others lie back and stare into eternity. Do they carry some terrifying knowledge?

Some listen. Some have fallen.

I found a voice that sings these places.  It is the voice of Lisa Gerrard, born in Melbourne of Irish parents, in 1961.

“The earth is a mirror    pool”

Her vocal range and ability are beyond belief.  She can tower over Asian plains; she whispers a prayer.  She sings in idioglossia, a language she made up as a child, she says, to speak to God.  The sources of her other-worldly melodies are researched with passion.  Each track has a nature of its own, wrought with depth of feeling and creative musicality.  In that music the ancient Celts breathe.  There is Turkey and India.  It can be dark-clad chanting from dank crypts and paths in night forests.  It moves across a prehistoric landscape, monumental as monoliths.

“A sliver of sun; a leaden sky”

The confluence of these three things, for me, is something that strains beyond the curve of the earth.


©  Will van der Walt, 2017

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017



“What was the purpose of Stonehenge?” –

“Why was Stonehenge built?” – Ask History (internet)

Lisa Gerrard:  Mirror Pool; Duality and early Dead Can Dance collaborations.


Easter Island –;

Stonehenge –;

Lisa Gerrard:;  2016 festival Melbourne





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