A collection of paintings with the theme of faith at Guildhall Art Gallery

George Herbert at Bemerton (1860) by William DyceOriginal Source:

George Herbert retired from his Cambridge academic career and took Holy Orders in 1630. He obtained the small living at Bemerton, a village on the Avon near Salisbury, and there wrote the poems which he said presented ‘a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul’. In 1860 the rector of the parish of Bemerton was William Dyce’s friend Cyril Page. Dyce visited him there and painted this picture of the poet in his garden, with its view across the water meadows to Salisbury Cathedral. Herbert was an accomplished musician, but the lute seen leaning against the bench may also symbolise the lyricism of his verse.

The Raising of Jairus' Daughter (1885) by George Percy Jacomb-HoodOriginal Source:

In the New Testament, Jairus, a patron of a Galilee synagogue, asks Jesus to heal his 12-year-old daughter, who is dying. On the way a messenger arrives with the news that Jairus' daughter has died, and is advised not to trouble Jesus any further. However, Jesus responds 'Be not afraid, only believe.' (Mark 5:36) The delay in arrival is seen as a test of faith, and Jairus's daughter is not cured of illness, but raised from dead.

The painting captures the moment before the girl is brought back to life, her pallor and posture revealing her lifeless state. In the background, an anxious and fascinated crowd gathers. The flame of the oil lamp in the foreground symbolises unextinguished life and hope. Jesus is figured in the Christian traditional as the 'light of the world'.

Early Morning in the Wilderness of Shur (1860) by Frederick GoodallOriginal Source:

The picture is based on the material Goodall brought back from his trip to Egypt in 1858. It was his first Egyptian subject, and was originally entitled An Arabian Encampment at the Wells of Moses. The site is on the Red Sea, looking north, with the mountains of the Djebel Attaka in the background. Goodall’s fidelity to detail made the picture hugely successful on its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1860.

It was praised at the time as both a faithful representation of nomadic life and as a Biblical illustration. European artists were travelling farther and wider than ever before in this period, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, though they sought to render accurately what they saw of other cultures, by today's standards their images may seem overly romanticised.

Faith (1864) by John PhillipOriginal Source:

John Phillip was famous for depictions of nineteenth century Spanish life after travelling to Spain in the 1850s (so much that he became known as 'Spanish Phillip'). This thematic picture both personifies the concept of Faith itself as a beautiful woman, and serves as an aesthetically pleasing portrait of a Spanish Catholic woman who represents the practice of religious faith. The woman's clothing, rosary beads, and the background of the picture, offer elements of continental exoticism for the largely Protestant British audience that first viewed it.

The Youth of Our Lord (1847) by John Rogers HerbertOriginal Source:

A chance arrangement of wood forming the shape of a cross on the unlit fire catches the attention of the young Jesus; Mary gazes at him with concern while Joseph works on obliviously. Herbert was a Roman Catholic convert and concentrated on Biblical subjects. His clear outlines and colours were influenced by the Nazarenes, a group of semi-monastic German artists, and was a forerunner to the Pre-Raphaelites. This work was a major inspiration to one of Millais' most controversial early paintings, 'Christ in the House of His Parents' (1849). There are two other versions of this composition, in which the background was based on ‘a very careful drawing made at Nazareth’.

Herod's Birthday Feast (1868) by Edward ArmitageOriginal Source:

The title suggests that the main female figure is Salome dancing for Kind Herod II in order to secure the beheading of John the Baptist. The story comes from the Bibical gospel of Matthew and describes how Herod orders John the Baptist's execution against his better judgement.

Salome is often used as a symbol of manipulative sexuality and destructiveness. Here, the artist has painted the female figure nude, before painting clothing over the top. In the 1890s, Salome became a regular subject of Decadent art. Oscar Wilde's 1891 play 'Salome', originally written in French, popularised the idea of the 'dance of the seven veils', and the play was heavily censored for its erotic connotations.

Naomi (1914) by Luke FildesOriginal Source:

The story of Naomi features in the Old Testament, in the Book of Ruth. She undergoes many misfortunes and losses, becoming a widow in a strange land, who also has to grieve for both of her sons. She finds great solace in closeness to her daughter-in-law Ruth and her grandson Obed. Naomi is often read as an inspiring figure representing fortitude in the face of hardship, all the more poignant for those facing similar losses at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the year the picture was painted. Fildes and his wife had themselves lost a son, to illness rather than war. Fildes depicts the Biblical figure as young, statuesque and dignified, though her dark tired eyes give a suggestion of her sufferings. She was often a source of admiration within Victorian culture as a model for female nobility and endurance.

The Temptation in the Wilderness (1898) by Briton RivièreOriginal Source:

Briton Rivere was a technically sophisticated and talented artist, best known for his animal paintings.

The biblical subject refers to the 40 days and 40 nights Christ spends in the desert being tempted to misuse his power by Satan. The painting is far more impressionistic than Rivere's other works, perhaps even experimental. The white figure of Christ stands out against the rich glow of the sky, with both sky and figure focused by the gloom of the landscape. Underneath, barely visible, a lone fox stalks off to the left, so that even this sparse, atmospheric religious scene contains one of Rivere's animals. The bright star overhead seems to be the sole point of focused light, and may in fact be a covert reference to Lucifer, the literal meaning of the name being 'light-bringer', often used to refer directly to Venus, the morning star.

The presence of evil here is not literalised (there is no demon depicted) but is neverthless tangible as a force. In the drooping figure of Jesus we might read the effort of resistance and the quiet dignity of his role as saviour of mankind; the impression given is perhaps of the devil as a voice in his ear, a symbolic temptor. The red glow on the horizon suggests a new day dawning, the renewal of hope, suggesting the role of Christ as the 'light of the world' which will eventually render the star of Lucifer invisible.

The Reading of the Bible by the Rabbis (A Souvenir of Morocco) (1882) by Jean Jules Antoine Lecomte du NouÿOriginal Source:

Lecomte du Nouÿ was a French artist who found inspiration for his work through extensive travels to Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. He aimed to paint detailed, realistic scenes, going against the prevailing trend for Impressionism. Here, he depicts a group of Rabbis he observed in Morocco reading the Old Testament.

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