East and West

The duality of Christianity and Buddhism

This recreation of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine exists as a photo in this galleries “holy room” across from the Christian chapel. The photo displays a nearly symmetrical image of many Tibetan items used in Buddhist rituals. On the walls are several displays of Buddhist figures including the Bodhisattva (a primary Tibetan figure of worship). Most of the items are aids to meditation while instruments were used in groups for ceremonies. The decorative ornamentation is provisional of the most beautiful display. The wide sense of space and spot designation is sufficient for an observer to feel present in the shrine.
In a Baroque style from the 18th century, this chapel is part of the Church of Saint Roch in Portugal. When displayed as a place of spiritual retreat and discipline across from the Tibetan Shrine (a contrasting place of retreat), visitors notice the differences in essence. Its primary purpose in this gallery is less so for providing knowledge of the chapel. More so, the visitor is to enjoy the presence of this beautiful places. Similar to its accompanied Buddhist photo, it features a variety of stones and materials. The lighting received in the shot gives the radiant subject beautiful attention. The camera angle splits subjects into thirds, contrasting from the Buddhist shrine photograph.
As a common simile for Heaven, "The Garden of Eden" shows a representation of the Christian idea of the end of the road. The holy visionary being natural and free is parallel to Jesus' creation for Adam and Eve, being heavenly in a pure form. As made by God in his ideal form of worldly perfection, The Garden of Eden shows in a physical form the ideal place to end up. For an era of impressionism, Cole’s interpretation shows realism but maintains a misty glow. Considering its size and brightness, the piece fits the gallery in making a great impression on the viewer.
The visual depiction of enlightened beings in this painting parallel to The Garden of Eden is comparative in blissfulness. In a long composition, we see the elevation to the highest point of consciousness, nirvana, as the end of the souls cycle. This is shown in the haloed figures who remain on the physical plane for spiritual development of other aspirants. The nature is also resemblant of spiritual growth which accompanies Cole’s painting well. Seeing as the state of nirvana (relative to heaven) is a state of consciousness, it’s visual portrayal is focused more on the people than nature.
The inclusion of an El Greco painting is necessary to be included in the Christian artwork section. Greco’s physically twisted expressionism and blaring colors are limited in this portrait and is part of a series of the apostles. The simple but composed positioning tells all that’s needed to give across a sense of the divine. Christ subtly delivers a message with one hand while another rests gently on a globe of the earth. Standing out over a black background, the blue and red colored drapes spark in a glow creating a strong but peaceful impression. This balance of peace and authority seems to be a common theme in messianic portrayal.
One of the oldest pieces, this bronze sculpture shows an authenticity to its age. Like it’s paired Greco painting, there is significance in the messiah’s simple posture. The piece also contains little additional atmospheric support in telling its story. The Buddha, in a state of meditation, shows contentment and happiness. His balance and symmetric nature is only altered by one draped over the left shoulder along with his left arm in his lap. These subtle adjustments too have implications for viewers to decipher while giving a strong messianic impression.
Along with the portraits of religious teachers, there are two of the disciples and aspirants. These works in part show the relatable imperfections of our spiritual path. In a flourishing moment of motion and emotion, this composition is filled with wrongfulness forgiven by Christ. At his point of resurrection, Jesus’ disciples failed to recognize him as the messiah. Only until their point of realization is their longing unfulfilled by his disappearance (following the moment of this painting). The painting brings to attention our connection to the physical aspect of God and our unnecessary dependence upon it.
In a very different setting from “The Supper at Emmaus”. this painting does similarly show disciple interaction. It is dated much later than Tintoretto’s painting and has a highly contrary style feeling more static and two dimensional. As a teacher of Buddhism tries to convert a non-believer to becoming a monk, we see the emotionally strenuous struggle involved in his hair being cut. Unlike the paintings involving Buddha in the physical form, there is an aggression involved. The painting is also very busy compositionally. It is very long and shows multiple Buddhist figures from the top to bottom. Some are authoritative as philosophical teachers while two are figures of protectors, non of which are the buddha himself.
This gallery section of stories features the biblical story “Sea of Galilee”. This piece shows spiritual significance in the faults of disciples. One aspect of the story commonly told (being Christ walking on water) isn’t brought to attention. Viewers instead see when Jesus falls asleep during the storm. His disciples are frightened and wake him for guidance. To their surprise, his faith is let down by their mistrust of his contentment. Despite this unsettlement, Jesus eases the storm. The aspirants following relies in complete trust and surrender to the teacher by this philosophy. The moral portrayed, before Jesus has awoken, seems to tell the story best and in full articulation.
Another depiction of the messiah, Buddha’s story takes place before his moment of God-realization. Its significance is more elusive and myth-like and shows a difference in interpretation of a common religious symbol. This symbol, being the snake, is shown in positive and protective light which differs entirely from it’s deceptive nature in Christianity. During the Buddha’s state of meditation under the Bodhi tree prior to enlightenment, a storm of rain befell him. At this moment, it is believed that the serpent Muchalinda coiled around Buddha in a protection spanning seven days. The piece parallels well to the storm in the Sea of Galilee, also bringing about the concept of protection. It contrasts from it’s opposing piece in its simplicity with lots to infer.
Coming from a western artist, this painting portrays in an Italian style a Buddhist concept. The artist himself comes from a Christian background but tells a story of karmic discipline. The intwined physical souls of two women suffer in a state similar to purgatory. Without an explained backstory, the painting wouldn’t allude to Buddhism to the average viewer. Though the aesthetics seem western, the snowy atmosphere is common in Buddhist purgatory. The hellish nature exists as a state one passes through in Buddhism rather than a place of eternal settlement.
As a reversed idea of “The Punishment of Lust”, this textile shows an eastern styled work of Christian ideology. It’s stylistically different as well as clear in showing a portrait of a Christian figure unaccompanied. This piece, due to its age, shows wear in the wall painting but still shows a cross, a main symbol in this branch of Christianity. The Chinese Christian form “Nestorianism” sees the divine and the physical form as separate, believing Mary to be Christ’s actual mother. Also setting this apart from most Western Christian ideology is the figure’s position and clothing, both of which pertain to Buddhist artwork.
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