In this brief but incisive volume, the renowned art critic Sister Wendy Beckett discusses the difference between religious and spiritual art. The end point of this tour through art in the J. Paul Getty Museum is the painting Christ on the Cross by El Greco which she feels engages her fully and offers a life-enhancing experience. But getting there, Beckett takes us on a few side-trips.
She reveres the work of Paul Cezanne; it doesn't have religious images but is still a good example of spiritual painting: "The sheer color in his paintings is almost unbearable in its richness; his modest objects become wonderful images, weighty with contemplation. But the beauty goes deeper than appearance." She offers her assessment of his Still Life with Apples, which took him two years to complete. In it, he conveys the impermanence of the world and the fact that nothing stays the same; everything is always changing.
On her way to discussing El Greco, Beckett offers comments on 12 other religious paintings. There are a few on saints, two paintings on the theme of visions, Jean-Francois Millet's Man with a Hoe, several creations on the Holy Family, and three pieces that are compared unfavorably with El Greco: Correggio's Head of Christ, Domenichino's The Way to Calvary, and Peter Paul Rubens' The Entombment.
Spiritual paintings beckon us to enter into an emotional and sensuous dialogue with them. That is why El Greco's depiction of Christ dying on the cross is "an astonishment and a delight" to Sister Wendy. She mystically connects with its message that "joy lasts and grief passes." This beautifully designed book includes many fine illustrations and six full-page details from El Greco's Christ on the Cross.