What do these images have in common?
There is a town on the coast of Italy, west of Rome, near the mouth of the River Tiber called Ostia. I should say, the ruins of a Roman town called Ostia Antica. It was a Roman seaport town that reached its peak during the 1st century. I visited there many years ago as part of an art seminar. Amidst the ruins is a wall that contains a small glass mosaic about a foot square. It is said to be one of the earliest depictions of Jesus…and he has a halo.
This past week I drew my first portrait of Jesus in relation to my new project The Adventures of Jesus & Gemini. Since Jesus was not available to sit for a portrait, it is my idea of his likeness. The question came to my mind should I depict him with a halo?
Thinking back over my years in schools, museums and churches looking at art, I have never heard anyone remark on the halos present whenever deities are depicted. Think about what they represent. A light or radiance emanating from a powerful, spiritual or holy being. The idea that spiritual or holy beings have a light within or radiance is common in many religions around the world. Including Quakerism which imparts this in some measure to everyone as the Inner Light. Democratization of the Spirit.
That this idea was depicted by various artists from different cultures and religions and times is fascinating to me. What is it about spiritual beings that different cultures perceive them as emanating light? Or is this just a visual shorthand developed by artists and passed down through the centuries. A holy smiley face, everyone knows what it means.
It is also interesting to me that this practice of depicting halos died out slowly with the enlightenment. By the time of Rembrandt natural light was used dramatically to show this inner radiance. I have a theory that with the invention of the printing press and the advent of widespread printing and literacy in the general public, viewers could read titles and captions about what or who was depicted without the need for visual aids. Now you never see halos unless used for ironic or comedic effect.
So, as a nod to art history and tradition, I decided to use halos…in spite of the irony and comedy.
The images are; Early Buddha, Apollo (Roman God), Madonna and Christ; Renaissance (Da Vinci), Statue of Liberty (yes that is a halo), Jesus Christ;Late Renaissance (Titian), The Olive Branch, detail (The Adventures of Jesus and Gemini)