The Last Supper, or L'Ultima Cena
by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo's painting of The Last Supper is one of the first spiritual images to captivate me, one of the first I was shown as a child.
This painting, or a replication of it, hung in the house of the woman who babysat from the time I was born until I started kindergarten. While I didn't understand it fully or didn't necessarily have the mental capacity to fully appreciate its significance to Christians, I did frequently look at the painting and contemplate it in my own child-like way- the way children do this with anything.
Of all the religious imagery I encountered in my childhood, this is the one that stuck with me. There's something truly fascinating about it, something alluring.
And this is true of religious paintings across the board. In our current world, art is often thought of as "merely decorative." Art is considered a frill, an accessory, but not a necessity. Art isn't considered essential.
This is possibly rooted in the sense of excess people sometimes encountered with various churches in which precious jewels and metals were used to construct things while people in the streets starved to death.
Reality, however, is always more complicated than this, and we can't forget that; there are enough resources in our world to both feed all the people and beautifully design and decorate our buildings. These things are not the zero-sum games some would have us believe they are.
Art, whether it be paintings or statues or what have you, influences the mood of the environment. Something non-verbal is conveyed.
There's a very different atmosphere in churches that contain statues and paintings and stained glass, for instance, than in churches that eschew these sorts of things.
Art has also been beneficial to people who were illiterate in times past. Something can be conveyed and remembered by an image when one cannot write words.
Next time you see some kind of spiritual art, or any art, pause and contemplate it, and try to find God in it, always remember that God is good.