Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 2, 2000
Jesus through the centuries
Provincial Museum exhibit traces many images of Jesus over the past 2,000 years
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
It's not a simple thing to showcase the life of a man who 2,000 years after his birth is still making waves. Jesus is the Son of God, who gave his life for us.
Or, in the view of some, he was just a man with a lot to say. Whatever one may believe or think of him, few can deny that Jesus is part of our past as much as he is our present. This is the same way that an upcoming Provincial Museum of Alberta is depicting Jesus - then and now.
In one part of the exhibit is a silver coin with a portrait of Constantine I dating back to the third century. In another part, there is the Dome of Creation, a work by iconographer Heiko Schlieper, which will be completed a week before the exhibit opens Oct. 7.
"It is truly a look at Jesus through the centuries," said the museum's assistant director Bruce McGillivray.
The exhibit, Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries, premieres Oct. 7 and runs until Jan. 7, 2001.
"The pieces range over 20 centuries, right up to the 21st century. We have Heiko still working on his piece. There's the old and very new," said McGillivray.
"That's the idea, to show how the traditions have been presented in art over the centuries. Looking at the ancient and modern. So much of it is still around us."
It is the middle of September and as museum crews work around him, painting walls and putting up posts, Schlieper is dipping his tiny brush into some gold paint. The advertisements and the word are out that it all will be opened to the public in three weeks and Schlieper still has about a quarter of his painting to do.
He has spent about 100 hours on the project, the Dome of Creation, an apse which focuses on the glory of creation and deep mystery of the divine. It is inspired by Psalm 148, one of the hymns praising God for creation.
Schlieper has also contributed 12 smaller paintings to the exhibit, each representing a feast of the Church.
The exhibit is not a Church-sponsored event promoting religion or Christianity. Its purpose is "to give people a sense of how much impact Jesus had," McGillivray said. "He's a major player in history, not just for Christians, for everyone."
McGillivray said it will be difficult not to sense a spiritual aura while touring the exhibit. It gives those of faith a chance to experience the history of that faith and those without faith an opportunity to understand the significance of it.
The spirituality and impact Jesus made in the world is present in our lives today, said McGillivray. It is not something reserved only for Christians or people of faith. Much of it is embedded in our politics, economics and everyday life.
Without a doubt the Christian community will take an interest in the exhibit, but it is designed to also grab the attention of the secular community, said McGillivray.
"What we've tried to do is connect Jesus to events. We try to make people understand not only who Jesus was, but how he is understood through the centuries.
"If you look at who made the most impact throughout history, you'd have to say Jesus. You can take this exhibit anyway you want. All this history was created because of this individual.
"It's not about the Church world; it's about our everyday world," McGillivray said. "(Jesus) is too important a figure to be left to theologians."
The 325 pieces include paintings, stained glass, manuscripts, textiles and ecclesiastical objects, on loan from private collectors and galleries from the National Gallery of Canada to the Courtauld Gallery in London, England.
A 15-foot stained glass window will be at the centre of a room flanked by smaller stained glass work. The project was commissioned to Johannes Schreiter of Germany, and is worth more than half a million dollars, estimates McGillivray.
The entire exhibit covers a 10,000-square-foot space and took three years to put together.
The exhibit is a vision of curator David Goa who was inspired after reading Jaroslav Pelikan's book, Jesus Through the Centuries.
The foundation of the exhibit originates with the 18 themes highlighted in Pelikan's book. Pelikan, a Yale professor who is one of the world's leading historians of Christianity, is the honorary curator for the exhibit. Themes depict how each age imagined Jesus, from the rabbi in the first century to the liberator in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Goa saw the great need for such an exhibit when he realized many of his students did not know the basic story of Jesus.
"Most of them had never even picked up a Bible," Goa said. "They'd never heard the text or the story."
Like McGillivray, Goa said the exhibit is not solely about the Christian faith. "Jesus' teaching is central to our politics, our ideas, our society."
"Jesus isn't about the Church, that's a false image. The Church is about Jesus. Jesus is about restoring the life of the Church."
The project was timed to fall in the jubilee year, the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth.
The inclusion of Schlieper's recent works represents the timeless art of iconography, said Goa. "It's to help the public appreciate that this is a living tradition. We want people to know that what we had 1,500 years ago is still living today."
The exhibit is designed to transport visitors to the early centuries of the Roman Empire.
"We'll really be taking people to a different world," said McGillivray.
The exhibit is strewn not only with common artwork such as paintings and sculptures but also with text and an audiovisual component. "It's a multi-sensory exhibit," said Goa.
A media room showcasing the film, Jesus in the Age of Television, which looks at the deeply human themes of the Beatitudes, is the first stop visitors will make before entering the main exhibit sites.
It highlights historical footage of people and events through the ages, including Ghandi, Mother Teresa, civil rights marches and the often-violent conflict in Ireland. The film shows how Jesus and his teachings have been used to shape and influence our own history and present.
Psalms, hymns and songs - from Gregorian chant to Christian pop - will sound throughout the exhibit. Also throughout the exhibit will be listening posts where visitors can hear the recorded words of inspirational leaders. The exhibit will also include a lecture and film series and music performances.
People who have made a claim to Jesus and the Christian tradition will leave the exhibit with the realization that other faiths had also laid claim to him, but in different ways.
"The work of Jesus doesn't belong to just one person or Church," Goa said. "He belongs to everyone."
The exhibit, particularly the film, will "make people see that the world is not black and white. It's terribly grey. It tells you there are no easy answers," said McGillivray.
"I hope what people capture is the diversity of Jesus . . . there is no single right image of Jesus."
The exhibit reflects how the images and story of Jesus have shaped today's world. It serves as a reminder that the past is ever in the present.