Theses Doctoral

From Sacred to Spectacular: Gustave Doré's Biblical Imagery

Schaefer, Sarah

This dissertation argues that the biblical imagery of Gustave Doré (1832-83) successfully conveyed various modern ways of encountering the Bible, in both sacred and secular contexts. Doré was one of the most popular artists in nineteenth-century Europe and America, and his images have continued to be widely reproduced (to date, his Bible illustrations have been incorporated into over 700 publications). Emerging at a time when the Bible was taking on cultural roles beyond the moral and theological, Doré's images negotiated the challenges facing biblical representation, and introduced generations around the world to a new and modern way of understanding Judeo-Christian scripture. From the emergence of the "Bible as literature," to Holy Land archaeology, to the spectacularization of biblical narratives, to modern religious pedagogy, the impact of Doré's biblical pictures was felt on a scale heretofore unknown. More broadly, this project deals with the intersection of art, religion, and modernity through the study of one influential artist. The history of Doré's images extends across temporal, geographical, and denominational boundaries, and is crucial for understanding how the Bible has maintained its sacred and secular functions through the present day.
Despite his centrality to the nineteenth-century art world, Doré's work has maintained a relatively marginal place in standard art histories. Art historians and sociologists of religion are becoming increasingly interested in the importance of religious imagery in modernity and Doré's works are often invoked, but there has yet to be a sustained study of the forms, history, and persuasive power of his images. Redressing art history's meager attention to modern religious art, I hope not only to recuperate Doré for art history, but also, more generally, to demonstrate how religious art helped make us modern.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Higonnet, Anne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014