November 3, 2012 2:55 am

Celebrities have assumed the role left by the pictorial void

From Dr John Davis.

Sir, David Hockney’s thought-provoking article suggests that the Church began to lose social control in the 19th century and lost it altogether in the early 20th, as it “followed images” away from the church into the media. Indeed, the process may well have been completed in the early 20th century, but surely began much earlier than he proposes, feeding through at a different pace in the Catholic and Protestant realms of Christendom.

Luther’s stress on a critical return to Scripture coupled with the 15th-century invention of printing allowed people, with the passing of time, to approach written authority in the comfort of their homes, remote from the priesthood, and thus to become less reliant on the spoon-feeding (ie social control) of the Church. The western iconoclasm of the Reformation was, among many other things, a deliberate war on images, resulting in their desanctification (in contrast with the much earlier eastern iconoclasm, in the 8th century, that concluded with the “triumph” of images), seriously denting the Church’s ability to indoctrinate the faithful through non-verbal channels. And so the frescoes of English cathedrals were whitewashed and statuary wantonly smashed, while “celebrities” such as Axl Rose or Paris Hilton step in to assume the role left by the socio-religious pictorial void.

John Davis, Head of NBG Translation Service, Strategic Planning & Research, National Bank of Greece, Athens, Greece

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