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Painting Religion in Public: John Singer Sargent's "Triumph of Religion" at the Boston Public Library

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Overview

A brilliant painter of society portraits, John Singer Sargent also devoted many years at the height of his career to a project of an entirely different order: an ambitious, multimedia decoration titled Triumph of Religion (1890-1919) for the Boston Public Library. The library cycle Sargent imagined as his most important work, however, would ultimately remain unfinished, quietly abandoned in the face of religious opposition, one critical painting short of completion. Truncation dramatically altered possible readings of Triumph, redirecting its narrative energies and generating new meanings in tension with the idea Sargent had proposed. In Painting Religion in Public, Sally Promey tells the story of an artist of international stature and the complex and consuming pictorial program he pursued in Boston. Highly celebrated in its day, with individual panels retaining immense popularity even in the years of discord, this artistic project and its constituent images tell us much about broad cultural and political exchanges concerning the public representation of religious content in the United States.
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Editorial Reviews

Church History
Painting Religion in Public is a tightly framed study, a model of scholarly argumentation leavened with methodological self-consciousness . . . , [It] offers a powerful example of the impact that the study of visual culture can make as an important contribution to many disciplines as fine art and other forms of visual imagery are woven back into the fabric of social, cultural, political, and religious life.
— Daniel A. Siedell
Boston Globe
A dense and dazzling must-read.
— Christine Temin
Burlington Magazine
It is most refreshing to have Sargent's mural projects taken seriously at last, and Promey must be congratulated on producing a richly researched, book-length study addressed to one of them.
— Mary Crawford Volk
Times Literary Supplement
Nearly thirty years in the making, John Singer Sargent's murals for the Special Collections Hall in the Boston Public Library are a paragon of the so-called American Renaissance. Sally M. Promey's engrossing book lays out the whole imbroglio [and] the relationship of the pictures to their architectural setting.
— Keith Miller
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
By addressing the importance of the visual, Promey's book makes a valuable contribution to an aspect of religion that is often neglected. Promey's integration of American history, art history, religious history, and ritual studies, combined with her meticulous archival research, will help scholars in several disciplines understand the complex cultural currents underlying Sargent's mural project.
— Paula Kane
The New York Times
A fascinating new book. . . .
Church History - Daniel A. Siedell
Painting Religion in Public is a tightly framed study, a model of scholarly argumentation leavened with methodological self-consciousness . . . , [It] offers a powerful example of the impact that the study of visual culture can make as an important contribution to many disciplines as fine art and other forms of visual imagery are woven back into the fabric of social, cultural, political, and religious life.
Boston Globe - Christine Temin
A dense and dazzling must-read.
Burlington Magazine - Mary Crawford Volk
It is most refreshing to have Sargent's mural projects taken seriously at last, and Promey must be congratulated on producing a richly researched, book-length study addressed to one of them.
Times Literary Supplement - Keith Miller
Nearly thirty years in the making, John Singer Sargent's murals for the Special Collections Hall in the Boston Public Library are a paragon of the so-called American Renaissance. Sally M. Promey's engrossing book lays out the whole imbroglio [and] the relationship of the pictures to their architectural setting.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion - Paula Kane
By addressing the importance of the visual, Promey's book makes a valuable contribution to an aspect of religion that is often neglected. Promey's integration of American history, art history, religious history, and ritual studies, combined with her meticulous archival research, will help scholars in several disciplines understand the complex cultural currents underlying Sargent's mural project.
Church History
Painting Religion in Public is a tightly framed study, a model of scholarly argumentation leavened with methodological self-consciousness . . . , [It] offers a powerful example of the impact that the study of visual culture can make as an important contribution to many disciplines as fine art and other forms of visual imagery are woven back into the fabric of social, cultural, political, and religious life.
— Daniel A. Siedell
Library Journal
Sometimes you can't win for losing in the art world. John Singer Sargent contributed immensely to the technique of portraiture, yet his portraits have been criticized for their lack of psychological insight. Likewise, he devoted his final 30 years to enhancing Boston's civic arena through a mural series at the Boston Public Library, the Boston Museum of Art, and Harvard. At the time, critics called these murals mere decoration at best. Here, Promey (art and archaeology, Univ. of Maryland) focuses on the public library murals, placing the work in its historical context. Sargent, she argues convincingly, hoped to create a ritualized, democratic intellectual space. But given the cultural climate, his choice of a religious allegory for the mural was a grave mistake. The book's only shortcoming lies in its visual reproductions: illustrations are small, black-and-white, and hard to "read." With the murals scheduled for renovation and several Sargent exhibitions just ending, readers are likely to show some interest in this title. Recommended for larger public libraries and libraries specializing in art history.--Nadine Dalton Speidel, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Parma, Ohio Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
Winner of the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Historical Studies, American Academy of Religion

"A fascinating new book. . . ."—The New York Times

"Painting Religion in Public is a tightly framed study, a model of scholarly argumentation leavened with methodological self-consciousness . . . , [It] offers a powerful example of the impact that the study of visual culture can make as an important contribution to many disciplines as fine art and other forms of visual imagery are woven back into the fabric of social, cultural, political, and religious life."—Daniel A. Siedell, Church History

"A dense and dazzling must-read."—Christine Temin, Boston Globe

"It is most refreshing to have Sargent's mural projects taken seriously at last, and Promey must be congratulated on producing a richly researched, book-length study addressed to one of them."—Mary Crawford Volk, Burlington Magazine

"Nearly thirty years in the making, John Singer Sargent's murals for the Special Collections Hall in the Boston Public Library are a paragon of the so-called American Renaissance. Sally M. Promey's engrossing book lays out the whole imbroglio [and] the relationship of the pictures to their architectural setting."—Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

"By addressing the importance of the visual, Promey's book makes a valuable contribution to an aspect of religion that is often neglected. Promey's integration of American history, art history, religious history, and ritual studies, combined with her meticulous archival research, will help scholars in several disciplines understand the complex cultural currents underlying Sargent's mural project."—Paula Kane, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691089508
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2001
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 8.47 (w) x 10.85 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Painting Religion in Public 2
Ch. 1 The Subjectivity of Modern Religion 10
Ch. 2 Ritual Performances 62
Ch. 3 Cultural Selections 104
Ch. 4 Education for Democracy 144
Ch. 5 The Synagogue Controversy 174
Ch. 6 Synagogue, Church, and the Self Concealed 226
Ch. 7 The Many Publics of Sargent's Prophets 272
Epilogue: Representing Religious Pluralism in Public 306
Abbreviations 317
Notes 318
Selected Bibliography 349
Index 356
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