Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $65.52
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 22%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (4) from $65.52   
  • New (4) from $65.52   


Gerardus van der Leeuw was one of the first to attempt a rapprochement between theology and the arts, and his influence continues to be felt in what is now a burgeoning field. Sacred and Profane is the fullest expression of his pursuit of a theological aesthetics, surveying religion's relationship to all the arts — dance, drama, literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, and music. This edition makes this seminal work, first published in Dutch in 1932, newly available. A new foreword by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona analyzes the continuing relevance of van der Leeuw's thought.
Van der Leeuw's impassioned and brilliant investigation of the relationship between the holy and the beautiful is founded upon the conviction that for too long the religious have failed to seriously contemplate the beautiful, associating it as they do with the kingdom of sensuality and impermanence. Similarly it has been alien to literati and aesthetes to reflect upon the holy, for they choose to consider this physical world to be permanent, and therefore to be glorified through beauty alone. In truth, as van der Leeuw undertakes to show in Sacred and Profane Beauty, the holy has never been absent from the arts, and the arts have never been unresponsive to the holy. Whether one considers the Homeric epics, the dancing Sivas and Vedic poems, the sacred wall paintings of ancient Egypt, the primitive mask, or the range of sacred arts developed out of Latin and Byzantine Christianity, primordial creation in the arts was always directed toward the symbolization and interpretation of the holy. The fact that in our day this original connection is obscured and the artistic impulse is more generally regarded as wholly individualistic and autonomous does not contradict van der Leeuw's thesis; indeed, the breakdown of the unity of the holy and the arts is central to his thesis.
Van der Leeuw was the rare thinker who combined profundity of insight, grace of style, and a willingness to take daring intellectual chances. In Sacred and Profane, he describes each of the arts in its original unity with the religious and then analyzes its historical disjunction and alienation. After a penetrating investigation of the structural elements within the arts which illumines a crucial dimension of the religious experience, van der Leeuw points toward the reemergence of an appropriate theological aesthetics on which a reunification of the arts could be founded.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Van der Leeuw's treatment was ground-breaking in its day, and remains a classic." — Richard Viladesau, author of Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art

"For a complex, historically rich theological and historical treatment of the arts that tries to steer a middle course between uncritical adulation and prohibition, van der Leeuw is indispensable." —Frank Burch Brown, author of Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195223804
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2006
  • Series: AAR Texts and Translations Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 388
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerardus van der Leeuw was Professor of the History of Religion at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). Several of his works are considered classics, including Religion in Essence and Manifestation and Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface     v
Foreword     xi
Introduction to the New Edition     xxi
Introduction     3
Rivalry or Ultimate Unity?     3
What Is the Holy?     4
Methodology     5
Can Art Be a Holy Act?     6
"Primitive" and "Modern"     7
Organization     7
Beautiful Motion
The Unity of Dance and Religion     11
Circles and Planes     11
Dance and Culture     12
Prayer, Work, and Dance     16
Pantomime     17
Ecstasy     24
The Dance as the Movement of God     29
The Dance and Contemporary Culture     32
The Breakup of Unity     36
The Dance in the Diversity of Life     36
Profane Dance     38
Procession     39
The Dance of Death     44
Labyrinth Dances     44
Love Dances     48
Enmity Between Dance and Religion     50
Hostility     50
Dance and Theater     53
The Body Cult or Culture?     54
Religious Dance: Influences     57
The Ancient     57
Apollonian Movement     59
Dionysiac Movement     61
The Human     66
Religious Dance: Harmony     67
The Heavenly Dance     67
The Theological Aesthetics of the Dance     73
Movements and Countermovements
Holy Play     77
Dance and Drama     77
Drama     78
Sacer Ludus     80
The Mask     84
The Breakup of Unity     86
Art Is Not Imitation     86
Tipi Fissi (Fixed Types)     88
Secularization     90
Liturgy     92
The Enmity Between Religion and Theater     97
The Enmity     97
The Nature of the Enmity     100
Influences: Harmony     104
The Broadening and Deepening of Life     104
The Human     108
The Theological Aesthetics of the Drama     110
Liturgy     110
Beautiful Words     113
Holy Words     115
The Work Song     115
Rhythm     117
The Image     118
The Poet     122
Word and Gesture     124
"...A God Gave Words to Tell My Suffering"     125
The Breakup of Unity     127
From Carmen to Literature     127
Rain Magic Becomes Poetry     127
Poetry Becomes Prose     128
The Fairy Tale Becomes the Short Story     129
The Rejection of the Word by Religion     132
The Forbidden Image     132
The Forbidden Word     136
Influences Toward Harmony     139
The Sublime     139
Light     140
Silence and Near Silence     141
The Human     142
Harmony     142
The Theological Aesthetics of the Word     145
Poet and Prophet     145
Inspiration     147
The Divine Word     149
The Pictorial Arts     153
The Fixation of an Idea as a Holy Image     155
The Art of Movement and Pictorial Art     155
Image Is Not Likeness     156
Ornament     157
Representation     157
Imagination and Representation     160
Freezing Motion     161
The Image of God     162
Complete Stasis     165
The Living Image     167
Unhindered Pictorial Representation     169
Real and Decorative Nakedness     169
Expression of the Holy Becomes Expression of Holy Feelings     171
Transferences     172
Opposition Between Image and Likeness     173
Transition     176
The Prohibition of Images and the Iconoclastic Controversy     177
The Prohibition of Images     177
Iconomachy     182
The Holy Image: Influences     189
Paths and Boundaries     189
Fascination     190
The Awe-Inspiring     190
The Ghostly     190
Darkness and Semidarkness     190
The Human     191
Harmony     192
The Theological Aesthetics of the Image     192
The House of God and the House of Man     193
The Building of the House of God     195
The House of God     195
Building     196
The House of God Becomes a Human House: Alienation and Conflict     199
The House Can No Longer Be a Temple     199
The Temple Becomes a House     201
God Needs a House     202
Man Needs a House     204
No One Needs a House      204
Influences Toward Harmony     206
The Massive and Monumental     206
Profusion     207
Emptiness     207
The Theological Aesthetics of Building     209
Music and Religion     211
Holy Sound     213
Powerful Sound     213
The Transitional Structure     217
Liturgical Music Becomes "Church Music"     217
Passion and Oratorio     218
Words and Music     220
Refrain     221
Da Capo     222
Imitation     223
The Decline of Church Music     223
Music and Religion     223
Discord     225
No Conflict?     225
Music, not Tonal Art     226
Silence, neither Speaking nor Singing     227
Altercations     227
Influences     230
The Last Defense of External Continuity     230
The Sublime     231
Light     232
Suspension     233
The Heavenly     234
The Transition     234
Darkness and Semidarkness     236
Silence and Near Silence     236
The Endless     238
Objectivity     238
Harmony     243
The Theological Aesthetics of Music     245
Music, the "Telephone of the Beyond"?     245
Music Which Leads to the Depths     248
Program Music     254
In Praise of Opera     256
Music as a Game     258
The Theology of Music     259
Eschatological Music     261
Theological Aesthetics     263
Paths and Boundaries     265
To Seek, Not to Construct     265
"Religious Art"     267
The Antithetical Structure     271
"Artists"     271
Style     273
L'Art pour l'Art     275
Service     276
The World of Art     280
Absolutism     282
Psychological Parallels     283
Resistances     284
The Republic of the Arts     288
Words     289
Music     293
Conflict     295
The Holy Word     299
Holy Sound     300
Unity of Word and Music     300
The Hierarchy of the Arts     302
The Image of God     304
Phenomenological Component     305
Exegetical-Historical Component     307
Dogmatic Component     317
The Theology of the Arts     328
Independence and Interdependence     332
Point of Intersection     333
Harmony as the Creation of God     334
A Metaphysics of Art?     336
A Worship of Beauty?     337
Incarnation     339
Bibliographical Notes     341
Index     353
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2006

    Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy In Art

    More often than not, the promotional statement on the jacket tends to exaggerate the value and quality of the book. In the case of the present book, however, readers can forget their skepticism and read the jacket with profit. We are told that the present volume, first published in 1932, was revised shortly before the author's death in 1950, and was prepared for publication by his colleague, Dr. E. L. Smelik, who deserves our thanks. While this reviewer cannot read Dutch, the translation seems to be very clear and good. Readers are strongly advised to read the helpful 'Preface' by Professor Mircea Eliade who knew van der Leeuw both as a person and as a scholar. The author, late Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Groningen, Holland, was also a theologian and a philosopher. And besides, as Eliade reminds us, van der Leeuw was 'a poet, a musician, a man of the Church, and after the liberation of Holland for some time served his country as Minister of Education.' However, in spite of his competence in many areas of learning, van der Leeuw was first and foremost a 'phenomenologist,' preoccupied with the systematic discussion of 'what appears.' In his own words: Where history asks, 'How did it happen?,' phenomenology asks, 'How do I understand it?' where philosophy examines truth and reality, phenomenology contents itself with the date without examining them further with respect to their content of truth or reality. We do not intend to pursue causal relationships, but rather to search for comprehensive associations. Further, we do not intend to investigate the truth behind the appearance, but we shall try to understand the phenomena themselves in their simple existence (pp. 5-6). Thus, the present volume may be characterized as a phenomenological study of the relationship between art and religion, or between beauty and holiness. The forms of art discussed here are the dance (which incidentally is the 'original art,' according to Van der Leeuw), drama, rhetoric, the fine arts, architecture, and music. As in his other writings, the author in this book uses the two categories of 'primitive' and 'modern' not as designations of intellectual levels but as descriptions of two kinds of structures. His thesis is that there was a period when art and religion were almost equated. In the primitive world, 'song was prayer drama was divine performance dance was cult.' In other words, the primitive man saw life as concentric circles, and not as a series of separated planes, as the modern man sees it. In the course of time, according to van der Leeuw, the unity of various dimensions of life was lost, whereby 'science, art, religion, each has been specialized by its own circle for its own circle.' The modern man is not capable of finding himself in several circles simultaneously as his primitive cousins did. 'When we dance, we do not pray when we pray, we do not dance. And when we work, we can neither dance nor pray.' Inevitably, each art form freed itself from its 'primitive' or 'religious' state and established its own independence, too. This resulted in the impoverishment of both art and religion. For example, modern theology has forgotten the Biblical insight that God is movement. 'It is the curse of theology always to forget that God is love, that is movement. The dance reminds us of it' (p. 74). Van der Leeuw, however, goes far beyond phenomenological descriptions in his book. He depicts the theological significance of each art, depending heavily on his 'sacramental' principle. Then, in the last section of the book, the author attempts to construct a 'Theological Aesthetics.' He sincerely hopes that there are some Christians who have learned, 'through the manifestation of their Lord, to love the whole manifest world. And he hopes that there are servants of beauty who are conscious of a holiness which is more than beauty. 'Perhaps,' he says, 'there are men on both sides who have not bent their knees be

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)