Transfiguration: The Religion of Art in Nineteenth-Century Literature (PDF) explores the work of Robert Browning, John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Walter Pater, treating in precise the ways in which they engaged with the Christian content of their subject, and, in Pater’s case, how the art of Christianity was compared with classical sculpture. Stephen Cheeke examines two associated phenomena: idolatry (a false substitution, a sexual betrayal), and the poetics of transfiguration (to elevate or praise subject matter not thought of as conventionally poetic, to praise). Central to the ebook is the question of the “translation” of religion into art and aesthetics, a procedure that supposedly undergirds the advent of the museum age and makes possible the concept of a ‘religion of art’ as a phenomenon of late century Aestheticism. Such a phenomenon is prepared for, however, through the engagement with Christian painting and classical sculpture in the work of these four writers. All four thought sensibly about the ways in which a particular mimetic impulse of ‘making live in artworks could be connected to religious experience. This meant examining the nature of the link between seeing and believing–visualizing in order to conceive, to prove, but also in the sense of being acted upon by the visible. All four wrote about the great power of artworks to transfigure the objects of their attention. In every case, there emerges the possibility of a secret sexual knowledge hiding within or lying on the other side of the intense knowledge of aesthesis. All four wondered whether this was characteristically hostile to Christianity, or whether it may, finally, be an accommodation within it.
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