Whether one practices a religion or not, there is one common attribute among all world religions, faiths, and philosophies: the magnificent creations of works of art, including paintings, sculptures, structures,  and music, which have been created in the service of religion throughout the centuries as a result of thousands of commissions by religious leaders and devotees.

“Hallelujah” in this splendid legacy that continues to enrich our daily lives and our world.

On this Christian holiday, we briefly explore two historical works that are as contemporary today, as they were when first created.  Both works of music and art share similar religious subject matter.

Music:

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

Invited by the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Frederic Handel, began working on a new commission in the summer of 1741 in Dublin, Ireland.  On April 9, 1742 Handel premiered his English-language oratorio “Messiah” in Neal’s Musick Hall in Fishamble Street. This benefit concert, attended by more the 700 hundred persons, raised 400 pounds for Mercer’s Hospital, the Charitable Infirmary,  and the Charitable Music Society.

Handel, who was born in Halle, Germany in 1685, a virtuoso organist, lived most of his life in England. He was known for composing more than 40 operas; and he was not considered a composer of sacred music. Yet, it is remarkable that in 2011, he is best known for this religious music and libretto based on biblical text assembled by Charles Jennes that celebrates Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter.

It is Handel’s magnificent music which has endured the passage of time and “the real glory of Messiah lies in its choruses” (Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes). “Even its creator could be overpowered by this music. As he completed the “Hallelujah” chorus, Handel, tears streaming down his face said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself.”

Performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Painting:

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, inventor, and writer was born in Florence, Italy in 1452;  and among his recognized genius in a myriad of fields, he was also credited with “breathing new life” into religious works of art during the High Renaissance Period (1500-1600). In  1506 King Louis XII of France commissioned Da Vinci  to create a work of art based on a popular theme during this period in history, “Christ giving his blessing to the world.”

Da Vinci completed his work titled  Salvador Mundi (Savior of the World) in 1513;  yet this  oil on walnut-panel painting was lost to the art world for more than one hundred years. Fortunately, his masterpiece, which some art historians say may be the “male” counterpart to the Mona Lisa,  has been re-discovered and authenticated by several art experts; and it is now on exhibit along with 75 other paintings and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery in London through February 5, 2012.

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