The seven deadly sins in art

Todsuenden 002With Christmas behind us and the daily temptations to eat too many mince pies, cookies or other Christmassy sweets (largely) overcome, what better time to reflect upon the seven deadly sins? The topic has been prominent in the arts for centuries and it is therefore worthwhile taking a look at a very interesting exhibion catalogue in the UL to explore the topic.

The concept of the seven deadly sins originates with the desert fathers and was brought to Europe by John Cassian with his book The Institute. A translated and annotated version of The Institute can be found in the UL at 44:1.c.6.58, edited by Boniface Ramsey and published in 2000. To discover more about the early concept of the deadly sins, it is worthwhile browsing our subject headings for Vices and its subdivisions. These vices were then revised by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD and became known as the seven deadly sins, which were then also used and defended by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.

Since their revision by Pope Gregory I, the seven deadly sins have of course been the topic of many scholarly works and, from the 11th century onwards, also been explored in the arts. And even though their importance for our society has mainly declined, they are still part of our culture and continue to fascinate. Therefore, the Museum of fine arts Bern cooperated with the Zentrum Paul Klee to take a closer look at the theme of the seven deadly sins in the exhibition “Lust und Laster”, which was held in Bern from October 2010 until February 2011. The focus of the exhibition lay on contemporary art but it also referred to occidental art und art history. The UL owns the extensive exhibition catalogue, Lust und Laster : Die 7 Todsünden von Dürer bis Nauman (S950.b.201.2391), which includes a separate section dedicated to each individual deadly sin as well as various essays looking at the historical development of the subject. The chapters dedicated to the sins pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth closely examine the individual history of how these sins were understood and imagined, and, subsequently, depicted in art from the middle ages until today. Exceptional works on the topic therefore follow each essay, covering artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Alfred Kubin, Marc Chagall and Jeff Koons. Please see below for a small glimpse into the book:

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We also recently acquired the book Die sieben Todsünden (C210.c.5555), edited by Ingo Breuer, Sebastian Goth, Björn Moll und Martin Roussel. Published in 2015, it asks why we are still fascinated by the topic of the seven deadly sins and looks closely at the history of effects that the sins had on literature, art, film and TV through various academic contributions. It is a collection of essays on the topic inspired by the work of Günter Blamberger. Of course these two books are only a starting point when it comes to the UL’s holdings on the topic. These can best be explored by browsing directly for the subject heading Deadly sins in art, or, to get a complete overview over the topic, by browsing the subject heading Deadly sins and all of its subdivisions.

Stephanie Palek

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