SRI LANKAN CHRISTIAN ART
Fr. Anslem de Croos
To read in Sinhala
Religious art is not only a mirror of aesthetic forms and tastes but is also a visual
modality which has to reflect theological, philosophical and cultural values and evokes
piety in the beholder.
The root of visual Christian art is the incarnation when God took the form and the
likeness of man with all the restraints and limitations of a particular culture and ethos
of a definitive epoch in human history, yet retaining its universal charism for all Ages
The extant first visual exposition of Christian art in Sri Lanka, is Nestorian cross of
6 A.D. in the Anuradhapura Museum. But nothing remains of the Christian period at
Sigiriya as attested by Dr. Senerat Paranavitarana.
Paintings and sculptures of the Portuguese period have no definitive authentication
because of the iconoclastic attitudes and virulent hostility to Roman Catholicism by the
Dutch reformed religion during the Dutch reign. However, many statues from the
Portuguese era do exist noted especially noted by their Broque lineaments. The black
madonna now in Goa formerly of Jaffna the revered icons of Madhu and Talawila, are some of
It is a strange irony that the earliest pictorial representation of Christianity
existing are the ceramic tiles that adorn the base of the Buddha statue at Ridi Vihare at
The statues and heads used of the passion plays dotting the coastline which can be
traced to the Oratorian period in Sri Lanka church history (end of the 17 & the 18
century). It is they who introduced the Nadagam as a vehicle of religious
instruction. Of the latter part of the 18 century there are two Somanas now in the
Tewatte Museum. There is also a wooden crucifix of the 18 century by the brother or
the uncle of the famous Saradiel of Utuwankanda and the statue of St. Joseph at St.
Joseph's church Pamunugama by him. He was from a family of sculptors. The
paintings of the modern era starts with the ceiling of St. James church Mutual and the
decorative curtains of the Saints now at the Museum of Tewatte.
On the ceilings and walls of St. Mary's church in Negombo are the paintings of Mr.
Godamanna done in 1950. The Murals and paintings of David Paynter adorn the Trinity
College Chapel, the Chapel of the Transfiguration at St. Thomas College in Mount Lavina
and those at Sidupiyanila in Bandarawela.
George Keyt painted the fresco of Christ the
King in the Anglican cathedral at Kurunegala.
The prolific work of Richard Gabriel is
found at St. Therese's church, Thimbirigasyaya, St. Aloysius seminary, Kensey Road,
Colombo 8, the National seminary at Ampitiya and at Christ the King Church at
Pannipitiya. Two sculptors of his are found at the National seminary and another
crucifix is found at the O.M.I. Scholasticate in Ampitiya.
Douglas the painter started a new style by introducing Christian themes in the Oriental
style. One of his paintings is found at Tewatte.
Henry Darmasena, a buddhist too interpreted the Christian themes in the Oriental style.
His paintings are found at Tewatte and one at Archbishop's house at Borella.
The latest of the pictorial versions of Christianity is by the reputed priest artist
Fr. Priantha Silva. His works are found in Dhaham Sevena in Kalutara and at the
sacred heart Chapel at Archbishop's House at Borella.
There are also some paintings by a Buddhist artist in the church of Christ the Healer
The statues of the modern era besides those of Richard
Gabriel are the coranation of the Virgin which won the prize at the Paris exhibition
now at St. Mary's church in Negombo, the crucified Christ at Tewatte and at St. Anthony's
church, Kollupitiya and the statue of the Ascension at the church in Munnaakara in Negombo
all in bronze is the work of Mrs. Leila Peiris.
The crucified Christ at Our Lady of Peace at Malighawatte in Maradana and at St.
Anthony's church Kollupitiya, the statue of Our Lady of Lanka at St. Joseph's college
Colombo 10; and a plaque of Bishop Joseph Vas at St. Lucia's cathedral Kotahena is by the
famous buddhist artist Deva Surendra, all in bronze.
Various churches have stained glass windows of note but they were brought from abroad.
There is a mosaic of note at the Catholic chapel at the University of Peradeniya of our
Lady Seat of wisdom based on the painting by the Indian painter Angela De Fonseka.
There is also a terra cota image of the risen Christ and terra cota panels of the good
shepherd by Laki Senanayake at the Chapel of the good shepherd at Bandarawela.
Medival artists never signed their creations as they totally offered them to the glory
of God. As such many statues in wood and ivory now found in Sri Lanka have not the
date nor the name of the creator.
Such is the review of the situation of Christian art in Sri Lanka but the writer in no
way claims this is comprehensive.