Christian Art
Art Sri Lanka

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Fr. Anslem de Croos

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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 and Climes.

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 them.

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 Kurunegala.

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 at Weligama.

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.