the guardian | Rowan Williams

The Hinton St Mary floor mosaic (from Imagining the Divine)
How do you show what is, by definition, invisible? It is a conundrum that all religious traditions confront. These exhibitions – Imagining the Divine at the Ashmolean and Living with Gods at the British Museum – let us see how a whole spectrum of religious systems, eastern and western, handle this question.
The makers of some of the artefacts on display – statues, coins, books, ritual objects, carved stones – would not have imagined that they were making what we would think of as art. They certainly did not believe they were providing decoration or illustration. But neither did they think they were exercising their creativity to make a new sort of thing, an “art object”.

What they did understand, though, was the problem of showing the invisible. They were well aware that the intellectuals and contemplatives who were shaping the doctrines of their faiths agreed that the divine could not, strictly speaking, be imagined. The divine was never something lying around to be watched, copied, exhibited. It was the active foundation for all activity within the world, without being another example of that activity…read more

Image: Central roundel from the Hinton St Mary mosaic in Dorset, which dates to the early 4th century. Photograph: British Museum