In Christian religious traditions, the genre of saints’ lives, or hagiography, dates to late antiquity. By the European Middle Ages, contemplating or meditating on the life and death of a saint was a common devotional practice, together with celebrating saints’ days with local sermons, feasts, and even theater; records show that in their wills, medieval people bequeathed items of personal and religious significance to local statues and other depictions of saints. This changed during the Reformation, which in general saw Protestant countries moving away from hagiography while Catholic countries retained its significance. As this portfolio shows, saints’ lives and deaths remained oft-visited subjects in art up to and including today.
Taken altogether or in smaller sub-groups, these images trace hagiographical art in multiple media through the medieval and early modern periods, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and into modern and contemporary movements. The evident staying power of saints’ lives in art opens up discussions of European art history, religious history, and national or regional religious cultures.