Want Catholic art? Fundamentalist Bob Jones University has it

An article in the Washington Post on the collection at Bob Jones University brought back to mind the odd experience of visiting that gallery in the heart of Greenville, and BJU’s campus. It really is a remarkable collection of Renaissance and Baroque religious paintings and a wonderful teaching tool.

The article leaves one important question unasked, concerning the provenance of the paintings. Given the controversy over the last couple of decades about art that was owned by Jews until the rise of Hitler, I would think the question of how Bob Jones, Jr. was able to amass such a large collection at bargain-basement prices ought to be asked.

There’s another important question asked, but not answered adequately: How is the collection used as a teaching tool? One of the most amusing aspects of visiting the gallery on a Sunday afternoon (when admission was free) was encountering Sunday School classes and other groups from fundamentalist churches touring the gallery. They would approach a painting and compare the artist’s rendering of the scene with the biblical account, interested primarily in whether that depiction was true to the text. There are also several fairly lengthy posted comments (or were the last time I visited) that offered a strongly theological lens through which to view the images. I recall especially a pointed attack on images of the suffering Christ. A “weak” Christ seemed to be against the fundamentalist message.

Still, it’s a great collection. More on the Museum and Gallery here.

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One thought on “Want Catholic art? Fundamentalist Bob Jones University has it

  1. Hi Jonathan!

    We went to the gallery for the first time a couple of months ago (but no longer free on Sundays). Yes, the VERY pointed comments are still there, especially emphasizing the essential wrongness of Mariolatry and the intercession of the saints. The collection of “things” such as church ceilings and altars was also interesting to me. I loved the very different design of each room in the gallery, though – they do a beautiful job of making each room a unique experience. But still, a bit creepy.

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