It’s one thing to step in a roomful of paintings and recognize God’s beauty despite the intention of the artist; it’s quite another to step into a roomful of paintings that proclaim the nature of God, this time in perfect alignment with the artist’s intent. For the believer, it is a powerfully moving experience. For the unbeliever, it exists as a uniquely beautiful and visual witness of the Truth.
John Cobb’s chapel is just such a potent exhibit. Cobb spent 30 years painting this collection of modern-day icons with egg tempera, a notoriously delicate and difficult medium, and gold leaf, and the result is a spectacular set of paintings of saints and pivotal scenes from Scripture and the Christian walk.
If you’re the type who tends to think of “Christian art” as a sentimental cheese-fest of didactic, subpar artwork (and I happen to be such a person), Cobb will change your mind. His skill is remarkable, with each portrait verging on photorealism in its accuracy and loveliness. The pieces are expertly executed and composed, and regardless of what you might think of the subject matter, Cobb is clearly a master of his medium.
Many biblical heavyweights make an appearance, but Cobb uses his friends and acquaintances as the models, in modern dress. John the Baptist is a shirtless hippie type and Mary is a startlingly young Mexican girl astride a horse. There’s just something about this, about seeing St. Peter as a grizzled old man in jeans driven to his knees in the desert, that’s surprising enough to make you see the saints’ struggles and triumphs with new eyes.
Cobb’s chapel is small, about the size of a room, paneled in wood and softly glowing with the gold leaf and umbers and ochres of the paintings. Upon entering, I felt warm, meditative, immediately hushed by the reverent beauty around me. It reminded me of great French cathedrals, which uplift God by surrounding you with fantastic artwork expressly designed to glorify His Name. In the same way, Cobb’s faith shines from his work, surrounding all who enter with Beauty and Truth – a truly compelling combination.
Click here to view details and hi-res images of the chapel pieces.