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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 1 October 2010 18:04 UK
Art of Faith: Norfolk's religious artworks exhibition
Some of the art on display is relevant to multiple faiths

Norfolk's diverse religious art is being celebrated in a new exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

The Art of Faith will examine 3,500 years of religious settlement in the county from the Bronze Age to the modern day.

"There is always more diversity than you think there is once you start to scratch the surface," said curator of art Francesca Vanke.

The event runs from Saturday, 2 October 2010, to Sunday, 23 January 2011.

People of many faiths have called Norfolk home across the centuries.

Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha'is and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have all arrived with their own belief systems.

These systems of belief are all reflected in the display.

"We're very interested in thinking of themes and subjects for our changing exhibitions which are relevant to our community today and obviously faith is highly relevant to all of us in one way or another," said senior curator Andrew Moore.

"That was the notion that we wanted to explore through art and the artefacts that are related to faith in the history of Norfolk," he added.

Faith objects

As well as showcasing the art, the exhibition will provide an opportunity to reconnect with artefacts in a different light.

"We are very conscious that some of the objects we have in our museums are faith objects but they're not necessarily presented that way," said Andrew.

"You think of archaeology and all of the things that are dug out of the earth and so many of them are actually deposited for ritual and offering purposes.

The Qur'an is the sacred text of Islamic religion

"You also think of contemporary art and perhaps that contemporary artists are working in a secular society and you might not think that they have had a relationship with faith, but this exhibition reveals that's really not true.

"Our relationship with the landscape of Norfolk and the different faiths that are worshipping in the region today are reflected in much of the art that's created today."

With such a diverse history, the task of choosing objects to represent the changing beliefs of the county has not been easy.

"When you curate any exhibition what you have to do is find the stories and objects that illustrate them best," said Francesca.

"You have to balance that up with which objects have you got, which are the really important objects and how will the story fit them, so it's a balance always between the actual history and the object you can find," she added.

Jewish community

Many people assume that with Christianity's standing as the main belief system in the country, diversity is a relatively modern occurrence, but this is not the case.

"The faith of Christianity may have been the dominant one for centuries but there have always been others around and today, of course, there are more than ever," said Francesca.

"There was a thriving Jewish community in the Middle Ages until all the Jews were expelled from England in 1290.

"But the Jews came back to England under Oliver Cromwell and by the early 19th Century there was a Jewish community in Norfolk once more, and there is a thriving one in the present day.


One of the highlights of the show is Rubens' altarpiece The Return From Egypt which is on loan from Holkham Hall.

The altarpiece painted by Rubens is normally housed at Holkham Hall

The painting was originally commissioned for the Jesuit church in Antwerp, completed in 1622.

The work is considered to be one of the finest single altarpieces in Norfolk today and is a reflection of the influence of the young Thomas Coke's European grand tour (1712-18).

Coke was not a Catholic and bought the painting in 1745 because of its quality as a work by Rubens. This altarpiece shows how for 18th Century collectors, artistic appreciation was more important than religious subject matter.

National collections

In addition to works of art from local collectors and churches, the exhibition features art from national collections.

Exhibits have been loaned by the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and The British Library among others.

As well as discovering the history of Norfolk, the curators also hope that it will examine the link between faith and the landscape in sites that have been used by multiple faiths.

"One of the questions this exhibition is hoping to address is whether there is something inherently sacred in certain landscapes - is there a particular atmosphere and a particular way people will feel when they're in these places," said Francesca.

"There was a temple at Walsingham before the Christians came - there's a shrine to the Virgin Mary there now and has been since the early medieval period.

"But are there other places as well that have a similar kind of resonance?"

The Art of Faith is on display at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery from Saturday, 2 October 2010, to Sunday, 23 January 2011.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the School of World Art Studies and Museology at the University of East Anglia and is the culmination of a two year research project, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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