Bible Review 21:1, Anniversary Issue

Jots & Tittles

Bible Review

A religious masterpiece by the great American expatriate painter John Singer Sargent has been restored to its former glory.

The Triumph of Religion is a set of 16 murals adorning a hall on the third floor of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building. The series includes depictions of pagan gods like Moloch and Astarte (on the ceiling); the Israelites in bondage to the Egyptians and Assyrians and a frieze of the prophets (on the north wall); and an unusual “Madonna of Sorrows” (in the southwest corner) whose heart is pierced by seven swords.

The murals’ once-bright colors had faded over the years, prompting the library to embark on a $2 million, multi-year restoration project. The results were unveiled in October.

Singer began painting The Triumph of Religion series in 1890, when he was 34 years old; he made his last addition to it in 1919, at the age of 63. Hindered by World War I as well as a cooling public view toward religion (especially in public buildings like libraries), he never painted the planned final scene in the series, a depiction of the Sermon on the Mount that was to fill the central panel on the east wall.

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