Churches and Cathedrals have provided the inspiration and springboard, as well as the financial resources, to encourage some of the Western world’s greatest music and visual art.
Artists were often commissioned to produce work which would teach, inspire, challenge and even intimidate the faithful, illustrating to them the beliefs of the Church and the practices required of the followers of Jesus Christ.
At times of widespread illiteracy, visual art in churches was a powerful means of both communication and control.
Even though the emphases may have changed, this tradition continues today, and Liverpool Cathedral is no exception, in spite of being a cathedral of the modern age. In the course of its construction it incorporated into the fabric works of art by contemporary sculptors and stained glass artists. But it has in more recent years built up a worthy collection of works of art, including paintings and sculpture by eminent 20th and 21st century artists.
In keeping with the vastness of the building, Liverpool Cathedral has good examples of larger works by five Royal Academicians:
alongside works by a number of other contemporary artists.
Thanks to generous benefactors, donors, trusts and the artists themselves, Liverpool Cathedral has commissioned some fine examples of contemporary art. These are to be found from one end of the building to the other, and are all very different from each other, each in its own way contributing powerfully to the visitor’s experience, and always holding out the possibility of some form of divine encounter within the sacred space.
Today all these works are offered both to enhance the building, and to advance the mission and work of the cathedral.
Look out for the following:
South Choir Aisle
Adrian Wiszniewski - 'The Good Samaritan' - 1995
(Gift of the Jerusalem Trust)
This painting is on permanent display in the Cathedral.
Adrian Wiszniewski, born in Glasgow in1958, studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, and the Glasgow School of Art. Wiszniewski was part of the ‘New Glasgow Boys’, a term coined for the young painters who came out of the Glasgow School of Art in the 1980’s and came to prominence with the 1987 exhibition, 'Vigorous Imagination' at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Their work was characterized as having decisively broken with the prevailing popularity of minimalism and abstraction. Critics have often said that Wiszniewski’s work has a poetic quality to it; describing it as belonging to the 19th-century romantic tradition in British art.
Though he is most often thought of as a painter and printmaker Wiszniewski has worked with media such as neon, tapestry, sculpture and ceramics during his career.
Wiszniewski’s work is also in the permanent collections of MOMA, New York, the Tate Gallery, London and Setegaya, Tokyo.
Over the choir stalls (right - looking east):
Christopher Le Brun - 'The Prodigal Son' - 1996
(Gift of the Jerusalem Trust)
The phrase from the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) which inspired the artist was 'He saw him while he was still far off…'
The road winds towards us from the distant land through which the son had travelled. As he approaches, head down, arms at his side, he is greeted by the dog that jumps up in recognition. The father is the most prominent figure, wearing a rich red cloak. He welcomes his son with open arms; the mother to his left, dressed in golden yellow, raises her arms in excitement, while the elder brother on the right looks on from behind a tree with mixed feelings. In the middle distance on the bridge is a rider who pauses, reflecting on the scene before us. www.christopherlebrun.co.uk
Christopher Le Brun was born in Portsmouth in 1951 and studied at the Slade and Chelsea Schools of Art. Between 1976 and 1983 he taught regularly at art schools and was a prizewinner in the John Moores exhibitions at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 1978 and 1980. Le Brun has exhibited in many significant surveys of international art, and in 1987-88 he received the D.A.A.D. award from the German government, living and working in Berlin for a year. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1996 and in 2000 became the Academy’s first Professor of Drawing.
Le Brun is a former trustee of the Tate, the National Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He is currently a trustee of the Prince’s Drawing School. In 2009 he was commissioned by the Royal Mint to design a new fifty pence piece commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London.
His work is in the mainstream of the poetic tradition of British art, in a line going back through Burne-Jones to William Blake and Turner. The artist has used traditional oil painting techniques for this painting in the Cathedral which he took to indicate the heart of the church’s message, with his own interpretation of The Prodigal Son representing Forgiveness and Homecoming (shown above here), depicting travellers and their journeys. The painting is intended to be part of the rhythm and unity of the building and also to complement the beauty of the choral music.
Entrance to Baptistery
Cristi Paslaru – ‘Hospitality of Abraham’ – 2008
(Gifted by artist)
This icon is a copy, by the contemporary Romanian iconographer Cristi Paslaru, of the original 15th century piece deemed to be by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev, whose original work hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
A further two copies were later produced in the late 16th and early 20th centuries and are both kept in Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra’s Cathedral iconostasis.
This particular piece was originally commissioned by the Liverpool Cathedral Chapter for use within a major art exhibition during Liverpool’s year of Capital of Culture in 2008. After the exhibition ran its course, Paslaru kindly gifted it to the Cathedral.
Sanctuary – Gospel Holder
Cristi Paslaru – ‘Ascended Christ in Majesty’ – Front Cover
'Christ’s Crucifixion’ – Rear Cover
(Commissioned by Chapter)
On Easter Sunday 2014 a new Book of the Four Gospels was used liturgically for the first time in the Cathedral. The book is bound using two icons by Christi Paslaru featuring images of Christ (to whom Liverpool Cathedral is dedicated).
The works of art were commissioned by the Cathedral Chapter, with the front cover depicting the ascended Christ in majesty, and the back cover depicting Christ's Crucifixion. When not in use the Book of the Gospels is on display in the Sanctuary to the right hand side of the High Altar
Giovanni Della Robbia - 'Kneeling Madonna' - 15th Century
A 15th century statue in wood of the Kneeling Madonna by Giovanni Della Robbia is complemented by a figure of the Christ Child.
Giovanni Della Robbia worked in Italy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and the kneeling figure of the Madonna in the Lady Chapel has been attributed to the school of this artist. The Madonna was probably part of a set of Nativity figures, including an infant Christ, before whom the Madonna kneels in worship and adoration.
In 2002, the Cathedral Chapter commissioned the Rossendale artist, Don McKinlay, to create a Christ-child to be set alongside the Madonna. The commission was given in memory of Dean Derrick Walters who died in 2000.
Above West Doors (exterior)
Elisabeth Frink - 'The Welcoming Christ'
A majestic work by Elisabeth Frink
To further enhance your experiences you venture inside you will see, incorporated into the fabric, are fine examples of work by Edward Carter Preston.
Currently in the Children's Chapel*
Josefina de Vasconcellos – 'Holy Family'
The daughter of a Brazilian diplomat, Josefina de Vasconcellos won a scholarship to the Royal Academy in 1921 and was runner-up in the Prix de Rome contest of 1930.
At the age of 19 she was accepted to study at the Grande Chaumiere in Paris under Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, one of Auguste Rodin’s assistants. She later married the artist and Anglican lay reader Delmar Banner, and was baptised an Anglican. Living in the Lake District, her aim was to be ‘the Wordsworth of sculpture.’
Her flowing naturalistic style won her numerous commissions, including Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral and Bradford University, Holy Family at Liverpool and Gloucester Cathedrals, Mary and Child at St Paul’s Cathedral, and Nativity at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
Vasconcellos continued working well into her nineties, and in 2001, as the world’s oldest sculptor, was commissioned by Sir Richard Branson to do a new work for Coventry Cathedral. She died in 2005, aged 100.
* Please note: This sculpture may be moved around the Cathedral depending on the time of year, exhibitions and other events.
Over the West Doors and beneath the Benedicite window
Tracey Emin - 'For You' - 2008
Tracey Emin (born 1963) is an English artist, one of the so-called Young British Artists (YBAs). She is probably only second to Damien Hirst among the YBAs in terms of notoriety among the general public. Emin was born in London, but brought up in Margate. She initially studied art in Maidstone where she was greatly influenced by Billy Childish, then returned to London to study at the Royal College of Art, where she obtained an MA in painting. Later still, she studied philosophy at Birkbeck.
Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, Emin was elected to the Royal Academy in 2008.
For You was commissioned by the Cathedral Chapter as the Cathedral’s contribution to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008. It is a pink neon, written in the artist’s handwriting, with the words: ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me.’ In 2009 Emin was the winner of the Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) Award for Art in a Religious Context for this work. The previous year this work also enabled the Cathedral to win the first Liverpool Chamber of Commerce Arts Award.
About this work, the artist writes: “The Church has always been a place, for me, for contemplation. I wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.” Liverpool Echo, September 2008
Liverpool Cathedral has approx 1700 m² (over 18,000 feet² ) of stained glass, all from the 20th century. The subject matter is both biblical and liturgical, but also contains elements of social and ecclesiastical history. Perhaps the most splendid is the Great West Window by Carl Edwards.
Sited high up and accessible only by lift is a unique museum of ecclesiastical embroidery. Beautifully displayed are examples worked mainly in the Victorian and Edwardian period, formerly the collection of Elizabeth Hoare.
Liverpool Cathedral regularly hosts temporary exhibitions of both local artists and prominent national and international artists.
Check our Events Calendar to find out what may be currently on show or planned for the future.
The artist Richard Harrison, whose triptych 'Crucifixion: At the End… A Beginning' hangs in the Cathedral Ambulatory, was accepted to exhibit at the John Moores 2010 Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. The painting shown was his 'Mountain Peaks' (2008).
Richard’s father, Malcolm Harrison (1913-1979), was for 32 years on the Cathedral Executive Committee, becoming Treasurer and then Chairman in the period leading up to the completion of the Cathedral in 1978. His memorial is to be found in the North Choir Aisle.