Mystical Visions, Divine Revelations: Religion and Spirituality in Nineteenth-Century Art

Northeast Bedroom Gallery

Nineteenth-century writers often called America the new Eden, pointing to its natural beauty and abundant resources as evidence of God’s favor. During this period, many Americans sought contact with the mystical and the divine in diverse ways. At times, religious fervor swept the nation, drawing thousands of people to revivals and utopian communities. An interest in the occult, which marks the work of poets and authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving, manifested itself in the lives of ordinary citizens in séances and other efforts to communicate with the dead. The transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, looked for evidence of the divine in nature. Followers of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg sought to reveal the spirits that animated the natural world. Nineteenth-century archaeological discoveries from the ancient world led some Americans to a deeper exploration of myth and paganism. In literature, art, and music, American romantics expressed the sublime power of God’s creation.

This small exhibition of works from Reynolda’s collection, including paintings by Edward Hicks, George Inness, and William Rimmer, examines the multiplicity of paths taken by 19th-century Americans in their quest for the divine and the mystical. By bringing these works together in a new context, it is possible to construct a lively portrait of American religion and spirituality during this dynamic period.