Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (2024)

Catalogue entry

Ayla Lepine

Susanna Avery‐Quash (ed.), Ayla Lepine (ed.), Isobel Muir (co‐editor), Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart, digital edition (London: The National Gallery, 2022).

Collaboration and Imagination

A park in Berlin, an artist’s studio in Venice, a rural lane in England, a mysterious couple, an open window, a distant river, a good novel, a proud goddess, a brutal war, a speeding train, a tender embrace – these are some of the details, places and experiences to be found in the eighteen paintings gathered for the exhibition Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart. The exhibition pairs nine paintings from the National Gallery with nine paintings from diverse UK public collections. Together, these paintings explore topics that are vital for communities to flourish, including love, joy and peace. The pictures also celebrate museum and gallery highlights, reveal untold stories from minority voices, feature recent acquisitions, and tell fresh stories. Overall, the project is a celebration of life lived to the full, and what can be achieved when people work together.

The catalogue features contributions from many voices across the UK. Differences in writing style, approach and points of view are a positive feature of this project, allowing each voice – from an artist working in a hospital to a teenage climate change activist walking through the Devon countryside – to be recognisably unique and authentic. The spark of inspiration for this assemblage is a list found in the Bible’s New Testament, in a letter that Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians nearly two millennia ago: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self‐control. Paul called these nine attributes ‘Fruit of the Spirit’. He believed it was not possible for them to exist independently, because they are all interconnected through divine love, and that all are enhanced and deepened by each other, like members of a family or a group of close friends.

The philosopher Elaine Scarry has linked beauty with social justice and ethics. She points out that ‘Matisse never hoped to save lives. But he repeatedly said that he wanted to make paintings so serenely beautiful that when one came upon them, suddenly all problems would subside.’1 The paintings in this National Gallery exhibition encourage new links between beauty, hope and social change. We can take joy in giving and receiving kindness. The quest for peace, and the need for peacebuilders, can require what may feel like unending patience. Gentleness and kindness are deeply rooted in the call to faithful action because of the need for liberation and social justice. Most foundationally, none of these elements can thrive, or indeed even exist, without love.

In March 2021, near the anniversary of the first lockdown in England, the idea for Fruits of the Spirit emerged in order to connect such fundamentally important human themes as love, joy, and generosity with paintings in the National Gallery’s collection in partnership with nine regional venues across the UK. As a primarily digital experience, the virtual exhibition, audioguide and online catalogue are free for all to explore and enjoy. The experience is designed to encourage viewers to slow down, contemplate and reconnect with the wonder of art.

In Atlas of the Heart, the social work researcher Brene Brown wrote, ‘We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.’2 The National Gallery and our partners wanted to ensure that the experience would be available to all, equally, for years to come. This is in the ‘spirit’ of the exhibition’s ethos overall. Someone in Aberdeen or Truro could be in the virtual gallery at the same time as someone in Hong Kong or Budapest, all sharing the same experience together. Ecologically friendly because there is no need for bespoke design, art transportation or travel to the museum, Fruits of the Spirit focuses on aspects of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. It celebrates belonging, without costing the earth. Social justice, more important than ever in our world, is also a crucial aspect of the way that the collaborative group of curators chose these works of art. Though the theme is inspired by Christian scripture, the nine topics are relevant to everyone, from every background.

Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart is a truly collaborative endeavour, and the method for the project exemplifies the nine ‘fruits’ themselves. The National Gallery’s nine partners for this exhibition come from across the UK and represent a wide range of collections, from small specialist museums to vast civic cultural centres, from The Box in Plymouth to the McManus in Dundee. The exhibition’s core is founded on the nine topics expressed in the paintings, the character of collections of which they now form a part, and the lived experience of the participants who have contributed their own interpretations.

The eighteen paintings in Fruits of the Spirit: Art from Heart are paired in nine visual conversations. They speak to one another and invite us to join in the dialogue. They invite engagement from every viewer, making themselves available, as all art does, to whatever visitors may bring with them when they encounter the paintings. Amongst the array of colours, forms, histories and ideas in these pictures, there are powerful recurring themes which many viewers will pick up on and find rich with personal resonance including migration, childhood, disability and gender. The paintings are linked with aspects of theology, religion and spirituality to encourage connections between works of art and diverse viewers. In that same spirit, this introduction to the exhibition and its many contributors assembles a constellation of writers – including novelists, theologians and activists – to explore some of the key themes in Fruits of the Spirit.

By creating links between paintings within and beyond the National Gallery and encouraging interactions with those paintings across different perspectives in communities and culture, new ways of seeing and more open ways of interacting with one another can be nourished. This amplifies a feeling that many people experience when they visit art galleries like the National Gallery. Some visit particular paintings at major points in their lives, whether for comfort, wisdom or something else. Some come to Stubbs’s Whistlejacket every time they need to make a major decision in life, consulting it like a vast oracle. Others pray with Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ (fig. 1) or remember loved ones when they see portraits of Thomas Gainsborough’s daughters (fig. 2).

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (1)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (2)

In his theological discussion of paintings in the National Gallery, the Anglican priest John Drury writes, ‘Worship and looking at pictures require the same kind of attention – a mixture of curiosity with a relaxed readiness to let things suggest themselves in their own good time.’3 The relationships formed with and through art – by people of all faiths and none – require patience and openness to engage. Regardless of whether they might describe their experience as sacred or not, people may experience an ineffable sense of belonging and community when in contact with a painting.

The Black British author Bernardine Evaristo describes how art inspires her: ‘The most interesting and adventurous artists are surely among the most innovative thinkers on the planet. They introduce us to new ways of seeing and being … My imagination is nourished by theirs, and I am challenged to think differently about how we might understand, process, and re‐imagine life itself animate, inanimate, spirit.’4 Every painting in the Gallery can, and does, speak ‘heart to heart’, indeed ‘art to heart’, with viewers in myriad ways. In Fruits of the Spirit, nine diverse works of art, paired with nine others from regional collections, can become spaces of hospitality, wellbeing and even healing.

From the first weeks of 2020, the waves of the Covid‐19 pandemic transformed our lives, creating much anxiety, uncertainty, chaos and trauma, even while others experienced this time as more tranquil, with the chance to connect with nature and experience life’s rhythms in positive, new ways. In February 2021, the National Gallery published a list of the top twenty paintings viewed online during the pandemic.5 Through their screens, art brought hope into people’s homes. The Fruits of the Spirit’s virtual exhibition focuses, by chance and fortuitously, on four of these twenty favourite paintings, including van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (fig. 3) and van Gogh’s Sunflowers (fig. 4). Short films such as Christine Riding’s exploration of Kindness in the National Gallery’s Collection brought pictures to life in compassionate and socially resonant ways.6

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (3)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (4)

Paintings, even in digital form, offer unique gifts to their viewers. The novelist Zadie Smith produced a series of lockdown essays titled Intimations, which charted the personal as well as institutional character of lockdown. The first essay, an exploration of love, explains that love’s terms:cannot be scheduled, pre‐planned or determined by me. Love is not something to do, but something to be experienced, and something to go through – that must be why it frightens so many of us and why we so often approach it indirectly. Here is this novel, made with love. Here is this banana bread, made with love. If it wasn’t for this habit of indirection, of course, there would be no culture in this world, and very little meaningful pleasure for any of us. Although the most powerful art, it seems to me, is an experience and a going‐through; it is love comprehended by, expressed and enacted through the artwork itself.7

Impactful art makes a difference in people’s lives and can be, somehow, in solidarity with individual and collective experiences.

Wellbeing and Wonder in the National Gallery: Expressions of the Fruits of the Spirit across Art History

Throughout the National Gallery, the nine qualities celebrated in the Fruits of the Spirit virtual exhibition are found in many of its pictures. Visitors encounter a sensation of wonder in experiencing paintings, whether they expected to be moved emotionally or not. The French philosopher René Descartes described wonder as ‘a sudden surprise of the soul’.8 In the Sainsbury Wing, paintings from Italy and Northern Europe from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gleam with jewel‐like colours and sumptuous gold in contrast to the restrained white and grey walls. One is a small picture by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (fig. 5) All is quiet in the stable in Bethlehem, and the centre of the dark painting is gloriously illuminated by the infant Jesus. The little boy is both holy and ordinary. The expressions and gestures of the angels and his mother Mary are prayerful, gentle and full of curiosity. This is not just a Christian painting. It is an artist’s impression of what love looks like and feels like. That experience is something all human beings have in common, regardless of belief or background. Sint Jans’ atmospheric, sacred glow is very different from Sandro Botticelli’s celebration of love – with a touch of humour, too – in his painting of Venus and Mars (fig. 6), in which Venus, the goddess of love, gazes at her lover, Mars,the god of war. He is so fast asleep that even a playful baby satyr blowing a trumpet in his ear, or the bees buzzing nearby, cannot wake him. This is a painting that rejoices in love with an affectionate smile.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (5)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (6)

A couple of generations before Botticelli painted his god and goddess to explore the theme of love, the devout artist Fra Angelico produced a predella panel (the lower section of an altarpiece) depicting Christ in Majesty, radiant in heaven and surrounded by a crowd of saints, each painted as a unique individual (fig. 7). With its pure gold background, this painting has an irrepressibly joyful character, as each saint participates in worship and heavenly glory together. Fra Angelico’s painting reminds us that real joy, generosity and kindness, as with all the Fruits of the Spirit, take place within a community.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (7)

The Black American theologian Howard Thurman observed, ‘we walk in the ways of life together with our associates, our friends, our loved ones. How precious it is to lean upon another, to have a staggered sense of [God’s] everlasting arms felt in communion with a friend.’9 The recent Kehinde Wiley exhibition at the National Gallery included a film titled The Prelude). In the film, Black people from London made their way across the sublime landscape of northern Europe, rejoicing in each other, defiant against the frozen expansive whiteness of the cold. This meditative and moving film was hugely popular, and it proclaimed something new in the heart of the National Gallery about the need for decolonisation and the courage and dignity of Black people.

Nearby, in the Annenberg Court, with its vast skylight and marble steps, a contemporary artist and her work take centre stage with a vast mural, painted over 500 years after Fra Angelico’s altarpieces: Bridget Riley’s Messengers (fig. 8). Each time a viewer blinks, retinal impressions create the sensation of dancing light and colour surrounding a series of colourful circles, playing across the bright white walls. Riley was inspired by the British landscape painter John Constable’s description of clouds, which he studied and delighted in throughout his career (fig. 9). She was also inspired by the pointillist technique developed by Georges Seurat, especially in his monumental painting of Bathers at Asnières, a scene depicting working‐class French people on the bank of the River Seine (fig. 10). This is one of the first paintings Riley studied, with great joy, at the National Gallery. Reflecting on this, she said the picture was ‘a radiant field of colour; I immediately wanted to go and look closer. The painting has great presence and dominates the space around it.’10 Seurat’s Bathers can also raise questions about the importance of self‐control in relation to climate change, much like J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed, which is also featured in relation to this important theme in Fruits of the Spirit project (fig. 11). In Seurat’s picture the people who are relaxing on a warm day are the same people who work in the factory in the distance. The factory’s smoke merges with the bluish grey sky. This is not just a peaceful picture of rest. In parallel with Turner’s image of the speeding train, it is also a critique of the way in which industry encroaches on natural beauty, and pollution takes its toll.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (8)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (9)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (10)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (11)

The quiet stillness of Seurat’s scene is very different from the active, physical nature of Bassano’s painting The Good Samaritan (fig. 12). This story is a social critique too, in which kindness and hope come from an unlikely source. In his painting, Bassano has ensured that the priest in this narrative, who simply walked by the man who had been robbed and left for dead, is visible in the background, ignoring the urgency of the scene. He foregrounds both the tenderness and determination of the Samaritan. The Samaritan is the most unexpected person to offer compassion because of the social rift between him and the man who is so dangerously injured and abandoned. The kindness that comes from an unexpected place is one of the foundational aspects of being alive and awake to our common humanity. Bassano focuses on this with great detail and drama, reminding us that there is more that unites us than divides us if we can see past the pain of social conflict and treat people tenderly no matter who they are.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (12)

Pharoah’s daughter is a similarly unlikely source of kindness and faithfulness in the story of Moses. In Orazio Gentileschi’s The Finding of Moses, Moses’ mother Jochebed and sister Miriam advocate for his life (fig. 13). They are deep in dialogue with the royal princess and Moses’ fate is not yet certain. Women from both oppressive and enslaved backgrounds connect with one another for the sake of a tiny baby who, following Pharaoh’s decree, should be put to death. These women save the child, determining a whole people’s future liberation. Two artists who tell this story differently are Poussin and (probably – the attribution remains uncertain) Francesco Zugno (figs. 14 and 15). In the latter picture, the conversation has begun while the infant is still in the River Nile. Pharoah’s enslaved servant pulls him towards the bank, and the conversation regarding the baby begins. Menacingly, soldiers watch from the other side of the river. There is even less certainty here regarding Moses’ future, despite the painting’s sumptuous elegance. Though the painting is smaller and more delicate than Orazio’s, the drama is no less intense.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (13)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (14)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (15)

In Poussin’s picture, there is a hint of Egyptian architecture in the background to set the scene. His is the only one where Moses is active, waving at a figure who may be his mother. The same figure has placed her hands tenderly along his sides, as if to pick him up. The drama is high here too – will she be recognised in the moment that Pharoah’s daughter has just arrived, looming behind her? A figure being helped out of the water on the right, presumably Pharoah’s daughter’s enslaved maid, makes direct eye contact with the viewer. Even as she makes her way out of the water, just as Moses did, she gazes outwards as if to say that it is her compassion and her faithfulness in the good of humanity that will ultimately give Moses a future and therefore offer hope to the Israelites.

Paul’s Plea: The Fruits of the Spirit in Biblical Context

Saint Paul’s letters, his social sphere and his religious context, took him throughout the Hellenic world, sometimes at great risk, to places including Malta and Rome. Like Jesus, he was a Jewish man. Following Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, he travelled to different communities who believed in Jesus, encouraging them to look after each other and believe in Christ’s teachings. Jesus’ followers claimed that he had overcome death itself, and had been resurrected to bring peace, love and eternal life to all people. Paul’s letters are the earliest documents in the New Testament, and there is much continuity with the characteristics and expectations of first‐century Judaism.

When Paul wrote his letter to the small community of people following the teachings of Jesus in Galatia, which was a Roman territory in the far west of Asia, the group was in crisis. One of the principal points of discussion in the letter was how to keep the community together, when it was experiencing deep disagreement about how to live within the Jewish way of life and integrate these systems and rituals into the new experience of following Christ and believing him to be the Son of God.11 Paul attempted to resolve the crisis in several ways. His description of the Spirit’s ‘fruit’ as a life‐giving sacred path was one of his most effective strategies. Similar lists articulating the same qualities – essential for wellbeing and mutual support – appear elsewhere in Paul’s letters too.12

When Paul shared his list of nine attributes for individual and communal wellbeing with the Galatians, he called them ‘Fruit’ of the Spirit, not ‘Fruits’. This is because they are not, in Paul’s view, a list from which someone could select one or two. Rather, they are a holistic way of life, which, with love at the core, would generate the greatest ‘fruitfulness’ for individuals as well as communities. Theologian Frank J. Matera summarises chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians as ‘Love fulfils the Law. Walk by the Spirit.’13 In other words, because God’s love is the deepest and most sustaining truth for the community, the qualities and experiences that unite the community with God all originate in love’s divine power.

Every element in the list – patience, gentleness and so on – not only flows from the capacity to give and receive love but is in itself an individual expression and gift of that love. The biblical scholar James Dunn connects the Galatians 5 passage with the classic ‘hymn to love’ in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13, where he describes love as patient, kind and unselfish. Dunn suggests that in writing about love with such clarity, Paul is also offering the ‘fruits’ as a ‘character sketch’ of Christ himself.14 Unity must overcome division for the Galatian group to thrive, and Paul offers a set of themes that will create the right conditions for that unity to flourish, namely cultivating a firm foundation of loving mutual acceptance.

The discussion of the Fruit(s) of the Spirit is the first of a multi‐part series of sections in which Paul offers specific pastoral guidance, advising the Galatians about how they must treat each other so that they can live together harmoniously. It comes towards the end of a section of the letter referred to by the biblical scholar J. Louis Martyn as ‘Daily Life in Wartime’. The battle is both within the community and within their hearts, between actions and feelings that can create toxicity and those things which can create the opposite, healing effect. Martyn says that in Paul’s list, violence is ‘not met by a greater violence, but rather by love, joy, and peace’.15 Paul’s solution to the community’s anguish is ‘disarmingly simple’, as he is simply reminding the group that they already have the capacity to access and cultivate these ‘fruits’, that it is just a matter of reconnecting with the core human qualities they seem to have lost sight of.16

When people behave in destructive ways, there can be dire consequences associated with the conditions of a broken world: jealousy, competitiveness, pride and behaviours that create pain, violence and suffering. In his interpretation of Paul’s text, Frank J. Matera summarises these destructive actions as a ‘craving’.17 They are a kind of distorted, chaotic hunger, or put another way, they are a result of humanity’s susceptibility to do harm either to ourselves or to others. As the biblical scholar Craig S. Keener points out, the list of ‘vices’ that precedes Paul’s description of the Fruit of the Spirit strongly emphasises relational conflict rather than other kinds of moral or communal problems, including jealousy, quarrels, dissentions and envy.18 As an alternative way of life, the subsequent list – Paul’s Fruit of the Spirit – offers a path to a better and more hopeful future.

The letter to the Galatians was written for the followers of Jesus and it is still read in that context today. Yet the nine elements that comprise the Spirit’s fruit are important and vital for every person. Paul’s letter was written to a small community of people nearly two thousand years ago and its details and debates are distinctly connected to this group’s challenging social and religious experiences. Over the centuries and in different places, it has been interpreted in many ways. The most hopeful and helpful interpretations always place love at the centre of a community’s wellbeing.

Paul believed that every community was more than the sum of its parts, and that they could overcome their divisions. The only thing that the group needed to do to belong and to be included in God’s community was to love one another. In doing so, they would allow the Spirit’s ‘fruits’ such as love, patience and self‐control to take root and blossom.19 There is no single way to read the text, much like there is no single way to interpret a painting. That is part of what makes the concept for this National Gallery collaborative exhibition with nine museum partners so exciting, worthwhile and of ongoing relevance for the public in Britain and beyond.

The primacy of love, the need for kindness, the quest for peace – to name but three of these foundational ideas – are essential principles for the whole of humanity across space and time. Today there are millions of people who believe religion has no relevance and that texts like the letter to the Galatians are just dusty first‐century documents with nothing to offer our twenty‐first‐century world. The National Gallery’s Fruits of the Spirit project shows, through some of the world’s most loved and well‐known paintings, that the qualities these themes encourage for communities and everyone’s wellbeing are still as fresh and crucial as they were two millennia ago.

Love at the Centre

‘Have you given up on drawing?’ Artist Lynda Barry asks this question on the frame of an illustration showing a mother and child looking at an image of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ (fig. 16). ‘I’m not sure how to look at art,’ the mother says. The two viewers, one tall and one small, take a long look at the painting. In the final scene, the child is in the mother’s arms, having asked for a cuddle as well as a good view of the painting. They gaze at the Madonna and Child together. Something has happened. The bodies of the viewers and the painting mirror one another in Barry’s image, producing a sense of deep empathy between the sacred mother and child and their visitors, as well as an empathetic recognition with the viewer of Barry’s illustration.

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (16)

No words are needed – it is the love between parent and child that creates the epiphany about not just how to look at art, but how to make it and even to allow art to gaze back at us. The image references countless paintings of the Madonna and Child, though each one is different. In the National Gallery’s collection, the tender yet monumental qualities in Northern and Italian Renaissance imagery, such as Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks and Hans Memling’s Virgin and Child, attend to the relationship not only between the Virgin Mary and Jesus, but also between the viewer and the painting, whether the experience of viewing is devotional or secular (figs. 17 and 18).

Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (17)
Introduction | Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart (18)

Lynda Barry’s question about giving up is opened further at the bottom of her cartoon: ‘Would you like to give it one more try?’ she asks. For those who are not sure whether they can make art, or understand it, Barry’s image of looking at and participating in art gently reminds us why it can be so compelling, and how art itself is not just about painting or drawing, but about living well and loving too. The parent and child in the art gallery are not sure how to approach these images, knowing that there is an experience that they think they are expected to have, or even should have. It is in loving one another tenderly, connecting with each other deeply, that the painting begins to make empathetic sense. Thomas Merton, who was a monk and prolific writer, spoke about love as a union between action and intuition, and ‘over and above these, it is a presence.’20 It’s both something that just happens, and something that we participate in actively, with hope for a better world.

As Matera observes, Paul is ‘not talking about “virtues” and “vices” but about two ways of life, each of which is determined by a power or force’.21 This text – the list and its opposites – is not a tick‐box exercise, but a guide through which everyone can participate in living life to the fullest. In Dante’s great epic, the Divine Comedy, in Canto 1 of the Purgatorio section, the protagonist emerges from Hell into Purgatory, a series of zones in between the depths of despair and the heights of heavenly salvation. In Purgatory, souls undergo complex experiences of stripping away the things that have created patterns of dysfunction and suffering in their lives and the lives of others. Moving from a place of darkness into a space of real hope is signalled by a powerful yet simple gesture. The Roman writer Virgil, Dante’s guide, spreads his hands over the fresh dew on the grass that surrounds them, and tenderly touches Dante’s face, washing away the underworld’s grime so that he can begin to see afresh:
Both of his hands upon the grass outspread
In gentle manner did my Master place;
Whence I, who of his action was aware,
Extended unto him my tearful cheeks;
There did he make in me uncovered wholly
That hue which Hell had covered up in me.22

In Giovanni di Paolo’s Paradise (1445), now in The Metropolitan Museum’s collection, a painting which imagines people who have loved one another being reunited in heaven, pairs are embracing, talking and walking together. The author Hisham Matar’s encounter with this painting encouraged him to think that [t]his surely is the way to be … that one should take hold of those one loves most and simply look into their eyes for a long time or, perhaps, for eternity’.23 The fruitfulness of love is to be found in how human beings relate to one another, their environment and imaginative creativity. Matar suggests that it is Giovanni di Paolo’s painting itself which ‘knows what we wish for most, even more than paradise, is to be recognized; that regardless of how transformed and transfigured we might be by the passage, something of us might sustain and remain perceptible to those we have spent so long loving’.24 Love is costly, and complex, but also joyful, and generous.

In the Hebrew Bible, the book of the prophet Isaiah contains these divine words, spoken out of profound love: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.’25 These words appear inscribed on a contemporary baptismal font in Salisbury Cathedral, installed in 2008 and produced by the artist William Pye, through which water endlessly moves across a glassily still surface. For people of all faiths or no faith, being named, known, loved and embraced is a foundational human need. The transgender Christian poet Jay Hulme articulates this experience of naming and being known by the Divine in his poem ‘Jay’:
The words You speak sound
like birdsong. When You call
out my name, it is
like the dawn.
This is the name You gave
before I claimed it. Spoken
before anyone
was born.26

The need to enter a serious dialogue about interconnectedness – as a requirement for a society’s health rather than an optional extra – occurs because human beings are inherently relational. Speaking of the experience of longing for justice, writer and liturgist Cole Arthur Riley asserts, ‘We shouldn’t need to choose self‐affirmation at the expense of the affirmation of another.’27 An essential element of interconnection – the method as well as the materials, as it were – is love. The writer and theologian C. S. Lewis offered a four‐fold way of describing and charting love based on these Greek words: agape (unconditional love), philia (friendship), eros (romantic love) and storge (family love).28 These categories are not exhaustive, and sometimes beyond the boundaries of speech is precisely where love is found. The Greek poet Sappho caught a glimpse of the woman she loved across a room. This was her response:
My lost voice stutters
Refuses to come back
Because my tongue is shattered.29

The intermingling of pleasure and suffering in passionate love – especially when unrequited – is a timeless human experience. It is one of many manifestations of the love that pervades our universe. Love and language, attempting to speak of love as well as to enact it, are about connection, and the way that paintings can stimulate our imaginations and inspire us to act lovingly are part of that connection. Many of the paintings in the Fruits of the Spirit exhibition demonstrate this search for unity amidst the tensions of life. As the Black activist scholar bell hooks explains in her book, All About Love:Everywhere we learn that love is important, and yet we are bombarded by its failure. In the realm of the political, among the religious, in our families, and in our romantic lives, we see little indication that love informs our decisions, strengthens our understanding of community, or keeps us together. This bleak picture in no way alters the nature of our longing. We still hope that love will prevail. We still believe in love’s promise.30

It is essential to advocate for love, speaking up for its qualities and its persistent presence even in a world that is so often torn apart by violence and danger. Without love, we are all lost, and every advocate for justice also advocates for the expression of love as an expression of human dignity. Everyone deserves to live their life well, and to live it to the full. Tragically, too many are denied this right. In directly addressing the best qualities of humanity, Fruits of the Spirit places beauty and creativity in the centre of an ongoing conversation about flourishing, not only for humanity but for the whole planet.

In the 1980s, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen quit his prestigious Harvard University professorship to live in a L’Arche community, alongside people with different kinds of disabilities.31 In his book Adam: God’s Beloved he describes a friendship with one of the community’s residents. Nouwen explained:he was a person, who by his very life announced the marvellous mystery of our God: I am precious, beloved, whole, and born of God. Adam bore silent witness to this mystery, which has nothing to do with whether or not he could speak, walk, or express himself, whether or not he made money, had a job, was fashionable, famous, married or single. It had to do with his being. He was and is a beloved child of God.32

It is simply in being alive that he was – and all people are – loved. Love itself is an art, and it is a gift. If the whole of creation belongs to God, as many religions believe, it can also be seen as God’s work as an artist. The search for a meaningful life is, some might say, a movement towards recognising the divine in all things. There is also a resonance with Dante’s quest for enlightenment and the source of love itself in the Divine Comedy. The final lines, spoken within the realm of heaven, are:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.33

Love is an act, a movement and a way of being, regardless of whether someone believes that love is divine. The relationship between beauty, love and hope is vital too. The philosopher Elaine Scarry suggests that ‘it is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake‐up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level. That is love at work in our world, and in our minds and bodies too. From a biblical perspective, “God is love, and those who live in love live in God.”34 Providing the basis for all of the Fruits of the Spirit in Saint Paul’s list in his letter to the Galatians, love is powerful because it is the foundation of a state of belonging in which all have a voice, and all are valued and included.

Reflecting on her life and work, the writer Audre Lorde wrote, ‘what I most regretted were my silences … And there are so many silences to be broken’.35 It can be hard to speak out in times of suffering, inequality and struggle. When it is from the heart, and interpreted as such, art can help us to speak and be heard with bold courage. The paintings in Fruits of the Spirit are anything but silent, though they contain much that cannot be said, or for which there might not be adequate language. Each of these works of art offers a glimpse into the shared story of what it is to be human, and what it feels like to give and receive joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self‐control and, above all, love. Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, promises us that ‘another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’36 The Fruits of the Spirit, the exhibition’s eighteen paintings in relation to these nine themes, and the communities and museums whose lives and collections are highlighted, are all part of that gentle motion of this world‐breath. This sustains life and love and thrives in the quiet rhythms of every heart.


1. Scarry 1999, p. 33. (Back to text.)

2. Browne 2021. (Back to text.)

3. Drury 1999, p. 57. (Back to text.)

4. Evaristo 2021, p. 9. (Back to text.)

5. National Gallery 2021. (Back to text.)

6. Riding 2020. (Back to text.)

7. Smith 2021, pp. 24–25. (Back to text.)

8. Descartes, quoted in Smith 2021, p. 243. (Back to text.)

9. Thurman 2014, p. 64. (Back to text.)

10. Kudielka 2019b, pp. 87–9. (Back to text.)

11. For more information regarding the conflicts and how they related to Judaism and Saint Paul’s conversion, see Keener 2018, pp. 15–21. (Back to text.)

12. These include his Letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians and the Romans. (Back to text.)

13. Matera 2007, p. 13. (Back to text.)

14. Dunn 1975, p. 321. (Back to text.)

15. Martyn 2007, p. 498. (Back to text.)

16. Matera 2007, p. 205. (Back to text.)

17. Ibid., p. 18. (Back to text.)

18. Keener 2018, p. 257. (Back to text.)

19. Matera 2007, p. 29. (Back to text.)

20. Merton, quoted in Cardenal 1981, p. 7. (Back to text.)

21. Matera 2007, p. 498. (Back to text.)

22. Dante 1867, Purgatorio 1, lines 124–9. (Back to text.)

23. Matar 2020, pp. 114–15. (Back to text.)

24. ibid., p. 118. (Back to text.)

25. NRSV 1989, Isaiah 43:1. (Back to text.)

26. Hulme 2021, p. 91. (Back to text.)

27. Arthur Riley 2022, unpaginated. (Back to text.)

28. Lewis 2012. (Back to text.)

29. Sappho, quoted in Cazzato 2021, p. 147. (Back to text.)

30. hooks 2000, p. 27. (Back to text.)

31. For more information on the L’Arche communities and Nouwen, see L’Arche n.d. (Back to text.)

32. Nouwen 2012. (Back to text.)

33. Dante 1867, Paradiso 33, lines 142–5. (Back to text.)

34. Scarry 1999, p. 71, discussing NRSV 1989, John 4:6. (Back to text.)

35. Lorde, quoted in Solnit 2017, p. 17. (Back to text.)

36. Roy 2003, p. 87. (Back to text.)

List of references cited

  • Arthur Riley 2022
    Arthur Riley, Cole, This Here Flesh, London 2022
  • Cardenal 1981
    Cardenal, Ernesto, Love, New York 1981
  • Cazzato 2021
    Cazzato, V., ‘Sappho’s Poetic Language’, in The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, P. Finglass and A. Kelly, eds, Cambridge 2021, pp. 147–62
  • Dante 1867
    Dante, The Divine Comedy, tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, London 1867, accessed 2 April 2022
  • Drury 1999
    Drury, John, Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings, London 1999
  • Dunn 1975
    Dunn, James, Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament, London 1975
  • Evaristo 2021
    Evaristo, Bernardine, Feminism, London 2021
  • hooks 2000
    hooks, bell, All About Love: New Visions, New York 2000
  • Hulme 2021
    Hulme, Jay, The Backwater Sermons, Canterbury 2021
  • Keener 2018
    Keener, Craig, Galatians: A Commentary, London 2018
  • Kudielka 2019b
    Kudielka, Robert, Bridget Riley: Dialogues on Art, London 2019
  • L’Arche n.d.,
    L’Arche,‐nouwen, accessed 12 March 2022
  • Lewis 2012
    Lewis, C.S., The Four Loves, London 2012
  • Martyn 2007
    Martyn, Louis J., Galatians, London 2007
  • Matar 2020
    Matar, Hisham, A Month in Siena, London 2020
  • Matera 2007
    Matera, Frank J., Galatians, New York 2007
  • National Gallery 2021
    National Gallery, ‘The National Gallery’s Top 20 Most Viewed Paintings Online’, February 2021,‐us/press‐and‐media/press‐releases/the‐national‐gallery‐s‐top‐20‐most‐viewed‐paintings‐online, accessed 20 March 2022
  • Nouwen 2012
    Nouwen, Henri, Adam: God’s Beloved, New York 2012
  • NRSV 1989
    The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, London 1989
  • Riding 2020, ‘A Curated Look: Kindness’,‐curated‐look‐kindness, accessed 20 March 2022
  • Roy 2003
    Roy, Arundhati, War Talk, Boston 2003
  • Scarry 2001
    Scarry, Elaine, On Beauty and Being Just, Princeton 2001
  • Smith 2020
    Smith, Zadie, Intimations, London 2020
  • Solnit 2017
    Solnit, Rebecca, The Mother of All Questions, London 2017
  • Thurman 2014
    Thurman, Howard, The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life, Boston 2014

About this catalogue

This online born‐digital catalogue accompanies the National Gallery’s virtual exhibition Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart. It is downloadable for free, and any part of the catalogue can be easily accessed or printed. This format maximises the flexible ways in which these texts can be used, enjoyed and shared. Any mistakes or omissions are the editors’ own.

The exhibition has been curated by Ayla Lepine in close collaboration with Susanna Avery‐Quash. Fruits of the Spirit pairs nine paintings from the National Gallery’s collection with nine paintings from regional partner collections from across the UK. The catalogue and virtual exhibition are accompanied by a series of UK‐wide events, a Smartify audioguide and, from November 2022 until April 2023, an in‐person tour through the National Gallery’s collection.

The catalogue has been co‐edited by Ayla Lepine and Susanna Avery‐Quash, with assistance from Isobel Muir as part of her Student Development activity supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The catalogue’s structure places the nine themes of the Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity and self‐control – in dialogue with the exhibition’s 18 paintings. Each theme features short essays by a National Gallery curator, a UK partnership museum curator, and an individual or group connected with the regional partner. These community voices provide an exciting and dynamic layer within the project and the catalogue structure. Community contributors include art therapists, artists, refugees, people from Quaker, Jewish and Methodist backgrounds, children, and climate change activists.

Additionally, the London‐based Jewish poet Aviva Dautch was commissioned to write a poem responding to the Fruits of the Spirit themes. Dautch is also a participant in the National Gallery’s new Interfaith Sacred Art Forum, which has been focusing on the theme ‘Crossing Borders’. She selected the Fruit of the Spirit’s theme of Faithfulness in relation to Orazio Gentileschi’s The Finding of Moses. Her words connect this painting to the importance of women in scripture and the significance of Artemisia Gentileschi (Orazio’s daughter) as an artist with her own story to tell. Dautch’s poem also makes a profound connection with the Foundling Museum’s contributions to the Faithfulness theme and the biblical account of Moses’ birth. Dautch’s work speaks of faith in uncertain times, the enduring strength of women in painful circ*mstances, and the enduring qualities of faith, hope and love in every person’s life.

About the author

Ayla Lepine

Revd Dr Ayla Lepine was Ahmanson Fellow in Art and Religion at the National Gallery (2021–2) and is now Associate Rector at St James’s Piccadilly in London. Following her PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, she held fellowships at the Courtauld and Yale, and was Lecturer and Fellow in Art History at the University of Essex. Her publications include co‐edited books on monastic architecture and modern visual culture, as well as articles on art and theology in Architectural History, the Sculpture Journal and British Art Studies. She is a trustee of the UK charity Art and Christianity, a contributor to the Visual Commentary on Scripture and a member of the Visual Arts Committee at St Paul’s Cathedral.

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