Imaging Protestant Piety: The Icons of Warner Sallman

Morgan, David. “Imaging Protestant Piety: The Icons of Warner Sallman.” Religion and American Culture 3(1):29-47, Winter 1993.

Based on the assumption that images shape the self-understanding of those who use them by providing a visual presence into the structures of their public and private worlds, “Imaging Protestant Piety: The Icons of Warner Sallman” looks at the Protestant reception of Warner Sallman’s art and the reasons behind its popularity worldwide. Author David Morgan gives two reasons for the popularity of Sallman’s art: (1) not only have his works—especially his Head of Christ (1941)—taken on the sense of devotional images after the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox pattern, they also have become “Protestant icons” in their ability to visualize the world of social relations and public faith; and (2) they share with the Protestant public a “visual literacy” that combines the ubiquity of mechanically-produced images with the Bible in ways that “textualize the sacred image and therefore make it acceptable to the Protestant community.” Morgan believes Sallman’s pictures should be approached as “social documents” which shed light on the social and cultural history of American Protestantism.