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Religious experiences are deeply personal, yet throughout history, people who have had spiritual or mystical encounters have attempted to convey what they saw—and artists have disseminated the details in word and image. Without direct evidence, such as a shared vision, or physical proof, such as Juan Diego offering roses from Guadalupe, oral and visual accounts must find ways to communicate the essential religious experience. So whether trying to persuade skeptics or to show believers the miraculous, how can we capture metaphysical essence in physical form? How can painters, actors, and directors portray religious revelation—or the agony of the lone witness? As The Getty presents Things Unseen: Vision, Belief, and Experience in Illuminated Manuscripts, Lisa Bitel, University of Southern California medieval historian and author of Our Lady of the Rock, Leonard Norman Primiano, religious studies scholar at Cabrini University, and Michael Tolkin, writer and director of The Rapture, explore how humans depict the supernatural.
*Image: “Jacob’s Dream” from World Chronicle, c. 1400-1410, unknown artist. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.