A puff-cheeked baby Jesus, an upside-down apostle, a sub-Santa God … our writer revels in Wonder Beyond Belief, a new book celebrating the glorious weirdness of revered Christian art
There is a particularly ugly nutwood carving of the infant Jesus dating from 1320. The nose is wider than it is long and the lower lip is pulled up, emphasising a ball-shaped chin and unpleasantly globular cheeks. Only a mother could believe this cherub beautiful, says Navid Kermani, who also takes issue with the three discoloured fingers Jesus is holding up, supposedly in blessing. “At first glance,” says Kermani, “he seems about to stick his bent brown fingers down your throat.”
Kermani, a German Muslim writer of Iranian Shia ancestry, has included this exhibit, which sits in Berlin's Bode Museum, in his new book, Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity. A toxic little volume could have been written in which a Muslim writer visited European museums seeking out absurd Christian artworks for 40 or so vignettes. And then his publisher could have got the resulting lavish picture book out in time to cash in on the Christmas market. That is not what Wonder Beyond Belief is, though.