William Hogarth is not the first artist I'd think of painting a religious painting. I associate him almost exclusively with "The Rake's Progress" and "Marriage ala Mode" not to mention "Gin Lane". But he did paint several Biblical scenes, including "The Pool of Bethesda" and "The Good Samaritan". His one commission for a Church of England parish was painting for the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. In 1755-1756 he created triptych of large panels (22 by 19 feet in the center; 13 by 12 feet on the two sides) depicting the Sealing of the Tomb, The Ascension (or Resurrection) and the Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus.
Hogarth's triptych was too big for the church! and the side panels had to be displayed at right angles to the center painting, pictured above (available through this license). During Queen Victoria's reign the "The Sealing of the Tomb" was considered inappropriate for a parish church and the St. Mary's wanted to sell the painting but ended up giving it to a museum in Bristol. It was too big for display there too and for a time the paintings were all rolled up in storage. Finally they found a home in another church building, St. Nicholas in Bristol, which had been closed as a parish church after damage in WWII and re-purposed in the 1950's as a museum of religious art and history.
According to the museum website, the painting is in storage again, but here is hope: the Church of England is going to reopen St. Nicholas as a parish church later this year and the paintings will be placed back in the church. Here's a presentation from the Tate about the painting and Hogarth's efforts to be known as a great historical scene and religious painter. The presenter, Michael Liversidge, apologizes because the sun in shining in Bristol that day in October--an unusual event--and the slides are hard to see in the glare (no curtains or shades to close?)!
Thanks for the inspiration for this post go to a facebook friend's post.
Remember that this painting was commissioned and executed in the eighteenth century, which England was still officially Protestant and anti-Catholic and the Church of England officially opposed to religious imagery.