Agents of Faith: Material, Place, Memory is the first, large-scale exhibition on the topic of votive offerings.

The practice of votive giving refers to the depositing of a material thing to communicate with a universal spirit or divinity. Almost anything, regardless of size, weight, form, or original function, can become a votive object once it is offered with intent: as a plea or wish, as a fulfillment of a vow or pledge, or as gratitude for a favor granted. Agents of Faith brings together more than 300 votives, from exquisite works of art to objects of humble origin and material, to investigate objects and practices, in both religious and secular contexts, in a range of cultures worldwide and across time, from antiquity to the present, from the Himalayas to Brazil.

Featured works include more than one hundred votive objects that are unique to the folklore of Roman Catholic Europe from the Kriss Collection of the Bavarian National Museum in Munich; a rare ancient anatomical votive from the Louvre; and one of the earliest dated votive panel paintings from the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris. Powerful works of sub-Saharan and West African origin include a Congolese Nkisi figure from the Brooklyn Museum. Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto cultures will be represented by terracotta stamps, stupa models, and Buddha figures, many on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Contemporary religious and secular objects will include rare votive paintings made by Mexican migrant workers from the Durand-Arias Collection; Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree”; and objects left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, such as army-issue woolen gloves, food rations, and the rotor blade of a Bell 212 helicopter.

A richly illustrated catalogue edited by Ittai Weinryb and published by Bard Graduate Center Gallery and Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition. Essays will explore a wide spectrum of themes, time periods, and cultures. In addition to Weinryb, authors include Sheila Blair, Suzanne Preston Blier, Jaś Elsner, Diana Fane, John Guy, Fredrika Jacobs, Mitchell Merback, David Morgan, Verity Platt, Mechtild Widrich, and Christopher S. Wood.


Agents of Faith is curated by Ittai Weinryb, Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center, with Marianne Lamonaca, Chief Curator, and Caroline Hannah, Associate Curator, Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Organized by Bard Graduate Center Gallery.

Dr. Weinryb is a recognized scholar of the art and material culture of Western Europe and the Mediterranean, drawing on the methodologies of image and object theory, history of technology, anthropology, magic and religion as well as folklore throughout the Middle Ages. This exhibition stems from his research on the topic of “ex voto”, which in addition to this exhibition generated an edited collection of essays entitled “Ex Voto: Votive Giving Across Cultures” (2016).