Catholica The Visual Culture of Catholicism

Suzanna Ivanic

This richly illustrated book provides the visual keys for any art lover to decode and understand the iconography, tenets, sites, and rituals of the Catholic faith through accessible analysis of its visual and material culture.

Focusing on a carefully curated selection of Catholic art and artifacts, this volume explores the influence of iconography and the mystic power of a range of ritual objects. Expert Suzanna Ivanic identifies hidden visual symbols in paintings and examines them close-up, building a catalog of key symbols for readers to use to interpret Catholic art and culture.

Catholica is organized into three sections—”Tenet,” “Locus,” and “Spiritus”—each with three themed subdivisions. Part one introduces the centerpieces of the faith, surveying symbolism in the artistic representation of the holy family, apostles, and saints in stories from scripture. The second part examines places of worship, identifying the essential elements of the cathedral and presenting evocative images of roadside shrines. The third part explores celebrations and traditions, in addition to personal devotional tools and jewelry.

For each of the nine central themes of the faith, introductory text is followed by pages that look in-depth at paintings and artifacts, identifying and explaining the symbolism and stories depicted. As the book progresses, readers build up their knowledge of the entire Catholic visual code—the symbols that define Catholic practice, the attributes of the saints, the parts of the cathedral—allowing them to interpret all Catholic imagery and objects wherever they find them and consequently to better understand the tenets, sites, and rituals of this faith.


A succinct primer with good design… A solid introduction to the various ways that Christian, and specifically Catholic, ideas are intertwined with much European art history and material culture… After exploring this book's thorough yet accessible analysis, readers will be empowered to recognize saints and episodes from the Bible without needing to rely on the wall text.

— Hyperallergic (One of Hyperallergic's Best Art Books of 2022)


Suzanna Ivanic


Suzanna Ivanic is a lecturer in early modern European history at the University of Kent. Her research focuses on religion, material and visual culture, and travel in Central Europe.