Sacred art is imagery intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual. It can be an object to be venerated not for what it is but for what it represents; Roman Catholics are taught that such venerated objects are more properly called sacramentals. Some Christians are still taught to regard all non-Christian cult images as "idols" (see idolatry) that are worshiped in and of themselves, and do not consider them as "sacred art". The use of art in religion is essential, as it symbolizes understanding and feelings that words simply can't describe.
Sacred art was common in the European Middle Ages, but many of the greatest masters commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church lived during the Renaissance. It was during this time that Michelangelo Buonarotti painted the Sistine Chapel and carved the Pietà, Gianlorenzo Bernini created the massive columns in St. Peter's Basilica, and Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper.
Most Christian art is allusive, or built around themes familiar to the intended observer. One of the most common Christian themes is that of a woman (the Virgin Mary) holding a child (the infant Jesus). Another is that of Jesus on the cross. For the benefit of the illiterate, an elaborate iconographic system developed to conclusively identify scenes: Saint Agnes depicted with a lamb, Saint Peter with keys, Saint Patrick with a shamrock.
The genre of sacred art has lost much of its vigor since the Renaissance, but the themes are still popular, a 20th century example being Salvador Dalí's Crucifixion ''. After the Second World War some fine work was presented by major French artists following the impuls of Father Marie-Alain Couturier: the Vence Chapel, the Église Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d'Assy, the Église du Sacré Cœur d'Audincourt see: Jean René Bazaine.
Most Tibetan Buddhist artforms are related to the practice of Vajrayana or Buddhist tantra. Tibetan art includes thangkas and mandalas, often including depictions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Creation of Buddhist art is usually done as a meditation as well as creating an object as aid to meditation. An example of this is the creation of a sand mandala by monks; before and after the construction prayers are recited, and the form of the mandala represents the pure surroundings (palace) of a Buddha on which is meditated to train the mind. The work is rarely, if ever, signed by the artist. Other Tibetan Buddhist art includes metal ritual objects, such as the vajra and the phurba.
Because of the strict injunctions against such depictions of humans or animals which might result in idol-worship, Islamic art developed a unique character, utilizing a number of primary forms: geometric, arabesque, floral, and calligraphic, which are often interwoven. From early times, Muslim art has reflected this balanced, harmonious world-view. It focuses on spiritual essence rather than physical form. It offers no pictures of saints or illustrations of stories from the Qur'an, but rather expresses fundamental concepts such as the infinite nature of God through repetitive geometric designs without beginning or end.