Ex nihilo

Frederick Hart is most famous for Ex Nihilo,
a part of his Creation Sculptures at the Washington National Cathedral.


In 1971, the Washington National Cathedral Building Committee held a competition to determine the appearance of the west façade, the main entrance of the Cathedral. In the past, the west façade of a Christian cathedral typically featured a depiction of the Last Judgment; however, the Cathedral Building Committee wanted Washington National Cathedral to be the exception. Instead of the traditional image of judgment and destruction, they wanted to emphasize a message of love and affirmation, and so they specifically asked artists to focus on the theme of Creation.

Guided by the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the idea of a dynamic universe, whirling into existence, Hart developed a revolutionary, unifying vision for the entire west façade. To the committee’s approval, he submitted new models for the central tympanum, for the left and right tympana, and for the figures on the trumeaux below them.

The final, full-size version of Ex Nihilo spans 21 feet, and stands two stories high. “The spiraling forms that recur throughout Hart’s Ex Nihilo suggest the spirals that are found in nature — in sunflower heads, nautiluses, hurricanes, and galaxies.” Hart intended the title as a double reference to Aristotle (“out of nothing nothing can be made“) and the Bible (“everything is made out of nothing”).

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