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Published initially as a suite of four, but actually containing six works, Damien Hirst’s 2007 Cathedral series takes inspiration from the stained-glass of the famous cathedrals they are named after. They recall Hirst’s famous Kaleidoscope paintings in their composition of butterflies into intricate, prismatic mandalas.

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Meaning & Analysis

Published as a set of four prints in editions of 50, the Cathedral series by Damien Hirst shows some of the artist’s most iconic imagery. Titled after famous cathedrals around the world, the prints in the Cathedral series show intricate patterns inspired by religious iconography in cathedrals made up of many various butterfly wings.

The prints in the Cathedral series directly reference stained-glass windows in their complex, geometric patterns and are reminiscent of Hirst’s famous ‘Kaleidoscope paintings’ that can be located throughout his career, the first from 2001 titled It’s A Wonderful World. The Cathedral series can most obviously be compared to Hirst’s Superstition series (2006), a series of kaleidoscopic paintings that take their form as pointed arch shaped canvas, mimicking the windows in a cathedral. In their beauty and precision, obscuring the wings of butterflies into an abstract pattern, the Cathedral series synthesises Hirst’s fascination with the intersection between religion, aesthetics and science that govern humanity.

The kaleidoscopic patterns that make up the Cathedral set are instantly recognisable as Hirst’s and are some of his most complex. Unlike many of his kaleidoscopic works where the palette is restrained and tonal, this series uses contrasting colours and, in some instances, retains the wholeness of the butterfly as a motif. The complex patterns are rhythmic and eye catching, producing a spiritual and kinetic energy in their colour and form.

10 Facts About Damien Hirst's Cathedral

Cathedral, St Peter by Damien Hirst

Cathedral, St Peter © Damien Hirst 2007

1. The Cathedral kaleidoscopes are formed of butterfly wings.

In this series, Hirst's elaborate kaleidoscopic works are formed entirely of butterfly wings. The body of the butterflies have been omitted to draw sole attention to the delicate beauty of their wings, and form a clearcut abstract pattern. At the centre of each of the prints is a whole butterfly, from which the kaleidoscope seems to expand.

She Walks In Beauty by Damien Hirst

She Walks In Beauty © Damien Hirst 2014

2. The series speaks to Hirst's fascination with butterflies.

Butterflies have been a recurring theme throughout Hirst's artistic career. From his use of live, hatching butterflies in installations, to his repeated printing of their unique wings, Hirst foregrounded the butterfly as one of the central motifs in his oeuvre. Hirst himself expressed: "I love butterflies because when they are dead, they look alive."

Cathedral, Duomo by Damien Hirst

Cathedral, Duomo © Damien Hirst 2007

3. The prints in the series are titled after famous cathedrals around the world.

Each print in Hirst's dizzying Cathedrals series takes its title from a famous cathedral around the world. In their symmetrical compositions, the works call to mind the stained-glass and the ornate domes that characterise the architecture of cathedrals.

The Explosion Exalted by Damien Hirst

Image © Gagosian / The Explosion Exalted © Damien Hirst 2006