Can the Church and art go back to nourishing each other? Timothy Verdon says yes. And the first talented fruits show it.
by Sandro Magister
ROMA - The Christ in the photo above is more a risen Christ upon the cross than one who is crucified. The artist who created it is Giuliano Vangi; it hangs over the altar at Padua´s cathedral; Timothy Verdon dedicates a few pages to it in the final chapter of his latest book: "Seeing the Mystery. The Artistic Genius of the Catholic Liturgy."Those pages are the ones that contain his latest ideas. The preceding pages -- while masterful - echo ideas in an earlier book by Verdon, "Sacred Art in Italy," a splendid elucidation of 20 centuries of Christian art seen in relationship to its original place in churches, liturgies, in the Christian people celebrating the mysteries of faith.It was precisely the drying up of this vein of liturgical art, beginning in the 19th century, that gave rise to the fear that there would no longer be anything able to give life to miracles like the Ravenna´s mosaics or the architectural designs of a Bernini.Sacred art became arid at the same pace as the loss of its language on the part of the Church. The Church no longer knew how to be a commissioner of art; it no longer knew how to stimulate in artists a creativity at the level of the celebrated mysteries.But Verdon - an American art historian who studied at Yale and then moved to Florence, where he is a priest and directs the diocesan office for catechesis through art - explains that this is not the case. Just as the Council of Trent needed two generations to give form to a language expressive of its ideals - the triumphant Baroque of Rubens and Bernini - so also the Second Vatican Council can produce fruit in the field of art. And Giuliano Vangi´s Christ in the cathedral of Padua is one of these fruits. In silver and nickel, gold and bronze, it shines to the faithful like "the lightening flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other," because "so will the Son of Man be in his day" (Luke 17:24). It´s a futuristic, almost technological Christ. His cross, spread like crystal, is six meters high and ranges from dark blue at the base - the night of fallen man - to sapphire and lucid white at the top - the burning of the light in which the Father dwells.Jesus doesn´t even seem nailed to the cross. Rather he rests on it, with his arms wide open not in supplication but in the redemptive embrace of all humanity: "When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). His eyes look at you with the intimate profundity of a personal relationship.He is the Living One above an altar that seems to be the burial stone rolled away by the angels. Upon this altar the faithful see Mass celebrated. But the artist pulls the blindfold from their eyes and shows the ultimate meaning of Christian celebration, the day of the Lord, from the cross to the Resurrection to the second coming.
The book:Timothy Verdon, "Vedere il mistero. Il genio artistico della liturgia cattolica", Mondadori, Milano, 2003, pagine 152, euro 23,00.