|Mr. John Brogan and his wife (on wheelchair), with Father Mark Haydu, LC and Natalia Tsarkova.|
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2007 (Zenit.org).- It happens only
once during a pontificate. Benedict XVI received his official portrait
today from renowned Russian painter Natalia Tsarkova.
The unveiling took place
during a private meeting in Paul VI Hall after the
weekly general audience.
Tsarkova is the first woman to be an
official Vatican portrait painter. Pope John Paul II was the
subject of her first official papal work. She painted him
during the Jubilee Year 2000 and that portrait now hangs
in the Vatican Museums.
Speaking to ZENIT after her meeting with
Benedict XVI, Tsarkova said the Pontiff thanked her for her
work and said he was very happy with the outcome.
The Holy Father told her he is familiar with her
painting and admires her past portraits of John Paul II
and various cardinals.
The private audience, which was supposed to last
five minutes, lasted for 20, as Tsarkova explained the "secrets"
in the painting -- specifically the angels that adorn the
papal throne, which, she said, "come to life."
Tsarkova said the
angels seemed to be the Pope´s favorite aspect of the
portrait, noting that in his recent discourse on the role
of bishops, he compared their work to that of the
angels, God´s messengers.
Tsarkova said she wanted the painting to be
symbolic. "The Holy Father," she said, "is seated on a
throne and surrounded by angels and is symbolically resting upon
them, a sign of the support they give him in
"In his hand, the Pope is holding a book
of his discourses as a sign of his dialogue with
the modern world," the artist continued. "This is a sign
of peace because it is through dialogue that we can
Tsarkova said the concept for the portrait began as
soon as Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, when she
began going to liturgical celebrations in the Vatican to observe
him and get inspiration.
"I had met him as a cardinal
and known him through his many writings but I had
to know him as Pope," she said.
The painting was
financed by the Vatican´s Patrons of the Arts in the
Legionary of Christ Father Mark Haydu, international director
of the patrons office, told ZENIT how Tsarkova received the
commission: "The then ´sostituto´ of the Secretary of State, recently
elevated Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, now prefect of the Congregation for
Eastern Churches, had the idea of Natalia doing a portrait
of the Holy Father. He then shared the idea with
several friends who were Patrons of the Arts. From there
she began to work to create this wonderful portrait."
said patrons were not hard to find for such a
work: "Under my predecessor, Dominican Father Allen Duston, the office
helped find sponsors for the Tzarkova portrait. [...] Mr. John
Brogan, a longtime patron of the arts, helped make this
portrait a reality, along with our chapter in the United
According to Father Haydu, the fact that a Russian Orthodox
woman painted a portrait of a German Pope is symbolic:
"I find it eloquent that, two individuals whose peoples were
divided in the recent past, Germany and Russia, that is,
are providentially united in this artistic endeavor."
"As we know," he
continued, "Benedict XVI has made Christian unity one of the
hallmarks of his pontificate, and this painting is just one
more providential gesture of the coming together of the Orthodox
and Catholic faiths."