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A New Springtime for Sacred Art
U. S. A. | APOSTOLATE | NEWS
More news on the EWTN series on Catholic art sponsored by the Primavera Fine Art Foundation and Vatican Museums’ Patrons of the Arts.

Regnum Christi members Earnest and Barbara Bentley created the Primavera Foundation to spark a renaissance in art and to support vocations.
Regnum Christi members Earnest and Barbara Bentley created the Primavera Foundation to spark a renaissance in art and to support vocations.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. November 21, 2008. An article posted in The Bulletin, “Philadelphia’s Family Newspaper” tells the story of the EWTN “Catholic Canvas” series on art and architecture in the Vatican museums. The series was co-sponsored by the Primavera Fine Art Foundation and the Vatican Museums´ Patrons of the Arts. Article reprinted with permission.

Sacred Art Tells Of Salvation History

By Mary B. Worthington of The Bulletin
11/05/2008

The first episode in a 10-part series on sacred art and architecture in the Vatican museums will air tonight on Eternal Word Television Network.

Sponsored in part by the Primavera Fine Art Foundation of Norcross, Ga., and the Vatican Museums´ Patrons of the Arts, Catholic Canvas will examine salvation history through the lens of the sacred art gracing the Vatican museums.

Producer Mary Shovlain explained the purpose of the series is to look beyond the erroneous interpretations she has frequently seen of the Catholic Church´s sacred art.

"I would often see programs done on sacred art and especially the Sistine Chapel that were more focused on offering erroneous interpretations of the artists´ intention in representing sacred events in salvation history, often bending the message to suit their needs or even using the art as a way to lead to criticisms about the Catholic Church or the Vatican, popes, etcetera," Ms. Shovlain said.

"We wanted to leave all that behind us and focus on what Michelangelo was trying to tell us in his frescoes or the message that Raphael was hoping to convey about Christ or Mary or the angels... They were evangelizing through art, trying to ´incarnate´ eternal mysteries."

Ms. Shovlain selected professor of Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University´s Italy campus Elizabeth Lev to host the series. Prof. Lev has been studying art and architecture for 25 years, earning degrees from Universities of Chicago and Bologna; however, her appreciation for sacred art was late in blooming.

"After years of only the most secular art history, I started to study the meaning behind the images," Prof. Lev said. "Every time I thought about Christian art in Christian terms it seemed even richer in its design, composition and iconography. Slowly, I began to realize that it was Christian truth that made the work beautiful, and this realization altered my entire approach to art.

"For 25 years I have been studying art and in the last 10 only did I really see it," Prof. Lev said. "I have taken thousands of people through the Vatican Museums and each time I reunite the art and the faith, I have seen their eyes open to appreciate the works in a lasting way."

Because in its entirety it tells the story of salvation history, Prof. Lev´s favorite piece in the Vatican collections is Michelangelo´s Sistine Chapel.

"Besides having all of salvation history depicted in a single room, Michelangelo´s astonishing painting on the ceiling and altar wall, the opportunity to spend hours meditating on the works without the chaos of tourist traffic was something I never dreamed I would experience," she said. "It is wonderful that viewers will able to share in this contemplative side of the Sistine Chapel in Catholic Canvas."

Other works featured in the series were done by such great artists as Pinturicchio, Raphael, Conca and Daddi.

With no particular audience in mind, Ms. Shovlain hopes that "anyone who watches these programs will have a renewed appreciated for sacred art. Not only are we seeing the masterpieces, we are being taught the entire time by Prof. Lev, who offers us the history of each piece, information about the artist and unpacks the fullness of the Catholic message found within."

"Sacred art has never gone out of style and there is a reason for that; it appeals to people of all ages, race and creeds," she said. "Sacred art lifts our minds and hearts to God and in a world with so much noise and distraction they are a silent and profound witness of God´s love story with humanity and how he has shown that time and time again in salvation history."

Rev. Mark Haydu, L.C., international director of the Patrons further explained how exposure to sacred art speaks to the heart of the American audience.

"In the U.S., as is increasingly the case in the rest of the world, the image is taken as the truth of a product," he said. "It is more important for a product to appear attractive, than actually be a good product. This is a ´sign of our times,´ and in spite of its down side, it can also be seen as an opportunity. Sacred art taps into that opportunity and gives a beautiful ´face´ to the profound substance of our faith. Sacred art not only appears beautiful, but it points you to the substance that is beautiful as well. This is what makes it so profound and uplifting.

"Contemplating sacred art not only delights the eyes, but also feeds the heart," he said. "Pope Benedict said recently in a talk with a group of priests this summer while on vacation in northern Italy ´Likewise, if we contemplate the beauties created by faith, they are simply, I would say, the living proof of faith. If I look at this beautiful cathedral - it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us itself, and on the basis of the cathedral´s beauty, we succeed in visibly proclaiming God, Christ and all his mysteries: Here they have acquired a form and look at us.´ "

Ms. Shovlain further explained how sacred art is meant to reflect the beauty of God´s goodness and creation, as well as to explain in a creative way the mysteries of the Christian faith.

"When you walk through the halls of the Vatican Museums, you are struck at the vastness of the spiritual patrimony that, yes, belongs to the whole world, but in a special way is ours to claim as Catholics," she said. "Today, more than ever, we need beauty. Many of the frescoes and paintings we filmed were created some 500 years ago, and yet they still cry out to us with God´s message in a powerful way; they are still wonderful means of evangelizing a frantic world lost in relativism."

That evangelization is part of the mission of the Primavera Fine Art Foundation, a co-sponsor of the series. The foundation is creating "a renaissance of fine art in the Church and society through the commissioning of original works of theological art," explains the organization´s web site.

"Primavera Fine Art Foundation is committed to creating a renaissance of fine theological art in the Church," chairman and co-founder Earnest Bentley said. "As our art adviser has said, ´Every great work of art is a window between time and eternity. When we learn to contemplate art or come in contact with it, we actually come in contact with God, a little piece of His glory.´

"For this reason, the foundation´s bringing the treasures of the Vatican Museums into the viewers´ living room is both a privilege and an opportunity to share with EWTN in this work for the Church."

The show will air on EWTN at 6:30 p.m., Thursdays and re-air at 11 p.m., the following Tuesday for the next 10 weeks. The first show will air tonight. EWTN is Verizon FiOS channel 285; for Comcast Cable channel number, please visit www.comcast.com or call 1-800-COMCAST.

Mary B. Worthington can be reached at mworthington@thebulletin.us.

***

To read another article about the Catholic Canvas art program, click here.


PUBLICATION DATE: 2008-11-21


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