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Turn to Jesus (Article)

“The Child Is the Father of the Man”
Christian art historian tells students about how talent develops over time, and is informed by the Catholic faith

Torment of St Anthony
"The Torment of St. Anthony," painted by Michelangelo at age 12.

Clarkston, Michigan, Feb. 25, 2011 – The high school students looked at the image of the artistic masterpiece on the screen, and then breathed a gasp of surprise as the speaker said the next words.

“He painted this at the age of 12,” said Dr. Eric Hansen, an expert in the history of Christian art. 

He was discussing the painting “The torment of St. Anthony,” one of the earliest known works of Michelangelo.   The image shows a series of demons “attacking” St. Anthony of the Desert, who is considered the patriarch of the monastic life.  The demons are shown trying to lift the saint out of the desert and bring him back to the daily temptations of the “world.” 

He asked the students to look at the serenity on the face of the saint, as opposed to the chaos of
Di Vinci’s mysterious painting of John the Baptist pointing to the cross
Di Vinci’s mysterious painting of John the Baptist pointing to the cross
the demons attacking him.  He then asked them, especially the young men, to consider all the “temptations” they themselves go through at this time in their lives, and to reflect on how a boy of 12 could create such a work of art. 

Sponsored by the Papal Foundation

Hansen, who has an MA and PhD in European religious, cultural and intellectual history from University of California, Santa Barbara, spoke to Everest Collegiate High School students on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011.  He has taught at several educational institutions and written several books, his latest being a history of a group he assists with, the Papal Foundation

The foundation raises funds to support the Holy See and “strengthen the Holy Father’s ability to fulfill the mission of St. Peter.”

“The Papal Foundation connects with the mission and outreach of the vicar
Raphael’s masterpiece “The Transfiguration”
Raphael’s masterpiece “The Transfiguration”
of Christ,” said Papal Foundation director Jim Coffey, who introduced Hansen during his visit to Everest.  The Pennsylvania-based foundation was started under Pope John Paul II and continued under Pope Benedict XVI.  The foundation sponsors the work of Dr. Hansen.

Development of Art and Faith

“My task in semi-retirement is to tell how religious art can change us and the artist who creates it,” Hansen explained.

Hansen showed the Everest students a slide show of various works of art by artists such as Di Vinci, Raphael, El Greco, Caravaggio, Picasso, Rembrandt and Michelangelo.  He discussed how all these artists showed great talent as young people, and how they developed their art into masterpieces as they matured.

“The child is the ‘father’ of the man,” said Dr. Hansen, who told the students a story about his own history to encourage
Michelangelo’s Crucifixion of St. Peter.  He painted this painting in the Pauline Chapel in Rome in response to a request by Pope Paul III, though Michelangelo was actually asked to paint St. Peter receiving the “keys” from Christ.
them to consider their own talents as gifts, and how these might impact their future.

“I found a journal from when I was a senior in high school,” he said.  “All the things I’ve become, that I like about myself, I found in there.”  He remembers reading his own reflections on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

“This influenced the pro-life person I have become,” he said, discussing how he now counsels at a Catholic crisis pregnancy center. 

Christian Art Can Enhance Faith

Hansen has found such growth in the artists he studies.  He showed the students how artists begin early in life using a literal interpretation of the world, and then develop by putting much more into their work than “meets the eye.”  

Hansen said that such art can change lives and help those who see the works with the eyes of faith to grow spiritually. “Catholics and Christians who are informed in their faith can glean much from Christian art,” he said.

“When we as Catholics look at these works we bring our Catholic identity,” he said.  “We bring the spirit of our faith to help us understand.”

Hansen encouraged the Everest students to take advantage of the great gift they have in the Detroit Institute of Art.  “You are very blessed to have one of the top 5 art museums in the United States,” he said.



Related links

Altius Foundation
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School
Sacred Heart Apostolic School
Sacred Heart Apostolic School
Anáhuac Network of Universities
Canyon Heights Academy
Clear Water Academy
Dublin Oak Academy

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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.

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