Art as you've never seen it: New film highlights Pope Francis' vision

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Museums

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — What do the Sistine Chapel, a used car with 186,000
miles on the odometer and a statue of Our Lady of Lujan
made out of metal from an abandoned factory have in common?

Besides being found in the Vatican Museums’ collections,
the 1984 Renault, the Renaissance frescoes and the recycled scrap all help
showcase Pope Francis’ concept of art, according to museum officials.

Blessed Paul VI’s close relationship and active outreach
to artists is well-known, as is St. John Paul II’s love of theater and poetry
and retired Pope Benedict XVI’s passion for music.

But not many people know about Pope Francis’ love of
film, literature, music and the role he believes art can play in evangelization,
social change and spiritual transformation. A new documentary produced by
the Vatican Museums and Vatican City State aims to fill that void.

Titled “My Idea of Art,” the 45-minute film is
based on the book of the same name, authored by Pope Francis after Italian
journalist Tiziana Lupi transcribed it from a sit-down interview with the pope
in May 2015.

While the book is available only in Italian, the documentary film
aims for a global audience, with subtitles in six languages and yet-to-be-announced
theatrical releases worldwide. The Vatican also approved plans to submit the
film for the Academy Awards’ consideration for 2018.

Like the book, the film presents “the ideal art gallery”
of Pope Francis, offering stunning visuals of selected masterpieces in the
Vatican’s collections to colorfully illustrate the pope’s vision for art.

Using high-resolution 4K cinematography and
state-of-the-art drones, filmmakers provide panoramic bird’s-eye views of St.
Peter’s Square, the basilica and Vatican Gardens, and close-up details of
hard-to-see pieces like the hieroglyphics on the 85-foot tall Egyptian obelisk
in St. Peter’s Square and the Sistine Chapel’s frescoed ceiling.

The images are layered with insight from Lupi,
explanations of the artwork by Sandro Barbagallo, curator of historical
collections at the Vatican Museums, and snippets of Pope Francis speaking about
the culture of waste and how art and evangelization exalt the beauty of God’s
creation and seek to recover what others have thrown away.

For example, one of the 11 works chosen as exemplifying Pope
Francis’ “gospel of art” is the “Belvedere Torso,” from around
the time when Christ lived. The contorted and damaged marble figure is missing
arms, head and lower legs, which prompted Pope Julius II to ask Michelangelo to
fix it.

But Michelangelo was so taken by its beauty, he dared not
touch it, making it, instead, his model for the Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel,
Barbagallo said in the film’s narration. Many other artists saw beauty in this
nude’s brokenness, too, and Auguste Rodin’s “‘The Thinker’ was inspired by
this rejected piece of marble,” the curator said.

“The artist is a witness of the invisible,”
Pope Francis says in the film’s narration, “and works of art are the
clearest proof that the incarnation is possible.” Which is why, the pope
says, artists can counteract today’s throwaway culture and evangelize, because
art reveals “what cannot be seen; for some it’s an illusion. Instead it is
hope which we all can believe in.”

“Pope Francis thinks like an artist, without a doubt,”
Argentine sculptor Alejandro Marmo told Catholic News Service at the
documentary’s debut at the Vatican Museums in late June.

The same way artists find beauty in and shape the materials
right there before them, Pope Francis welcomes and gives form or direction to the
malleable heart in his midst, he said. It’s a hands-on, artist’s approach in
offering pastoral care, he said.

“He combines intelligence, humility, human labor and
his closeness to people who have no power. For me, this is the way to create
real beauty,” said Marmo, who got to know the pope when he was archbishop
of Buenos Aires.

Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Marmo — at the time a troubled
and disgruntled young man — found they were both alarmed by the culture of
waste and hopelessness in their city, which was facing severe economic and
social crises, Marmo has said.

Marmo approached other church leaders with a desire to
use art as a way to have a positive impact on people and society, but Cardinal
Bergoglio “was the first bishop who listened” to his angry and
“abstract” rantings, Marmo told CNS.

While church leaders are usually very well-educated and
cultured, “to speak with an artist, listen to his ideas is difficult, and
I believe that this was what was so important for me, because he opened up the
spiritual world for me,” Marmo said. He said the cardinal showed him that Jesus
— broken and discarded — was present in the real world, “in the

The pope took Marmo, also a son of immigrants, to the
outskirts where art usually has no place, and told him to create a “bridge”
and dialogue with the people there. Marmo soon began the kind of initiatives he
still runs today, involving young people discarded by society to sort through and
use materials thrown away by the economy and then to breathe new life into

After the cardinal was elected pope, he and Marmo kept in
touch, with Marmo creating a crucified “Christ the Worker” and
“Our Lady of Lujan” for the pope. Now in the Vatican Gardens, the two
pieces were built with scrap metal culled from junk piles at the papal summer villa
and farm in Castel Gandolfo.

“My testimony is a young man who once spoke with his
bishop, he listened to him and he healed him of a disease called sadness, of
being absent in life, of missing a spiritual life,” Marmo said.

“I believe this is the art of a bishop. Because a
bishop’s art can’t be seen in an office. You see it out there,” he said,
pointing to the peripheries.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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