Holy Pictures at an Exhibition

In Rome, an exhibition of art from all over the world showcases the national patrons of the European nations. It is an artistic tribute to a reality Pope Benedict has made a leitmotif of his pontificate: the Christian roots of Europe, to which she must return. Here, that historical reality — those roots —  find themselves incarnated in masterpieces by Van Eyck, Memling, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Veronese, Van Dyck, Murillo, Tiepolo, and others.

This is not “art for art’s sake” — to use the damnable expression Latinized in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s slogan, ars gratia artis. This is art… for God’s sake.

Sandro Magister has written up the exhibition, which was the brainchild of a country priest in the Italian Alps, Father Alessio Geretti. For this pastor, the collection does not merely represent where Europe has been in its history; nor is it only a reproach and a message to a modern Europe disdainful of religion. It is those things, but it also addresses a message to the Church:

“A Church” – Fr. Geretti further writes in the exquisite catalog published by Skira – “whose postconciliar renewal has been characterized by a poorly concealed iconoclasm, which has emptied churches, catechesis, preaching, and a few calendar dates of those references to the saints and of those sacred images which for centuries had nourished the Christian people’s experience of faith.”

(It so happens that I will be in Rome at the time this exhibition is being shown. To see the 1585 “Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page” by El Greco — that will be glorious indeed!)

One nice feature of Magister’s article is the long list (it is most of the piece) of all of Europe’s national patrons. Do you know San Marino’s national patrons? How’s about Moldova, or Montenegro? Neither did I. You can find them here.

And if you want to know what a “Catholic culture” is, there you have a good picture of it: the the most gifted men of a society paying tribute to God, His Mother, and His Saints — in short, artists acting as if Christ really is King. Won’t it be nice when the greatest minds, most talented hands, and finest voices in America put themselves at His disposal?

Then, we too will have a Catholic culture.