Osservatore Romano, 12/01/2008 pag. 5. Article by Timothy Verdon with the work: Lux in Tenebris by Filippo Rossi.

Contemporary sacred art is possible.
The Beato Angelico was an abstractionist.by Timothy Verdon.

In the history of sacred art, charm periods are marked by an effort of synthesis and even summary of complex IV-VI centuries, for example, corresponding to the Christian transformation greek and Roman art, and the fourteenth XVII, in which the classical art was reinstated in the service of a church in dynamic evolution. After all these are key periods of the whole European cultural history: the first was due to the Middle Ages, the second the modern era. Today, the sacred art of synthesis of new requirements: it must absorb and process design language forged far from the Christian experience, to make available to the faithful the extraordinary insights of the masters of the twentieth century. So far this task has been addressed only partially, with often clumsy adaptations of contemporary styles and are almost always disappointing, as pointed out almost ten years ago an article in Corriere della Sera, entitled "Religion and modernity. The contemporary sacred art? What horror "(April 3, 1998). The author of the piece, Gillo Dorfles, had two troubling question: "Is faith enough to accept the mediocrity of so much contemporary religious art? On the other hand, you can now truly an art that is also sacred?" . Impressed dall'infima quality of many works used as places of worship, and by enduring nostalgia for the styles of other times and the easy acceptance of kitsch in the churches, Dorfles wondered how to explain the fact that "religious art, which also dominated ( at least in the West Catholic) an unbroken series of centuries, has now lost almost every right of citizenship and gave little evidence of himself if not in some architectural work. " It should be noted that "really existing", Dorfles wanted an art rooted in the culture of the late twentieth century, eloquent in language typical of the period including the abstract and the informal point of view, this, that should perhaps be changed today in the context the renewed interest in the figurative. The application of these critics, however, remains relevant, even urgent, given the importance that the Church is now returning to give the holy picture, defined by Pope Benedict XVI as a privileged form of "evangelism." Just this phrase is used in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where the then Cardinal Ratzinger stated in the introduction that today more than ever, in a visual culture, the sacred image can "express much more of the same word, since is extremely effective and dynamic communication and transmission of the Gospel message. " If nothing else as an act of faith, to those who would question the possibility of implementing a sacred art "truly contemporary" must reply that yes, it is possible. But we must also add that it is difficult. Possible force, since "the Church has never had as its artistic style, but, according to the nature and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites, admitted styles from every era" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 123). Can then also because the Christian tradition offers sublime examples of abstract art as well as figurative, and not only in the early Christian period, but also in the heart of Renaissance figuration, as studies by Georges Didi-Huberman, the symbolic-abstract backgrounds in artificial marble by Fra Angelico, for example, open up a whole new chapter of research on fifteenth-century Florence. Wrong but who believes that the languages of contemporary art are not suited to the sacred just because the abstract and the informal, such as atonal music in some way make an "artistic salvation" rather than historical - a learned art pour l'art instead of humble faith in the Word made flesh. Wrong, I say, because Christianity is not a Manichean: autism prefers aut-et-et, so that any genuine aesthetic experience may fall within the providential plan of God the cry of Jesus on the cross, certainly "atonal" is Part of our historia salutis, as is the random order - almost "informal" - the flower of the field, more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor. In the context of the debate raised the article of Dorfles in 1998, seemed happy remark of Paul biscuits, director of the Diocesan Museum of Milan, that "sacred" is not only what he can place himself in a literal reference to sacred history, but that expresses the truth of man. John Paul II in his Letter to Artists of 1999, developed a similar idea, saying that "any form of art is authentic in its way, an access to the inmost reality of man and the world" (number 6) . The Pope playwright insisted that, even in today's gap between the art world and the world of faith, the Church continues to have great appreciation for the value of art, "even beyond its typically religious expressions," because "when it is genuine, [art] has a close affinity with the world of faith" (number 10). For avoidance of doubt, he added that "even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, the artist became a voice in a way the universal desire for redemption" (number 10). So art truly present in both sacred and should be possible. But it will also be difficult, because since the beginning of the ecclesiastical tradition has privileged the figure, and this for the obvious reason that Christ, the incarnate Word of God, the Father has told with gestures of his bodily life and psychological well as in the parables that speak of men and women. Consequently, the visual narrative language par excellence, the figure with the components of naturalism and psychology, seems imposed on the Church, although this does not preclude appropriate renewal or simultaneous use of other languages, especially the catechetical function of Christian images seems require clarity and specificity that only the figure can provide. Seems. But in truth, the art serves the church not only as a teaching tool. In the liturgical context, for example, it is likely to become able to introduce under the sign of the mystery, and this regardless of any narrative elements of the rite. The use of images in the context of the liturgy is in fact to express the special relationship which, thanks to the Incarnation of Christ, exists between symbol and reality in the sacramental economy - a relationship that is reflected not only then but in narrative depictions all the works that the man associated with the worship of God, the sacred vessels and tissues to the most monumental architectural constructions. The use of things in the liturgy reveals and makes present the vocation of the world infrahuman, called together the man and through man to give glory to God for a process as simple and mysterious, this "revelation" becomes part of living faith, especially in the Eucharistic celebration and worship: to find God in this matter, the believer is to grasp the new dignity of every material thing that has become (at least basically) "monstrance" as each "see" human is now called to become worshipful contemplation. It is in this sense that some recent experiments with abstraction, ispiratisi to Scripture and significant effects of matter, are embedded effectively within the sacred: for instance the series of mixed media works created between 1997-1998 by Armando Negri with the title Matter as spiritual reality. Exhibited in 2000 in the monumental complex of ancient Sassi at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome, these images composed of fabrics with inserts in gold leaf, then characterized as "abstract icons of the Spirit, collectively defined a framework suitable to the liturgical celebration . In the same vein are the works of Filippo Rossi wood and paper which the altarpiece for the chapel of the hospital maternity ward Careggi, Florence, and the large cross currently being prepared for the Catholic Chapel of the Hospital Meyer, always in the Tuscan capital. I find it particularly eloquently a small painting titled Red Lux in tenebris understood as an image for prayer (what historians call a German Renaissance Andachtsbild an image for reflection or meditation). It is built on a rough wooden table in which the artist applies layers of paper moved on both edges. The card, itself a derivative of wood, it is shriveled and black as if to evoke the wear of time that overlaps the matter dims dignity. In the middle of a golden axis splits the table from top to bottom, left and right as this bundle of wood, free of black paper and therefore clearly shows its natural grain, whose course follows the vertical movement of the descending beam gold. The overall impression is of something stained and dirty, or maybe burned at the heart of which enters with a light that purifies unstoppable force, releasing, healing by revealing the nature of the thing. The work's title, full of echoes of Isaiah, reminds us of Him who said: "As the lightning, flashing, shining from one end of the earth, so will the Son of man in his day" (Luke, 17 24). For avoidance of doubt, Rossi has had the top of the central beam cutting, a sort of "wound in his side" that leaves no doubt about the meaning of this "Lux" shining in the darkness. Here, not only the traditional figure, but even this kind of abstract figure may accompany the inner journey of Christians. Christ himself, but in the concreteness of the body taken from Mary, did not hesitate to appear in every possible way from the figurative, identifying himself as "street," "truth," "Life" and "Resurrection" and "light" of men. Thus art, which refers to Christ, the Incarnate Word of the Father, can play very well in shape and color even more than the words "abstract" of the Savior, particularly to encourage prayer in which everyone is called to go beyond the sensory knowledge, and especially to accompany the liturgical prayer, where the character of the rites of signs urge not to dwell on the appearance of things. The challenge posed by this kind of image is twofold: on one hand the artists should grow in scriptural and liturgical sensibility that only allow them to articulate, even in abstract forms, messages truly Christians on the other side the faithful must be able to recognize the authenticity of the message and appreciate the originality, being fascinated by the beauty that the eye has never seen or that have entered the hearts of men. Even before the Church must regain its historic role as a patron catechist, so that artists must be educated to the faithful rather than literal meaning of words and rituals that shape our faith in Christ.