Monday, May 3, 2010

Featured Work: Oratory of Sorrows by Raul Berzosa

This month, we feature a trio of works by the Spanish painter Raúl Berzosa, completed in 2008 for the Oratory of Sorrows in Málaga, Spain. Installed surrounding a sculpture of Christ on the Cross, the works form an exquisite harmony both visually and iconographically.

Soaring above the Crucifix in the vault above is a mural of The Glorification of the Name of God. In the center appears a glowing triangle (a symbol of the Blessed Trinity) containing the name of God in Hebrew. Layers of the clouds of heaven have parted to reveal this name, which emanates rays of brilliant light. A host of tiny cherubim gather before our eyes in worship, some looking aloft to the Godhead above, one gazing down in wonder and emotion to the sculpture of Christ below.

The two paintings hanging on the side walls and flanking the sculpture of Christ Crucified highlight the body of Christ: His Mystical Body the Church, and His true Body in the Eucharist. To our left is the Triumph of the Church over Sin. The Church, personified as a woman, meets the blind gaze of a sinner at her feet, bound and incapacitated by Sin, represented by a serpent. She wears the stole of priestly authority and the fisherman's ring, a symbol of Saint Peter and the papacy, and receives the papal tiara from an angel above her. As she gazes at the sinner at her feet, she points towards the Crucifix as the source of his freedom from the hold of sin.

At our right is an image showing the Triumph of the Eucharist over Idolatry. The Blessed Sacrament bursts with light and occupies the focal point of the painting. A man who has been enslaved to worldly pursuits turns in response to an angel who directs his attention to the Eucharist as the One worthy of worship. In this moment of conversion, the man lets several gold coins slip from his hand to join the scepter and coins -- symbols of earthly power and love of riches -- already at his feet.

To view more photos of the works in situ, visit the artist's website at

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Lessons In Iconography : The Peacock - Resurrection

Based on the ancient belief that the peacock's flesh does not decay - Saint Augustine details a rather odd account of discovering the peacock's "antiseptic qualities" and reputed incorruptibility - the bird acquired an association in Christian art with Christ's Resurrection. An additional belief that the bird loses its feathers in autumn and re-grows them in the spring augmented its value as a symbol of the Resurrection.

Images of the peacock adorn all manner of Christian art, from catacomb painting to mosaic church decoration to liturgical objects, and the bird appears occasionally in scenes of Christ's Nativity. Take for example the image above, a detail of The Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A peacock perched atop the stable where Christ has been born calls to mind His Resurrection, through which Christ opens for us the way to life everlasting.

Rachel Ross

Curator of Art

Sources: Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book XXI, Ch 4; Impelluso, Lucia, Nature and Its Symbols, Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2003; Hall, James, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1974.

Beauty as an Agent of Salvation

Neilson Carlin, Caritas, Oil on Linen, 2009

In his April 26th article entitled On Beauty: A Message to Its Religious Despisers, Deal W. Hudson responds to those who claim that beauty is the "road to ruin," that it is illusory, materialistic or even unnecessary. Instead, he gives credence to the idea that "beauty can be an agent of salvation" with a cogent argument punctuated with compelling words from Hans urs von Balthasar and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He explains that there is a metaphysical unity of beauty and truth, and that "God had to make His beauty visible to the material eye in order to draw that eye back to the spiritual." Not only does "God's revelation to us [have] an aesthetic character that cannot be ignored," but "if you deny a person beauty...he may reject Him, He who is beauty itself." To read the full article, please click here.

Artist's Blog Explores Sacred Art and Beauty

In response to our Holy Father's call to "rediscover the way of beauty, " Thomas More College's artist-in-residence, David Clayton, has created a blog dedicated to this end, with articles that explore the principles behind art and beauty. To visit the blog, please click here.

Mesage from the Executive Director

In honor of the fifth anniversary of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's election to the chair of St. Peter, it seems fitting to reiterate our HolyFather's own words regarding art and beauty, as recorded in the Ratzinger Report. "The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced, and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty --- and hence truth --- is at home." Let us demonstrate solidarity with our Holy Father and also champion beauty in the Christian sacred arts.

Ann Marra
Executive Director

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Featured Work: Saints Peter and Paul Chapel by Thomas Gordon Smith

On March 3, 2010, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter dedicated its new chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. The chapel was consecrated by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, local ordinary of the Diocese of Lincoln. Five other bishops and abbots, and Fr. John Berg, Superior General of the Fraternity, were present at the dedication and at the Solemn Pontifical Mass following at which William Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, preached.

The chapel was designed in a simplified yet dignified Romanesque style by architect Thomas Gordon Smith, current professor (and former director of) the Notre Dame Architecture School. At 10,000 square feet, the chapel has stalls for 92 priests and seminarians in the nave, with separated seating for laity and visitors. The Fraternity is dedicated to the renewal of the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Rite, and the chapel is designed for the exclusive celebration of this Rite. Featuring a 31 foot tall marble baldachino over the altar and classical columns and detailing, the chapel represents a growing rebirth of classical architecture in the Church.

Erik Bootsma
Curator of Architecture

Lessons In Iconography : The Chi Rho - Christ

The Chi Rho may well be one of the most recognized of Christian symbols, and it represents Christ himself. This simple symbol is made up of a superimposed "X" (chi) and a "P" (rho), the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek.

Used from the earliest days of Christianity on lamps, liturgical objects, sarcophagi, and in catacomb painting, and still in wide use today, the Chi Rho is linked to the conversion of the Roman empire in the fourth century. In 312 AD, on the eve of his battle against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine received a vision of this very sign blazing in the sky accompanied by a voice which assured him, "In this sign you will conquer." Constantine had this symbol put on his imperial standard and was, in fact, victorious.

While there are certainly many other symbols that represent the Resurrection, none embodies it as completely as this symbol of Christ himself. Our Lord told Saint Martha, "I AM the Resurrection and the life." Christ is the guarantor of the Christian hope in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. As was promised to Constantine, it is in the name of Christ that we achieve victory. May we live confident in the Victor, the Risen Christ, this Easter season and always.

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Upcoming Lecture: Shadow, Image & Reality: The Church as Sacramental Building

While many are inclined to think of a church building as a merely neutral setting for liturgical rites, Dr. Denis R. McNamara, author of Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy, will introduce the concept of "architectural theology" to the study of church design. His research reveals that liturgical art and architecture can play an active role in a worshipper's full and conscious participation in the liturgy by embodying the notions of fulfilled typologies of the Old Testament as well as the anticipated glory of Heaven. Join us Saturday, May 1st at 7:30pm at St. Thomas a Becket Parish in Reston, VA and learn how the classical tradition can be inculturated to blend with scriptural precedent to make church buildings which please the eye, engage with tradition, aid in liturgical participation, and delight the soul. For more information, please click here.

EWTN Travel Program Features Catholic Church Art & Architecture

Now airing their first season through June 3rd, EWTN's new show The Faithful Traveler, hosted by Diana von Glahn, presents the history, architecture and religious significance of notable churches, shrines, and places of pilgrimage throughout the United States. "Discovering the treasures of the city at a time." For more information, please click here.

Message from the Executive Director

The Foundation for Sacred Arts is pleased to announce our first Seminarian Arts Formation Conference, to be held on The Feast of the Guardian Angels on Saturday, October 2, 2010. We trust that this conference will reinforce the "profound connection between beauty and the liturgy" and compel seminarians to be "attentive to every work of art placed at the service of the celebration" since "everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty." (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 41, 2007). We also expect that this vital arts formation will reach up to 175 seminarians from at least eight Catholic seminaries local to Washington, D.C.

According to Russell Shaw, respected Catholic author and journalist, and former communications director for the US Bishops, "...when many of these men are priests, they will be called upon to make...important decisions about the building, renovation, and decoration of churches. Beauty is not just an add-on in worship. Beauty has its source in God, it points to and leads to God, and the beauty of our places of worship is crucial in fostering worship itself. I offer thanks and congratulations to the Foundation for Sacred Arts for this important and creative initiative." More information can be found on our

May you have a Blessed Triduum and Easter.

Ann Marra
Executive Director

Monday, March 1, 2010

Featured Work: Crucifixion by David Clayton

David Clayton, Crucifixion, six feet tall, egg tempera on panel, 2010.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH has recently commissioned David Clayton, the College’s Artist-in-Residence, to complete a six foot painted crucifix for its chapel.

Mr. Clayton describes the piece: "It is low so that when the priest holds the host aloft, the figure of Christ is clearly visible within the angle of vision. We have Mass both ad orientem and versus populum, so the intention here is to make sure that however the Mass is said, the focus is not on the personality of the priest but on the person of Christ.

"The cross itself is based upon the early gothic Franciscan crosses. The style is similar to that iconographic, except that the face, in the Franciscan manner, reveals his suffering. The geometric designs in the background include an octagonal motif that represents the 'eighth day' of creation, that is, the age of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. There is a six-winged seraph at Our Lord's feet.

"The height of cross creates a vertical dimension in a small chapel by drawing the eye up to space above the sanctuary that was hardly noticed before because it was unused. Aside from seeking to steadily introduce more art, the next step is to raise money for a new altar and a gothic-style reredos that will go against the back wall and allow for the central placement of the tabernacle."

David Clayton

Original interview, New Liturgical Movement

Lessons in Iconography: The Pelican

In Christian art, the pelican represents Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross for our redemption. This traditional attribution stems from the belief that a female pelican will strike her breast with her beak, drawing blood to feed her young. Like the pelican, Christ shed His blood on the Cross for our redemption, and Christ offers Himself to us in the sacrifice of the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us spiritually.

A verse from the Adoro Te Devote, a Eucharistic hymn penned by St. Thomas Aquinas, refers to Christ in the guise of this symbol:

Pelican of mercy, Jesus, Lord and God,

Cleanse me, wretched sinner, in Thy Precious Blood:

Blood where one drop for human-kind outpoured

Might from all transgression have the world restored.

As we draw near to the celebration of Christ’s death on the Cross on Good Friday, let us ask the “Pelican of Mercy” to nourish and strengthen us through His sacrifice.

Rachel Ross

Curator of Art

New Publication on Christian Art and Evangelization

Does the Church need artistic beauty in her liturgy? What occurs when pastors and catechists disregard the tradition of sacred art in their ministry? What role can Christian art play in recapturing the imagination of Christians and in redirecting our culture towards the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty? These are some of the questions Dr. Jem Sullivan tackles in her work The Beauty of Faith: Using Christian Art to Spread the Good News, recently published by Our Sunday Visitor. Framing her discussion within the context of our society's sensory overload - in which mainstream "iconography" becomes more prevalent precisely as Christian images become scarce - she emphasizes the power of images to convey ideas and to shape culture. Dr. Sullivan calls for a recovery of art's traditional role in the life of the Church, arguing that it will enable us to encounter, teach, and live our faith in a more profound and engaged way. To purchase the book, please click here.

Way of Beauty Atelier Summer Programs

Thomas More College's Way of Beauty Atelier is offering a unique series of summer programs in Catholic art and inspiration that are taught by internationally renowned working Catholic artists. Artists and aspiring artists can choose from one or more of three programs in iconography, naturalistic drawing, and the principles of Catholic art.

For more information, please click here.

Message from the Executive Director

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has articulated that our modern age is " a weakening of hope...[by] increasing signs of resignation, aggression and despair." Yet by rendering an authentic beauty - one which brings us face to face with the Source of all beauty - artists can become "heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity" (Address to Artists, 2009). At The Foundation for Sacred Arts, our aim to is advance the Holy Father's ideals in a concrete way by supporting the production of inspiring new works of sacred art, architecture and music that exist as "an authentic expression of the human genius and a reflection of divine beauty." We are thus especially pleased that our mission has merited the esteem the Holy Father himself, who recently wrote to us imparting his Apostolic Blessing, expressing that he trusts that "[our] work will help, in the words of the late Pope John Paul II, 'to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human heart to the sense of the eternal.'" As our Lord affirmed, "man does not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4). Please continue to pray that by providing opportunities for others to encounter Divine Beauty in the sacred arts, the Foundation will help feed the spiritual hunger of humanity.

Ann Marra
Executive Director

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cardinal Schönborn Greets Foundation Members

On Thursday, February 4th, 2010, members of The Foundation for Sacred Arts had the privilege of meeting and presenting a gift to a notable hero in the culture wars, His Most Illustrious and Reverend Eminence, Christoph Cardinal von Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna.

His Eminence, a Dominican Father and a modern-day "Thomas Aquinas," was the principal editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A prolific author, his publications include God’s Human Face: The Christ Icon, which investigates the theological foundations of iconography. His Eminence was in Washington, DC to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew and then to speak in his office as the Grand Chancellor of the International Theological Institute at a dinner hosted at the Army and Navy Club, a prestigious "members only" club located at Farragut Square. Many notable ITI graduates, scholars, staff and theologians attended this event.

We were most fortunate to meet with His Eminence twice that evening -- briefly at the Cathedral after Mass, and later to make this Rosary presentation to him at the reception prior to dinner. On both occasions, he received us with great enthusiasm, interest and warmth. It was quite an experience, facilitated by our friend and supporter, John Henry Crosby, Founder of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, who is also an Advisory Board member to the Foundation.

Our gift to His Eminence was a traditional Dominican Rosary hand-crafted by Mary A.D. Petrino, a member of our Board of Directors. The Rosary, which includes the heavily-indulgenced Sterling silver "Pardon Crucifix" designed by Pope St. Pius X, features "Ave" beads of red flake jasper and snowflake obsidian beads, symbolizing his position as a prince of Holy Mother Church and as a member of the Order of Preachers. The first three "Ave" beads are rendered in lapis lazuli, bloodstone and red flake jasper, signifying the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. The "Paters" are handmade Sterling beads, designed to resemble the bishop's mitre; and the Sterling "Scapular" center medal features a carved image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel embossed on the reverse. Finally, the box illustrates the two great apostles, Saints Peter and Paul, appropriate to the office of the Cardinal.

Top image, left to right: Ann Marra, Executive Director; His Eminence Cardinal Schönborn; Mary Petrino, Board of Directors; Rachel Ross, Curator of Art. Bottom left: Foundation Member Mary Petrino presents the hand-crafted Rosary to Cardinal Schönborn. Bottom right: The hand-crafted Rosary presented to His Eminence.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Featured Work: Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at Thomas Aquinas College

This past spring Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, dedicated the centerpiece of the campus of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Designed by Duncan Stroik, a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, the chapel draws its inspiration from the churches of Italian Renaissance architect Brunelleschi – designer of Florence's famous dome – from the Venetian churches of Palladio, and from the tradition of Spanish Mission churches of California. While drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, the chapel is a copy of no church, but a synthesis of all of them in a truly new work of art. The Chapel cost $23 million to construct and seats 375, but is large enough to hold the entire student body of 500 during important festivals in temporary seating. Twenty solid marble columns grace the nave and a bronze baldachino modeled on the centerpiece of St. Peter's Basilica surmounts the altar. To view more work by the architect, please click here.

Erik Bootsma
Curator of Architecture

Lessons in Iconography: The Palm Branch

We may be most familiar with the palm branch as a symbol of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. During the Church's liturgical celebration on that day, the faithful bear palm branches to herald Christ's kingship, mirroring the crowds that acclaimed him as the King of Israel on the first Palm Sunday. In ancient Rome, the palm branch was used as a symbol of victory; the Christians appropriated this image to symbolize the martyr, whose death, paradoxically, is his triumph.

In this way, the martyr's palm may be linked to the branches of Palm Sunday. As the crowds laid the palms before Christ, so the martyr lays down his life as an offering to Christ the King, proclaiming His glory. It is worthy of noting that, in Christ's time, the palm branch represented the nation of Israel, God's chosen people.

The images above - Fracesco del Cossa's Saint Lucy and El Greco's Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes, both at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC - show these female saints holding a palm branch as a sign of their martyrdom.

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Successful Sacred Art Show Travels to DC

Nearly 100,000 visitors were drawn to an exhibition of sacred art which recently concluded at the National Gallery in London. This was triple the number of visitors expected. According to Curator Xavier Bray, it was "the immediacy of the images" that drew such a large number of people. "The images of Christ were very truthful, profound depictions; you were meeting the Virgin, Christ and the saints in a very direct way." In a crowded gallery, he said, "there was a wonderful sense of silence - awe-inspired people. I met a Sufi woman in tears.

"The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700, which will be housed at the National Gallery in Washington, DC from February 28th to May 31st, showcases major paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Francisco Pacheco, as well as painted and gilded sculptures by Gregorio Fernández, Juan Martínez Montañés, and Pedro de Mena, among others. Many of the sculptures have never before been exhibited away from their Spanish churches, convents, and monasteries. Click here to read the full article on the London show. For more information on the DC exhibition, please click here.

Sacred Arts Academy Summer Workshop in Florence

The Sacred Arts Academy is offering Catholic art students an intensive painting workshop in Florence June 10–July 3, 2010. Founded in 2009, the Academy seeks to respond to the call of the Second Vatican Council to establish a place of learning for Catholic artists to be trained. With a focus on both figurative and decorative arts in several media, it exists not only to teach technical expertise but also to foster in studying artists an understanding of art's deepest purpose and promise. Please visit their website for more information.

Message from the Executive Director

The Foundation has gained the attention of several prominent personalities, including Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR, who recently wrote to the Foundation expressing his admiration for Anthony Visco, the artist we featured at a special exhibition this past October. We have also cultivated a positive correspondance with Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, who wrote to us that "...The mission of stimulating a renewed interest in the patronage and production of Christian sacred art is a most noble mission, which is particularly important in our wholly secularized society. May God bless abundantly the apostolic work of The Foundation for Sacred Arts..."

Our blessings are evident as we continue to develop our programmatic outreach for 2010, and the Foundation is pleased to announce "Shadow, Image & Reality: The Church as Sacramental Building" a lecture by Dr. Denis R. McNamara offered Satuday, May 1st at St. Thomas a' Becket Catholic Church in Reston Virgina. Please visit the Events section of our website for more information. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Ann Marra
Executive Director

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Featured Work: Ave Maria by Fr. Dawid Kusz, OP

Photo by S. Smith Photography

Kusz's "Ave Maria", is an exercise in devotion moving from contemplative fragility to powerful affirmation. Fr. Kusz -- a recently ordained Dominican who lives in Krakow -- simultaneously studied sacred music and choral conducting while training for the Priesthood. His work has already become a staple in many Churches around Poland, and is a leading musical force in the "new aesthetic" in liturgical art currently taking place there. The "Ave Maria", like his other sacred works, grows strongly out of Catholic contemplative tradition while also giving a strong nod to the Gregorian Chant idiom. While the "Ave Maria" is built upon a renaissance aesthetic, the clever harmonic choices and vocal density make it a thoroughly modern work. As a composer, Kusz certainly stands on the shoulders of giants before him, looking ahead to a new musical renaissance within the Church. To listen to "Ave Maria", please click

Mark Nowakowksi
Curator of Architecture

Lessons in Iconography: The Scallop Shell

On January 10th, the Church will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. The Sacrament of Baptism instituted through Christ's own baptism has long been symbolized by the scallop shell. Often, a shell is used to pour water over the head in baptism, as we see in the painting above of The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci.

Additionally, the shell symbolizes pilgrimage. In Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, also above, the figure at right wears a scallop shell pinned to his vest, identifying him with all pilgrims who seek and encounter Christ at the end of their own "road to Emmaus". This symbol and practice are closely tied to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela, one of the most prominent sites of Christian pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.

These two meanings are linked. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born to new life in Christ and cleansed of original sin. The gates of heaven which were closed after the Fall are reopened to us through our reception of the Sacrament. Our life, therefore, is a pilgrimage through this world, and union with God in heaven is the goal of our journey.

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Artists as Prodigal Sons?

Rembrandt van Rijn
The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Church's historic relationship with the arts might best be understood as paternal rather than spousal. This is the view put forth by art historian Elizabeth Lev following the Holy Father's recent address to artists in Rome. The Church, as patron (from the Latin pater, meaning father), "acted like a nurturing father, providing education and boundaries but also exhorting artists to cultivate their gifts." Thus rather than characterizing the modern estrangment of this relationship as a "divorce", as it has been widely described, Lev contends that an "extended adolescence" is to blame. Modern artists, bent on self-promotion and self-expression, found the Christian narrative and aesthetic traditions contricting. "And so it came to pass that today's angry, sulky, self-absorbed adolescents of art chose to provoke instead of persuade, titillate instead of stimulate, and rage instead of reason." The Holy Father's call to artists, therefore, is for maturation, and for a return to the nurturing arms of their pater. To read the full Zenit article, please click

Message from the Executive Director

As we look forward to a new year dedicated to cultural renewal and evangelization through beauty, The Foundation for Sacred Arts is pleased to announce a number of significant milestones. Our website has been updated with image galleries, videos and other important resources. The Foundation has also welcomed new members to the board of directors. We continue to receive diverse inquires regarding our International Sacred Music Competition for Composers and creative personalities from around the globe are hard at work preparing their entries. We have also extended our deadline for our artist competition, I Believe: The Creed in Art. Our composer directory has nearly doubled in size in the last few months and we have at last unveiled the first additions to our architect directory. We anticipate the expansion of all of our directories in the coming months, and trust that these will be a key resource for pastors and patrons with a keen eye for excellence. Happy New Year!

Ann Marra
Executive Director