Thursday, August 12, 2010

Raphael "Transfiguration:" My Take on Controversy! Conflict! and Discord! in the Vatican

Here's one of the less breathless news pieces on the latest Controversy! Conflict! Dissension! and Discord! in the Vatican:
"Vatican paper: Raphael masterpiece is meant for the liturgy, not the museum"
Catholic News Agency (August 7, 2010)

"The place of Raphael's 'Transfiguration' in an art museum and not in a place of worship means the 'most beautiful painting in the world' has lost most of its ability to speak, an article in L'Osservatore Romano has claimed. The Vatican newspaper says that the venue rendered the artwork into little more than an object...."
Here's the deal: Marco Agostini wrote a moving piece in the Vatican's newspaper, about how wonderful Raphael's painting was. Also, what a good idea it was to have it where it had been, in the Roman church of St. Peter in Montorio. As the CNA paraphrased his ideas, "it would have had a favorable effect in the eyes of the faithful as they approached the altar."

I see what he means:

(Raphael, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"Transfiguration," by Raphael (1516-1520)

From that article:
"...The painting draws from St. Matthew's Gospel. In its upper portion is the Transfigured Christ with Moses and Elijah. At their feet are Peter, James, and John. In the foreground are the other Apostles and onlookers, including a possessed young man recounted in the gospel...."
The Catholic News Agency is, as its name says, a news agency. They do what news agencies do: take a situation; then find an angle that makes it look like a conflict.

That's what sells newspapers. Sold newspapers, anyway. Circulation these days - but that's another topic.

And the Catholic News Agency did a pretty good job of pointing out what Marco Agostini actually said in L'Osservatore Romano.

Back to "Transfiguration"

Like I said, I see Marco Agostini's point. It's a powerful peace of sacred art, and - provided that the folks seeing it understood the stories behind the picture - having Raphael's "Transfiguration" behind an altar in one church might have the desired effect.

In that church.

In the Vatican's museum, well: see for yourself. Turns out, the "Transfiguration" has done a bit of traveling in the last 490 years.

A cardinal kept the painting when Rapheael died, instead of sending the painting to France. It did go to France in 1797, after the Treaty of Tolentino - along with quite a few other things that weren't nailed down.

When Napleon's regime fell, "Transfiguration" was returned from Paris to Rome. The year was 1815 - and that's when it was assigned to the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) of Pius VII (pontiff from 1800 to 1823).

The Vatican Museum page on the "Transfiguration" has more detail on the painting's history.

Why aren't I All Fired Up About This Issue?

As controversies go, that article in L'Osservatore Romano is small change: particularly compared to some of the heresies that have popped up over the last two millennia.

That said, I think Marco Agostini has a point.

I also think that "Transfiguration" is the Holy See's property: and if they want it in the Vatican Museum, it sure beats storing it in a closet. Besides, this way it gets quite a lot of exposure - to people who don't live in Rome.

Yes, it would look good over an altar in some church in some town or city. Maybe it'll be put over an altar again at some point.

I think it's a good idea for Marco Agostini to publish an argument for reassigning "Transfiguration." I also think it'd make at least as much sense to run the proposal through whatever part of the hierarchy handles the disposition of artwork.

Maybe Marco Agostini's already done that - I haven't read his article.

But: get worked up about where a painting should be hung? Not me, not today.

Related post:


Brigid said...

Did you stutter? "of Pius VII Pius VII (pontiff"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks, fixed it.

And, as you know: yes, I do stutter on occasion.

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