The loss of theological language in sacred art

– Art&Faith –



When the Church in the nineteenth century began to lose its influence on the arts, the artist was inevitably forced to devote himself to art forms more restricted nature ephemeral, appearing to ignore everything that for centuries had been an expression of the heritage of faith.



Author Licia Oddo *
Licia Oddo *



For too many years we have had to suffer the vagaries and follies of many national and foreign nullity; for too many decades we have transformed the real art in an ephemeral fashion and empty of all meaning, everything just to run after certain fashions of overseas, only to appear to date, Modern Vanguard.

Quirino De Ieso [Benevento 1926 – Known 2006]



Quirino De Ieso, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God and of his passion and death, 2005

Artistic events of the twentieth century inevitably contrite concept art often helping to infuse a sense of irreverent representation, because devoid of all credibility in those human and Christian values ​​that once decreed the success through the patronage of the Catholic Church and the sense of faith that animated the artists.

When the Church began to lose in the nineteenth century its influence on the arts, the artist was inevitably forced to devote himself to art forms more restricted nature ephemeral, appearing to ignore everything that for centuries had been an expression of the heritage of faith. The artistic style of the twentieth century, although profoundly revolutionary it is nevertheless holder of those cornerstones that have marked the history of art over the centuries, I resented. The rest l'art [1] He has always shown the same evolutionary process. The new one is soon old [2], innovation becomes tradition and the present becomes the past but the latter is also necessary that, which follows in time to a future perspective: mutated form, behind every story, as every aesthetic.


Quirino De Ieso, Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River, 1995

To all of us it is obvious that our society, for several years already, It is evolving towards amorality, not least through the destruction of their own Christian roots, which they are also the heritage of art. What is desirable, therefore, to reverse the situation and halt the decline in human values, snatching the danger of superficiality that the artistic representation of the sacred is the most faithful interpreter? To answer this question, in which the painting becomes an expression of faith and art a manifestation of the transcendent metaphysical, It is by far interesting study, fruit of the contemplation of the work of contemporary painter posthumously Quirino De Ieso, in whose canvases he translates the mystery of the universal, and theological pictorial [3]. In the opinion of De Ieso, it is also evident that art has many faces, from the sacred to the profane, but it is true that the "concept of art" that has a purely spiritual derivation, Divina, It is one of the most devoted human manifestations of love of man towards his Creator. He interprets the Truth in appearance spiritual and sacred, but investigated within our soul, because, as stated by the teacher: "The mystery of Art is the same Universe, in one and the other are the truth and love of Christians ". When the artist reaches the awareness of this Truth, only then his work can rise to the dignity of a work of art, creating the masterpiece.


Jesus fisherman particular men Noto funeral chapel
Quirino De Ieso, Jesus tells his disciples, "Follow me, I will make you fishers of men " [MC 1, 14-20], Detail of a funerary chapel of Noto, 1995-1996

De Ieso claims that only an inner search is able to produce such a miracle. Such research is right in the world of Art, music, poetry, painting, sculpture. So art as soul searching. Consider in this regard to the way Dante Alighieri translates into poetic rhyme and images, Canto XXXIII in Paradise, the mysteries of faith exhibited by St. Thomas Aquinas in his QUESTION; images that are later, Sandro Botticelli, It will depict through his famous drawings illustrative of the Divine Comedy [cf. WHO]. But it is also true that many important values ​​for our society have been emptied of their actual content, contaminated with ephemeral sizes, trampled by a progressive decline ethics. And if the art is reduced to blank canvases, singed, shredded, ply simply smeared with color, in polished stones only by rivers, in twisted metal and rusty, then Art is dead? Of course not. Luckily, with each fall always follows a rise; therefore, sooner or later, Art authentic, imbued with passionate feeling, morals, social, cultuale, that is not dead, will return in triumph and, once again will lead us on the path of beauty, Purity, of joy and love.

In the works of this artist is felt that survey spiritual he translates into real mystical representations, both abstract, sia retinate (Technical latter of its mere invention) fruit of his meditations and that lead to a real philosophical dissertation of the meaning of Art, uttering even a direct attack against the contemporary art.

In recent years the interest of the individual and the greed of economic targets they did forget to civilization to show its real objectives worthy of being called that. The confidence in unprejudiced, the solidarity of the group depends on the achievement of common targets, the ethical conduct free of any contamination selfish were replaced by pure superficiality of mere appearance, as a substitute to replace the reality and lead to the result of mass destruction, addivenendo so a polluted earth that it can not ensure the survival of its inhabitants and deny the hope of tomorrow for posterity. Says the teacher:


"For too many years we have tried the new at all costs, as if that were the main purpose of art; and did not realize that the novelty, originality are not achievements that come from outside but from our inner, from our hearts and our minds; they are achievements that can be obtained only through a serious work, continuous, suffered, meditated. Just so you can get to win a personal language and effective, always fruit, as well as talented, Also of long years of hard work, during which the artist digs into his soul, compared with the outside world and with the problems of the society in which he lives ".


Quirino De Ieso, The mystery of the crucifixion, 2001

To highlight such concepts one can not ignore the technical means that the iconographic representation are the most effective expression, such as painting or sculpture. In fact, according to the authoritative opinion of this great master of the contemporary age, the concept of art you should distinguish between two senses or perceptions: one generic or common, and a pure or spiritual.

To date, no author He has made a clear distinction between the two perceptions separately attributing to the necessary specific meanings, but he showed the art as the result of this combination, without reflecting in what there is really behind. It is recognized that all the authors agree in stating that "Art" means generically: human labor resulting from the study, from practice and ingenuity to achieve a certain effect; the complex of rules or precepts necessary to that: astuteness; fineness; ability to know how to adjust to get a purpose, and everything is so synonymous with the profession, craft, office running out in this definition. From these first interpretations can be seen that while for the first direction (generico) it's pretty obvious to all meaning, it is not so for the second (spiritual), or rather the latter does not seem to be as comprehensible to all, but only a few, to those who belong to that group of elected able to read and read in. "Art" understood in a pure and spiritual means:


"Elevation of the soul to God, contemplation of the greatness and power of God clearly visible in the beautiful nature that surrounds us; Search of Divine beauty in its different aspects transfused in all creation; search for harmony of the perfection of God in his work; Search Order of "Truth" universal; point of contact between matter and spirit, link that connects people to the Father and the Heavenly Mother ".


Quirino De Ieso The mystery of the crucifixion, The Virgin Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle under the cross, 2003

Art is born with the mystery of man's creation, created in the image and likeness of God [cf. There 1,26]. In man the Creator instills the natural creative spirit that gradually become expressive art in its various forms. Since then the art in its various manifestations has always been the most intimate companion of man for himself but also for his relationship with God, and it will certainly be up to’eskaton, when God will create new heavens and new earth.

The man was not content to seek the spiritual and contact with it only through the figurative expression that is the iconographic representation of his thought, He tried to get to it also with a more rapid: verbally, that is, with prayer as a tool and means of communion with God, and also art, in its various forms of expression of poetry and music. Certain, prayer of early man was not still one conceived by us, because their way of seeing and thinking of ancient men was very different from our, but why should we think that their prayer and their concept of the supernatural were felt with warmth and sincerity of minors as we hear them today, because the spirit and desire of elevation and mystical momentum towards a metaphysical dimension that dwells in the human soul is always alive, but it certainly changed the way we express it through the ages, sometimes risking getting lost along the way.

It is known to most, the long way that art has come with his parables ascending and descending. For each period of greatest glory it is always followed a period of decline. One wonders: because there were these ups and downs in the arts? It should not be think of a more or less low intelligence of man as is often the most critical of all the times we wanted to prove with their more or less profound observations. The real reason that according to De IESO has always caused ups and downs is of an entirely different nature, It is introspective. It is recognized that in all ages, artists have always sought a means or a very effective way to abstract the reality of things and of nature, to make it clear to the audience the content of their works, or better to put in quick contact with the spirit of contemplative mood content in their works [4].

Crucifixion, 1954
Quirino De Ieso, Christ crucified between the two thieves, early work, 1954

Only when artists could find this an effective means of abstraction, art was heading for the road that would lead her to the highest peaks, namely the most sublime artistic achievements. Only the inner dialogue through a clear insight of the artist himself raising his spirit to God, this could happen. When this way of abstracting was exploited to the maximum, later artists not to repeat the same route as their predecessors were forced to change their way. To do this, They had to find a new way of "abstract" and that at the same time was as effective as the one already universally accepted. Unfortunately,, looking outside of their being, the artists are able to capture what the sad reality of these last remnants of technological progress offers them, remaining poor and paralyzed in the representation, that is not triggered by the spirit of man which is spokesman, ie the awareness of the existence of the divine, but rather the empty externality that first of all is often vile without substance.

Art is first of all life experience and as such it is developed together with the emotions, the social path, cultural and above all spiritual man-artist accomplishes in his life. It is undoubtedly a social phenomenon and expression of life itself, changes with the changing of society and human experiences. But in this continuous "becoming" art has to maintain the essential spirit of the essence, through the series of existential questions that the individual stands, and that is not the sign language that changes depending on the various eras, at least it is not just that, but rather it is a universal language, catechetico. There are numerous paintings - especially the frescoes engraved in many churches between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries - that are real picture boards of the Catechism for the People of God; basti citation, among numerous, those of the Cathedral of San Gimignano [see WHO].

Quirino 1
Quirino De Ieso, The mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, 1996

The "Truth" pure universe, in its dual aspect, material and spiritual, but also catechetical, It is expressed through art, handmaiden of universal communication and for centuries placed at the service of the divine, the sacred, through a difficult process to achieve a catharsis of interiority by vice, by moral disorder to get to the recovery of ethical values, set goals and lost because of externals with which today's artists will approach it without looking inside, according to the Gospel warning: "The kingdom of God is within you" [cf. LC 17,21]. This inner harbors the seeds of grace of Truth, then the spirit essence of true art, one capable of perceiving the Divine and manifest it through their posts expressive arts.


Original PENTECOST - FRESCO -- MT - 6 X 10
Quirino De Ieso, The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at the Last Supper and the Virgin Mary at Pentecost. Central fresco, Church of the Sacred Heart in Noto, 1999.

Particularly close to Pauline theology, Quirino De Ieso used to say that without the victory of man over himself (due to non-introspective analysis) It will defeat Universal, with the unhappy prospect of becoming man "dinosaur" of two thousand, ie species doomed to extinction. But man, the only speck of the universe thinking, which roads can go to find himself? Only the personal soul searching can spring the new force able to put it back at the top of the ladder of living things. Who prevails? The beast or l'angelo, complacency or regret, the reality or the fantasy, the dόxa or the logos, faith or science, reality or illusion, victory or defeat? Where we place our self: in a whirlwind endless, or a serene romantic glimpse of our land? Who dominates our thinking: nightmares born of ancient torments, or hopes for happy horizons? And that's how the interweaving of a network interwoven with arduous undertaking SWT man peering anxiously awaiting the response to the search and discovery of Truth.

Whether we find ourselves prosecutors of primordial instincts, whether we evaluate children of a heavenly creature sank in a world dominated by questionable passions after the expulsion of man from Paradise [cf. There 3, 23-24], We discover, however, that the soul searching that gives life to the world of art takes us on a fascinating adventure in the nature that surrounds us, and of which we are an integral part of how the wind, the rivers, the stars, the sun, wonderful works of God, despite the refusal of man corrupt in its primordial essence of original sin and often abandoned to the narrowness of his passions prevaricating, He has never ceased to come to us and love us throughout the history of our human experience, until the incarnation of the Word of God made man [cf. GV. 1,1].

The double question that De Ieso sets and enforces through his works to his interlocutors about man and nature which work of Creation, It is therefore not a cold philosophical interrogation, But the nagging question alive and to those who want to point out the great problems of today, and collaborate in remedies for the salvation of humanity and its natural environment, using the most refined expression of human production that is the art, witness material and immaterial having historical value of civilization as identity card of a people, proceeding to the recovery of breath that identity lost and perhaps lost forever, after the man came from the ancient Garden of Eden, to which he was again brought back from the Christ the Redeemer, who became the new Adam, because "as in Adam all die, so all will receive life in Christ " [cf. The Cor 15,22].


* historian



To read the review taken from the magazine The Sicilies click below

Licia Oddo – Jorge A Facio Lince: "Quirino DE IESO THROUGH Arte E Koine"





[1] C.Vicari, As the 800 was the introduction to contemporary art, in Italian art in the second half of the twentieth century.: Tradition and Vanguard, Piacenza, 1980, p.5
[2] Ossani Silipo, General Character of Art between the new and the old, in Italian art in the second half of the twentieth century.: Tradition and Vanguard, Piacenza, 1980, p. 21
[3] Ariel S. Levi Gualdo, The Sicilies, the. 96 [cf. WHO]
[4] This interpretation is the understanding of the art of Panofsky,It corresponds to a third and final phase which provides the intrinsic meaning of the work itself: analysis iconologic. Captures beyond reason and beyond the stories symbolic values, evaluating political tendencies, Religious, philosophical and social personality of the artist who is in the age in which he lives.



As a IESO Quirino
one of the last images of the painter Quirino De Ieso, 2006





About Licia Oddo

Art historian ( Click on the name to read all its articles )

5 thoughts on "The loss of theological language in sacred art

  1. I worked very little art, despite having previously turned museums worldwide. On invitation topazia alliata Dooley, just died in 102 year old, I met Gillo Dorfles, now years 105. In a lecture he said that art today has no soul and is just decoration. I understand that in the new church of San Giovanni Rotondo, where is found the body of Padre Pio with the silicone face mask, should read Mischitielli, lacking the crucifix, and that it introduced for a visit of Benedict XVI it has led to a lawsuit by architect Renzo Piano atheist and freemason against Vatican… and if I am not mistaken the crucifix was missing in the Expo Hall of the Vatican, not to offend Muslim sensibilities… Now in the Arab Koran by Othman fixed like that of Aisha Jesus did not die on the cross, but he died and rose again according to the most authentic Quran Senegal, He not sent to Baghdad, where Othman wanted all Korans, reason then the fact that the African Islam is considered heretical by the Arabs… see a recent book on’ African father Gheddo PIME.

  2. Read these lines …

    “So art as soul searching. Consider in this regard to the way Dante Alighieri translates into poetic rhyme and images, Canto XXXIII in Paradise, the mysteries of faith exhibited by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica; images that are later, Sandro Botticelli, It will depict through his famous drawings illustrative of the Divine Comedy. But it is also true that many important values ​​for our society have been emptied of their actual content, contaminated with ephemeral sizes, trampled by a progressive decline ethics”

    … I said: of, ragionassero in this way at the Pontifical Commission of Sacred Art!

  3. Nice article, enlightening about the relationship between art and faith.
    I hit the painting “I will make you fishers of men”, I can not explain why, but I found it really very special. Very beautiful also other works.

  4. Dear Mrs, two comments from a priest who follows the Isle of Patmos since she was born, ie since our dear fathers have landed on this island Johannine.

    1. I not even remember when was the last time I read an article by a historian to speak of art in relation to faith and art as an expression of faith. I remember though that there is no longer the Venice Biennale, exhibition in Paris or New York which are not presented in the “artwork” desecrate that symbol and the main elements of Christian faith.

    2. In my youth I was pastor of a small church of the '600, then rebuilt in the mid '700 soberly, a jewel of art. Then I was sent to a large parish, classical building modern 70s, and I can assure you that we as priests, often, we are committed (even for a kind of self-defense, survival!) the bad do not get used ever! I had to struggle a lot to be able to remove a crucifix hugging obscenity and an indescribable Madonna with child, and in the end they succeeded because the faithful have threatened our curia that they were going to disappear “that crap”, as they told to the head of religious buildings. The first (the crucifix in question) produced by an avowed atheist, as well as communist militant, who had given the face of Jesus the expression of Che Guevara, the second “opera” it was a Madonna, Cast bronze, made by a sculptor and feminist militant abortion.

    Read his article, written in what I see from his photo from a young woman, He has really heartened.

    I did not know the painter of whom she writes, but the pictures that accompany this article I really liked, and if works of this kind had been placed in my church, I'll tell you that I would not have lived through years of hardship, avoiding looking at the top, to the right or to the left, during the Eucharistic celebrations.

    The “artistic wares” put in our modern churches, it is often embarrassing and an embarrassment for priests and faithful. It is not true that modern art is ugly, but it is true ch'esistono contemporary artists who make bad art works, no one knows how or why, often they end up in our churches.

    don Antonio

    1. Don Antonio, reminding you that I will console, a few kilometers away from you, I remove a picture of a chapel “Nativity” that my parishioners had nicknamed the framework of “Madonna vampira”, that with the teeth tearing the umbilical cord to a baby Jesus dirt of organic substances.
      And this always about contemporary artists, contemporary art, but, above all, about who puts certain things in our churches, often even pay good money.

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