Renaissance sculptor mixes secular, religious

Yesterday I ran into the first artwork I’ve seen from the Italian Renaissance that didn’t depict angels or Mary. Much of sculptor Tullio Lombardo’s work still remains in churches and shrines around Italy, but his pieces at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington leave the viewer wondering about characters’ identities and emotions.

Sculpture in National Gallery of Art exhibit. (CNS photo/Jessie Abrams)

Sculpture in National Gallery of Art exhibit. (CNS photo/Jessie Abrams)

The exhibit, opening to the public July 4, is small and includes mostly marble sculptures and busts. Lombardo’s work is not the only art in the display; also included are a few pieces from those who worked closely with him or were influenced by him.

Even though the art was not what I expected, I found a different type of divine presence in some of Lombardo’s work. There were two sculptures in particular in which the smooth marble made characters seem very present in form but their looks gaze up and away, indicating their focus is somewhere else.

Alison Luchs, the curator of early European sculpture at the National Gallery of Art, said by placing young beautiful nude characters close together and simultaneously having them look away from each other suggested to her the idea that physical beauty is not enough. She terms much of Lombardo’s work in the exhibit as “physically present but spiritually distant.”

Sculpture by Tullio Lombardo at National Gallery of Art. (CNS photo/Angela Cave)

Sculpture by Tullio Lombardo at National Gallery of Art. (CNS photo/Angela Cave)

In another one of Lombardo’s sculptures, again a young man is looking up into the sky instead of out into the world around him. I found the sculptures description — “Relief bust of a male saint?” — to clearly encompass the mystery Lombardo left in his artwork.

While he did become a secular artist at a time when many artists were still primarily bound to the needs of the church, Lombardo’s work still is too spiritual and too complex in composition to rule it out as strictly secular. Lombardo’s work still makes me wonder at the shift in his subject matter. Was he privately commissioned to sculpt images that were not for the church? Unlike some privately commissioned Renaissance paintings, Lombardo’s sculptures are not clear attempts at portraiture. Did some in Italy around the time of the Renaissance look past the art of the church and into more subjective art forms?

Although the gallery is displaying only about 10 pieces of Lombardo’s artwork, the exhibit raises many questions. Gallery officials say they expect Lombardo’s art to remain on display through the first of November.

What makes ‘a really great priest’?

A few weeks ago at Sunday Mass, our pastor told one of his frequent warm and humorous stories during the homily, and beneath the laughter that rippled through the crowded church, I heard the man sitting behind me say to his wife, “He’s such a good guy, a really great priest.”

I was a little startled to hear it. Not that I don’t agree, but sadly, I just don’t hear such sentiments expressed as much as I once did.

That’s the lede of a column in this week’s Catholic Telegraph in Cincinnati by Tricia Hempel, editor and general manager. She’s soliciting reader ideas for what makes a great priest in this Year for Priests. You can read her column and respond there, or you can comment here. (Remember, comments on this blog are moderated, so your responses may not instantly show up.)

‘The Catholic press loses a matriarch’

Ethel Gintoft with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. (Sam Lucero/The Compass)

Ethel Gintoft with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in February. (Sam Lucero/The Compass)

That was the headline on a blog item posted last night about a dear friend to many of us, Ethel Gintoft, the retired associate publisher and executive editor of the Catholic Herald in Milwaukee, who died last week. (See “Ethel M. Gintoft: Remembering a Catholic Herald legend.) The tribute was written by Sam Lucero, editor of The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis.

Ethel meant a lot to members of the Catholic press, and Sam’s tribute (earlier yesterday he was in Milwaukee for Ethel’s funeral Mass) in just a few sentences captures much of why that was. You can read the rest of Sam’s tribute here.

Also posting a tribute to Ethel yesterday was Heidi Schlumpf of the National Catholic Reporter. Heidi too captures what Ethel meant, writing, “At a time when women were still struggling for respect in newsrooms, she was succeeding in one owned by the male-dominated Catholic Church.” Read the rest here.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord …

Papal encyclical out on July 7

VATICAN CITY — The speculation is finally over. Today the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI’s long-anticipated social encyclical will be released next Tuesday, July 7th.

Journalists accredited to the Vatican will be given a copy of the encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth), at 9 a.m. Tuesday with an embargo on the text until noon Rome time. Expect full coverage from CNS!

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Paul  Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” will present the encyclical during a Vatican press conference at 11:30 a.m.

They’ll be joined by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi from the justice and peace council and Stefano Zamagni — an economic policy expert from the University of Bologna, who is also an adviser for the Vatican justice and peace council.

As we have written in several stories, the encyclical met with many delays, primarily because the pope wanted to go back to the text and make sure the document thoroughly dealt with the crippling global economic crisis that erupted while he was writing it.

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