What's in a Face?

San Marino Art Exhibit Considers Mystery of Man

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CITY OF SAN MARINO, AUG. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- An art exhibit in San Marino is proposing a reflection on the mystery of the human face as a representation of the soul.

The exhibition, titled “Man, Face, Mystery,” opened last Saturday and will run through Nov. 6, reported L’Osservatore Romano.

Antonio Paolucci is presiding over the exhibition, organized in continuity with Benedict XVI’s visit to San Marino last June.

The Vatican Museums’ Department of Classical Antiquities has provided a number of masterpieces such as the famous “head of Athena,” an original Greek work from the fifth century BC; the “bust of Antinous” from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, and the “portrait of Claudia Semne in the guise of Venus.” Other pieces have come from the Department of Etruscan-Italic Antiquities (two extraordinary terracotta heads, one masculine and one feminine), from the Department of Paleochristian Art (the rare fourth century mosaic “portraits of Flavius Julianus and his wife Simplicia Rustica”), and from the Department of Oriental Antiquities (the “portrait of a woman from Palmyra” formerly in the collection of art critic Federico Zeri).

Other depictions of man in the classical age have been provided by the Department of Decorative Arts, including the “bust of Trajan” and the “portraits of Peter and Paul.” The latter date from the fifth century and are considered to be among the oldest of their kind in the world. A large number of the works on display in the exhibition come from the Department of Mediaeval Art; they include the 12th-century painting of “Christ delivering a blessing” and the mosaic “portrait of St. Luke,” which decorated the facade of the Vatican Basilica in the Middle Ages. Among the paintings and sculptures from the modern age are various works by Guercino and Guido Reni, as well as the “portrait of a man” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The last section of the exhibition is dedicated to the “Holy Face.” It includes a 17th-century copy of the image of “Christ acheiropoieta” from the Lateran (the original being impossible to move); the famous veil of the “Veronica” from the Pontifical Sacristy, normally inaccessible to the public and the only surviving reproduction of that venerated relic, which was held in the Vatican but lost in the Sack of Rome in 1527, and the “Sainte Face” by George Rouault. The exhibition ends with works by a number of 20th-century artists including Fausto Pirandello, Francesco Messina and Graham Sutherland.

The L’Osservatore Romano report offered the reflection that the drama of man since the Incarnation has been the choice to accept or reject Jesus’ revelation of the Father’s face: “If the individual, being father, must accept himself in the first place as son, the attempt to ‘imitate’ the model becomes an encounter with the mystery.”

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