Friday, January 25, 2008

Anthony Visco: Liturgical Artist and Sculptor, and a Digression about the Renaissance

With an increasing interest--and need--for sacred art and statuary in new churches, we are faced with the question of either resorting to the known quantity of catalog-bought statuary, sometimes of good, sometimes of indifferent quantity, or the great unknown of searching out a new artist. A few very talented men out there, though separating the wheat from the chaff, especially when taste is lacking or substituted by artistic timidity, is often very difficult.

One of the best out there, however, is Anthony Visco, a fresco artist and sculptor, who I heard speak last month in New York. He is steeped in the great traditions of Christian art and has written a number of extremely eloquent defenses of it from a classical perspective. He writes, not to defend the classical per se, but Christian art as a whole, and much of his position fuses a classical understanding of art with a solidly liturgical viewpoint in organic unity with the past.

Much has been made of the classical vs. Gothic dichotomy here in recent years. While he does not address this debate directly, his approach to Christian art weaves together the larger tradition with the themes of corporeality, of Franciscan humility and Ignatian spirituality that seems to me the best approach to the much-misunderstood Mediterranean heart of Christian art. Mr. Visco's work is distinctly classicist, but it has the God-centered focus typically associated with the Gothic (though certainly not belonging to it alone), not by any deliberate outward stylistic fusion, but because of his philosophical focus on the divine and his deep awareness of historic precedent and theological content.


I will say for my own part, the debate of the styles is not just of Gothic versus Renaissance, but of cis-Alpine versus trans-Alpine, Italia versus Germania. While there were philosophical shifts of varying gravity, at times the problem is simply apples are being compared to oranges. We compare an elaborate Spanish crucifix with a bloodied, suffering image of Our Lord with a Michelangelo Risen Christ, cutting across geographic space and time. A more apt comparison might be between the serene worlds of Fra Angelico (surely he is above suspicion) and Michelangelo, and the ornate, spiky woodwork of Veit Stoss and the Assam Brothers. Style is not morally neutral, but we must not mistake style for content.

To rectify the iconographic prunings and bouts of artistic self-indulgence of the last 400 years, does not require, necessarily, a purification of style (though that is one solution), but the infusion of an overarching religio-liturgical ethos into the creative process as the final arbiter, as anything less tends to get bogged down in endless debates about the cut of chasubles.


Returning to the matter at hand, there are some examples from the gentleman's portfolio. He is currently overseeing the fresco program under way at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, including an astonishing set of azulejo tile Mysteries of the Rosary as well as new bronze Stations of the Cross.

Christ of Holy Saturday, part of the National Shrine of St. Rita, an iconographic composition derived from early Renaissance examples in Northern Italy.

St. Norbert

The Baptism of Christ.

More can be found here.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: