Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More New Paintings at La Crosse, Wisconsin

Color study of the La Crosse narthex fresco. Click to enlarge.

The dedication of the new shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at La Crosse, Wisconsin, is only a few days away, on July 31st, this coming Thursday. The dedication mass and other associated rites, in and of themselves, should be of considerable interest given the personalities involved in their planning, but certainly one of the more permanent gifts of the project to the liturgical renewal is its ambitious cycle of paintings by Anthony Visco and a number of other artists working in concert with him. The most newsworthy element of the program is surely the illusionistic ceiling painting that will grace the narthex. True illusionistic ceilings in the Baroque manner--full of floating angels and fanciful architecture--are almost wholly unknown in America; the closest thing I can think of are a few rather sad whisps of cloud on late-nineteenth-century church ceilings and the sanctoral figures lining the dome of St. Hyacinth in Chicago, pleasant and detailed if not terribly dynamic. There is nothing to compare with the gloriously explosive, dizzyingly acrobatic ceilings so common to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Roman churches, exemplified by Jesuit perspectivalist Andrea Pozzo's work at Sant' Ignazio in Rome.

Black and white study of the La Crosse narthex fresco. Click to enlarge.

Until now, that is. Mr. Visco is currently completing his work with a team of assistants, and a few months back was kind enough to pass onto us a number of photos of the project as it stood. The painting will show, episodically, the history of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, interspersed within a fanciful interpretation of the architecture of the Shrine's own nave and dome, thus subtly tying narthex and church together. It is probably nearly complete by now. When it does reach completion, like the shrine itself, it will be a true first for both the Catholic revival, and for the American church in general.

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