VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – They can be called Vatican vampire prints – masterpieces such as Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Salvador Dali, so delicate that they often lie dormant in dark places in their museums.
A visitor takes a picture of a work of art as a woman passes Salvator Dali's "Crucifix" painting during an exhibition of delicate paper works at the Vatican on December 11, 2019.REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane
Now 150 engravings, woodcuts, aquatints, lithographs, and other types of twentieth-century graphic art are being displayed in daylight – many for the first time – at the Braccio Carlo Magno exhibition hall in St. Peter's Square.
Called “The Signs of the Sacred – The Impressions of the Real,” the program is a mix of works on spiritual themes, modern interpretations of biblical scenes, still lifes, nature scenes, and pieces that reflect everyday life, war, and motherhood.
"They definitely don't love the light," said Francesca Boschetti, curator of the exhibition, explaining that they can only be exhibited for a short time to prevent fading and deterioration.
They are emerging from what Micol Forti, head of the Vatican Museums' department of modern and contemporary art, calls "the secret and hidden life set in the darkness of cupboards and vaults."
Some of the artists whose works are on display, such as Edvard Munch, more famously for "The Scream," lived bohemian and sometimes hedonistic lifestyles and were not known to be religious.
But they were drawn to spiritual themes, and Munch's "Old Man Praying," a 1902 woodcut on Japanese rice paper, is an example.
"In times of personal hardship or great social upheaval, such as during and between the two world wars, even artists who do not normally make religious themes turn to them as a metaphor for suffering and violence," Boschetti said.
The exhibition includes Dali's "Christ of the Gala," a stereoscopic ensemble of two lithographs, which the surrealist intended to give a three-dimensional effect when viewed together.
The exhibition, which is free, ends in late February, when the works will be returned to dark storage with temperature and humidity control.
The 150 works, which also include pieces by Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka and Marc Chagall, are from the Vatican Museum's collection of contemporary arts.
Many were donated, some by the artists themselves, to Pope Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978. Unlike some of his predecessors, Pope Paul appreciated modern art and founded a collection devoted entirely to twentieth-century works.
Philip Pullella report; Editing by Giles Elgood
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