Beauty That Can Save The World

His name is Giancarlo Polenghi and he is the Academic Director of the Sacred Art School in Florence, where he also teaches Theology and Aesthetics. The Sacred Art School was begun just three short years ago with the support of Florence’s Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, and today its students come from Italy, USA, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, China, Sweden, England, and Argentina to study creating sacred art in this world culture capital. Here, Mr. Polenghi takes REGINA readers on a tour of the School and discusses its founding and aims.

I have lived in Florence since 1984 and from that moment on I have been talking with artists working here.” Giancarlo Polenghi

‘Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple’ by Sofia Novelli, Student,  Sacred Art School – Firenze

 I believe that all art is representative, because even abstract art or conceptual art re-presents something. I have been interested in figurative, realistic art ever since I was a student.”

DSC_1630Saint John Paul II’s letter to the artist (1999) was the catalyst in the personal artistic research of a group of artists living in Florence. In 2010 Dony McManus, Cody Swanson, Osamu Tanimoto decided to start the Sacred Art School – Firenze. I introduced them to Italian artisans and to Opera del Duomo, IUline (an Italian University), the ARTES association and the Chamber of Commerce.”

“With the benediction of Cardinal Betori (Bishop in Florence and our Committee of Honor President), the school was founded. So we can say that the original idea came from Dony McManus, but then was made reality with the help of many others.”

‘The Annunciation’, Elisabetta Carini, Student, Sacred Art School – Firenze

“Our school was founded because there was a need for an environment open to a beauty that can save the world. The Church’s role on the tradition of figurative and realistic art is determinant. In the Renaissance, it was the concept of the Incarnation which brought a renewed interest in representing the human body as the center of universe — and a portrait of the image and likeness of God.”

‘Crucifix’, copy of original by Cody Swanson made by Fernando Cidoncha Perez, Sacred Art School – Firenze

More particularly it was Saint Francis of Assisi having the stigmate in his body which provided a real example for a new, more realistic way to depict the God-man on the cross. Giotto was working under Franciscan influence, and with him we have the early Renaissance.“

‘Our Lady with the Child Jesus’ by Fernando Cidoncha Perez, Sacred Art School – Firenze

“If figurative art was also present in Greek and Roman times, it is with the Humanism in the Western culture that a new understanding of the creation and the Creator, in the human body, happened. Therefore we can say that the Church influence on art was and still is very important. More than that, we could say the relation between art and religion was always strong. Art was and it is still a way to study and understand the Divine, the Sacred. To touch the untouchable. This is true for every form of art, from theatre to dance, from sculpture to painting.”

‘The Sacred Heart of Jesus’ by Margherita Gallucci, Student, Sacred Art School – Firenze

Contemporary Western art seems to be different from this tradition, and less interested in sacred subject matter. But this is only a part of the story. From the Second Vatican Council on the Church manifested a strong will to dialogue with the artistic community. There are many official documents in this direction, and it is also true that many artists were interested in sacred themes or in a spiritual dimension of their work. In the Sacrosantum Concilium (the first document approved by the Second Vatican Council in 1965) it is stated that promoting sacred art schools will be necessary for the Church.”

Don Alvaro per Giorgio
‘Blessed Alvaro del Portillo’, Sofia Novelli, Student, Sacred Art School – Firenze

The artistic environment in Western societies has developed a secularized attitude, less open to sacred art. The idea of beauty as an end, a supreme one, can destroy beauty itself and its meaning. Such an attitude of absolute purity of art makes painting pure color, sculpture pure form and architecture pure space. We are missing the narrative role of art, its power of telling stories, and to be understood by people, normal people. The risk of contemporary art is to be self-centered and self-referential.”

DSC_1860 bb“The Church is immersed in the culture she is living in, so even from the liturgical point of view we have different attitudes: some are invoking the tradition, others want to be contemporary and cut the figurative and narrative representation. I think both attitudes make sense (and can be useful), but the best option would be to go “forward in tradition”. This is a coherent approach with the Christian tradition; that is, we should study always to go deeper in knowledge, not forgetting the lessons from the past. But we should also be open to new way of thinking, new media and new ways of expressing the mystery. “

Episcopal ring by Teresa Santoni, Student, Sacred Art School – Firenze

“At the moment we are not selling through galleries or online sources; we work on commission. But we are open to new opportunities. We started only three years ago. And thank God, we have many commissions. Sacred Art School and our teachers have so far sold works in Italy, USA, Chile, Nigeria, Zaire, Spain, England and Sri Lanka.”

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DSC_1687bIn our school we have students from many places. This variety enables us to be aware of different styles, needs, tradition and tastes. I believe that the market has always been interested in figurative art, maybe now more people are working on that, offering quality products. The gap between the public and an incomprehensible art has reached a point of tiredness. We have seen so much that we now realize that Newness is less interesting than Originality — and that comes from the word Origin. “


PHOTO CREDITS: Claudio Pulicati and Maria Vittoria Ferrari

More information on the school can be seen here

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