VATICAN – The artist Zhang: to paint Blessed Pope Luciani, I was inspired by the Bible and the cross
Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – “When I was young, my uncle wanted to be a missionary in China”: this is what Lina Petri, niece of Pope Luciani, confided to Agenzia Fides, on the eve of the solemn celebration of the beatification of Pope John Paul I, which took place in Saint Peter’s Square on September 4, and which was also the occasion to link the “Pope of the Smile” to China. The Bible and the cross were a source of inspiration for the internationally renowned artist Zhang Yan, who made the official portrait of the new blessed. The work was donated by the master to the Vatican Giovani Paolo I Foundation chaired by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and Stefania Falasca, vice-president. The portrait was reproduced on the large tapestry which was hung on the facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica during the liturgy of beatification presided over by Pope Francis, and was unveiled at the time of the proclamation of the new blesseds, before the 25 000 faithful who attended the celebration en masse.
Master Zhang had already donated two works to Pope Francis in 2017, which are now in the Vatican Museums: “Iron Staff Lama” (1993) and “Cham Dance” (1995). “It was a challenge and a difficult job”, tells Fides the Chinese artist, born in the province of Sichuan. “In fact, explains Master Zhang, this is the first time that I have portrayed a Western figure: I went from subjects linked to the spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism to a Christian figure, even a pope. He was a real challenge for me. In addition to carefully studying the history and biography of Pope Luciani, I began to read the Bible and learn the meaning of the cross. My 15-hour day for two consecutive months always began with a reading from the Bible, which is on my bedside table, and a meditation in front of a cross placed next to the photo easel. I think the Bible and the cross have been the source of inspiration and the strength that ‘made it possible to do such a demanding job, which was extremely important. I tried to transmit a deep smile, expressing friendship, welcome, listening”.
On the eve of the beatification, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, confirmed in an interview: “I think that the agreement on the appointment of bishops in China”, signed in 2018 in Beijing by the Holy Headquarters and the Chinese government, will be renewed, stating that “we have started to walk this path, with great difficulty, we must admit, but we will continue to walk”. I think there is still a long way to go but we have to be patient”. (NZ) Agenzia Fides 9/19/2022)