Painter of Pope Benedict’s Portrait Quarrels with Gänswein

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, tried to compel painter Michael Triegl to re-do his portrait of the pope which was commissioned by the Diocese of Regensburg, the Pforzheimer Zeitung reports. But the painter declined.

Triegl’s comments, although they concern a memorial picture rather than liturgical art, raise issues that are important in a general way for the Church’s interaction with artists.

Gänswein told the painter that his worked did not succeed in capturing “the “youthful sparkle [Frische] of His Holiness.” He objected that the mouth of the pope is open and a bit crooked. And parts of his vesture or “inappropriately crooked.”

But Triegel stated:

“I listen very gladly to what the client wants. But of course I myself must be responsible for how I implement it.”

Triegel observes that churchmen who give commissions are

“often especially defensive in their dealings with noteworthy artists and intimidate them, and then they have to satisfy themselves works of inferior quality instead… There is a reason why the term ‘church art’ today has immediate connotations of low quality. Unfortunately, church art is often only church kitsch.”

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4 comments

  1. I guess, if one commissions a work of art, one is taking some risk. Can one “stiff” the artist if one dislikes the work that was commissioned? Can one reasonably expect the artist to go back and do it all again?

    I confess I’m feeling a bit of empathy for Archbishop Ganswein. The reasonable expectation is that the diocese of Regensburg wanted a portrait that would be a homage to Benedict, and the artist apparently delivered something else.

    Also, if I were a church artist, I don’t think I’d look especially kindly on Triegel’s sweeping characterization.

  2. Regarding: “Gänswein told the painter that his worked did not succeed in capturing “the “youthful sparkle [Frische] of His Holiness.” He objected that the mouth of the pope is open and a bit crooked. And parts of his vesture or “inappropriately crooked.””
    – Archbishop Georg perhaps was looking for something along the lines of the portraits of Pius xii — regal, solemn, steely erect, neatly starched and pressed. Alas, Benedict xvi is not built for a similar style of portrait. Benedict’s scholar’s stoop alone is disqualifying for such a portrait.
    – Benedict xvi’s portrait captures Benedict as the school master reviewing an unacceptable essay — trying not to discourage, while encouraging greater effort all at once; his customary approach to the catholic world perhaps. During such moments the sparkle was and would be out of place.

  3. I made the painting full screen and walked around the office and … the eyes follow you.

    The words “youthful sparkle” and “Pope Benedict XVI” would not be words that I normally would see together but I have to admit I agree with the secretary.

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