I became attracted to the Roman Catholic faith in, appropriately, Rome. I was living with my parents at the American Academy in Rome, a kind of cultural embassy, in between my high school and college years. I had the run of the city and visited countless churches, sacred sites, antiquities, and shrines. I was at the Vatican many times. The Pope at that time, 1971, was the aging Paul VI. My desire for a religious life didn't come out of nowhere. The biggest attraction for me was the art and architecture this religion had inspired. I was also enthralled by the ritual performances, full of movement, color, and symbolism.
Those who witnessed my turn towards religion mocked it as a kind of spectator thing, that I was just fascinated by "superficial trappings" such as art and theater. I knew there was more to it than spiritual gawking. From the vast amount of art I saw in Rome, I adapted symbols for my own use as well as my art training. The piece you see above was painted in oil paint as a study work. "Still life" arrangements are even now an essential practice in traditional art training. I chose a still life which would symbolize the Catholic faith. These objects (except for the bay leaves) are found on the altar at the celebration of the Catholic Mass. I visited as many Masses as I could to observe the ritual (though as a non-Catholic I couldn't take communion).
The chalice is the container of the sacred wine believed by Catholic faithful to be the "blood of Christ." The bread, which is here a common Roman roll called a "rosette", is believed by the Catholic faith to be the "body of Christ." These beliefs are absurd to non-Catholics but serve a deep purpose strengthening the faith and spiritual life of Catholics. The white cloth is the altarcloth over the stone slab of the Catholic altar. I added the green laurel leaves to symbolize victory and martyrdom, ancient Roman meanings.
I struggled with the oil paint. The painting looks very smooth and slick but in reality its surface is a mess. When I was almost finished, I accidentally knocked the painting off its easel onto the dusty floor of the basement studio, and the wet paint picked up a heavy coating of grit and dust. I couldn't remove all of it so the painting has a rough texture. The chalice was very difficult for me to paint. I had to paint the distorted reflections of the table items in its silvery curves.
That chalice was made of brass plated with silver. I took it home with me along with the painting. The art stayed in the old house with my parents, and the "Roma 1971" goblet has remained with me since the painting. I became a Catholic in 1979. But a couple of years ago something distressing happened to the silver plated cup. I found it on the shelf with its bowl cracked right through, so that it could hold no liquid. How could this happen? Was it extremes of heat and cold, or a fall in the recent earthquake? Or does the broken chalice symbolize my lack of faith, as I don't attend Catholic church any more? Perhaps I should sanctify my Cintiq and paint a digital sacred still life, one I can't drop or break.
"Allegory of the Catholic Faith" is oil on heavy paperboard, 7 3/4" x 11 3/4", 1971. Click for larger view.