Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ: pain and hope
According to French author André Gide, “Sculptors don’t try to translate their thoughts into marble: they think directly as if everything was made of marble; they think in marble”.
If that is true, the “Veiled Christ” on display in the Sansevero Chapel in Naples must be the most wonderful “thought” Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino (1720-1793) ever had. Even Antonio Canova expressed his admiration for this masterpiece, saying he wished it had been his creation. With his words, the “new Phidias” paid a great compliment to the humble “stone cutter” Sanmartino, who had been entrusted with the project only as second choice, after the death of artist Antonio Corradini.
Sanmartino envisioned a lifeless Jesus, enshrouded in a fine fabric. He was able to “find” that image inside a block of marble, discovering its beauty with what Michelangelo called “a hand that obeys the intellect”.
The great writer Matilde Serao caught “a glimpse of a smile, an indefinite hope” on the lips of Sanmartino’s Christ. She commented the work saying, “pain, it’s true, has passed from the body to the soul; the soul is saddened, but not desperate nor desolate. The soul has been given gall to drink, but has had a taste of consolation. The whole figure of Christ expresses the highest pain, but also the highest hope”, in such a way that “the only thing the faithful can do is fall to the ground weeping his death, and cover his feet with tears and kisses”.