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”.

April 2, 2014

Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ: pain and hope

Museo Cappella Sansevero, Naples
Via Francesco de Sanctis, 19/21
+39 081 5518470
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