Vatican Museums Adopt a Comic Book

Chaplin_sI remember an excitement in the comics community in the mid-1970’s when we heard that a Robert Crumb original was to be displayed in Paris’ Louvre Museum. A first of a kind event for a medium mostly shunned by culture venues of that era.

My recent oil painting of Charlie Chaplin is an effort to extend the drawing horizons past the comics aesthetic. Not especially driven by wanting the drawing to be more “artistic”, but rather an exploration of areas beyond the comic book drawing method instilled in me since youth.

I’m now on my second painting and this time it’s a comics-based commission that I’ll post when done.  The work so far causes a reconsideration of the drawing process, and thus its results,  mostly due to the viscosity of the oil medium and its “thick” application properties, relative to pencil, ink, watercolor, acrylic or even digital work.  The challenges it poses for artists coming from illustration and cartooning make it easier to understand why so few delve into it.  At such an early stage of a refreshing new discovery, it’s easy to become totally immersed in it and slightly shun the old ways and aesthetics.

Exactly at this juncture, a new exhibit, curated by the Vatican Museums and Rome’s Jewish community, opens to the public in Vatican City. I remember being asked in advance for permission to display an Uri-On comic book in a Rome Exhibit about the Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum that was a centerpiece of the Jewish Temple and apparently taken to Rome after Jerusalem’s destruction of the Second Temple, as conveyed by carvings in the Arch of Titus). I’d all but forgotten about it when I recently received a link to the exhibit page on the The Patrons of Arts in the Vatican Museums website.

It feels a little strange and out of place for a series of paintings by art-history’s masters, going back to early Renaissance to be capped off by a relatively mediocre super-hero comic book  that raised much greater interest in Israel because of its novelty than it did due to a creative or cultural merit. Uri-On’s Menorah emblem design has already been adopted by the Israel Museum and other venues as an example of a modern-day iteration, but its appearance in this exhibit promotion shares a spotlight with painting masters, many of whom I studied and drew from since grade school, before becoming totally immersed in comics.

This Vatican Museums exhibit is no less prestigious for comics today than the Louvre was back in the 1970’s. But unlike Crumb’s achievement, Uri-On’s inclusion is somewhat of a fluke and a facade that give a false impression of an art-value-parity with the other exhibit items. Though its oddity is amusing…and appreciated.

UPDATE: Seems the image of Uri-On was replaced today (Mon, Oct 9) by another item from the exhibit, soon after a couple of visits from a Vatican City location were made to this site. Maybe it was something I said.

Uri-On in the Vatican Museums Menorah exhibit as seen on a third party site at the 1:43 mark of this clip from Rome Reports.



2 thoughts on “Vatican Museums Adopt a Comic Book

  1. Mike, this is Robert Therriault from Growing Earth. I’m hoping to reacquaint if you have time old friend.

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