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Two Artists Focus Talents On Marian Shrine


July 12 2005

Two Chinese artists have brought East and West together at a Marian shrine in Fuzhou, where images of the Last Supper and traditional ink paintings inspire pilgrims.

Zheng Qingming turned to Leonardo da Vinci´s masterpiece, the "Last Supper," as the model for his cement carving on the front of an altar at Our Lady of Rosary Church, in Fuzhou diocese´s Rosa Mystica Sanctuary. He also has completed a wall-size oil painting of the "Last Supper" for a chapel beside the sanctuary, which rests on a hilltop in Guhuai, Changle, 3,110 kilometers southeast of Beijing.

Zheng has created cement statues and other art pieces, almost 100 in all, for the church and pilgrimage site since it opened in May 2001. Along the uphill entrance to the shrine and in the church garden and square, his works depict the Stations of the Cross, the mysteries of the Rosary and angels in various poses.

The carving of the Last Supper posed certain problems, the middle-aged craftsman told UCA News, citing an "impossible hand posture" in da Vinci´s work. He reversed a hand of a disciple on Jesus´ right, since he "could not understand how that posture was possible when the picture was drawn."

Zheng finished the wall painting in the chapel in May. The bright eyes and colorful clothes of the life-size disciples, who watch Jesus as he blesses the bread and wine, serve to focus the attention of Massgoers and people praying.

Unable to afford time and money for art school in his youth, Zheng created and developed his own style of carving cement figures.

"I use no human models, but imagination and perspective to produce three-dimensional statues," the catechumen explained.

"For instance, I have never seen sheep but I have seen goats, so when I drew the picture of 100 sheep turning towards the crucifix in a church, I had to keep the image of a goat in mind, hold a picture of sheep in hand, and merge the two images in my drawing."

Talking about his faith experience, Zheng said he knew nothing about Christianity when he was introduced to the sanctuary several years ago. "But from the good example of Catholic clergy and laypeople around me, I have learned that God is love and human beings should love one another too."

After finishing the carving of the Last Supper, which he described as his "most satisfying work," Zheng subsequently received a number of orders for the same piece from various churches in and outside Fuzhou diocese.

Since he makes his living by producing such art, he is willing to make adjustments, such as by sculpting Mary or Joseph to be slimmer or fatter, according to the preferences of the pastor or parish leaders.

The artist also changes the posture of figures he reproduces if there is good cause. For example, he reversed a sculpture of Michelangelo´s famous "Pieta" to show the head of Jesus´ lifeless body resting on Mary´s left arm. "In this way," Zheng said, "Jesus´ face can be seen more clearly, and pilgrims and visitors can take good pictures of it." The statue was installed near the cliff of the Fuzhou shrine.

One piece he especially likes is a three-meter-tall statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, which stands at a corner of the sanctuary, overlooking Guhuai town. Many pilgrims pray fervently and touch the feet of the statue for healing.

Since most of the statues and carvings are outdoors, Zheng said he usually works on the spot, binding steel bars together to make a frame and then shaping the body and face with cement before coloring it with paint. Cement statues with steel bars are stronger and more durable, he explained.

Meanwhile, the many Chinese ink paintings hanging on an inside wall of Our Lady of Rosary Church are the work of a retired, nationally ranked painter.

Jiang Xi, a 73-year-old Fuzhou-born Catholic, has drawn dozens of the traditional paintings to decorate the church and meeting rooms. "When I heard about the Marian shrine, I wished to contribute my talent to the Church to fulfill my duty as a Catholic," he told UCA News.

Several of his Chinese paintings incorporate Catholic symbols. A landscape painting features a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, flying over a valley and river.

The veteran artist also made a painting that was presented to the late Pope John Paul II at the time of the 25th anniversary of his pontificate. It shows many sheep standing on a rock, symbolizing the universal Church.

Paintings by Jiang, a retired civil servant, have been exhibited overseas and displayed in a hall of the National People´s Congress, China´s parliament, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, since the 1960s.

Before he integrated his faith with Chinese traditional art, he "had to study catechism and Bible courses again," the layman said.


(Accompanying photos available at here)