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from issue no. 04 - 2008

The Atelier of Spiritual Art of the “Ezio Aletti” Center for study and research

A very tiny reality

by Paolo Mattei

The slabs of colored stones lying on large frames are protected by transparent plastic sheets: in the Atelier of Spiritual Art of the “Ezio Aletti” Center for study and research, directed since 1995 by Father Rupnik, colors from all over the world may arrive. They find a resting place for a while along the walls of the wooden porch that encircles the central courtyard: yellow and green Afghan onyx, red and white Greek and Turkish travertine. Then, slowly slowly, the slabs are moved into the workshops where fewer than a dozen people work with hammers, clippers, pliers and tweezers so that these stones and their colors may return to the world in the form of mosaics. The Atelier is in Rome, close to the Basilica of Saint Mary major, showcase of late antique and medieval art.
“This is a permanent communal worksite”, explains Father Rupnik, “in which a group of Christians from various countries and various Churches lives, prays, studies and works together”. Here the memory of the iconographical tradition of the Churches of East and of the West is fresh, inspiration comes from early Byzantine, pre-Romanesque and Romanesque art. Here, the Slovenian Jesuit explains, “the contemporary conception of material and color as independent idioms is kept well in mind... There is no juxtaposition of ancient and modern: rather I would say that ancient and modern are fused into a new idiom”.
Work goes on in the silence of the light penetrating the large rooms through the doors open on the courtyard. Father Rupnik’s effort is to pay more attention to encountering people than to large-scale projects, or preaching, or lessons in art: “I meet great loneliness in artists and a great embarrassment on the part of the Church in approaching them. They remain closed in their own projects, put on many self-referential exhibitions which almost nobody goes to. Many have a veritable fear of the Church. That is very sad because it means the motherly and fatherly face, friendly and brotherly face of the Church is not coming through”.
The Atelier comes under the Aletti Center – founded in 1992 to back the mission carried out from the Society of Jesus in the Pontificall Oriental Institute – that promotes meetings between Christians of various social and cultural background. The main purpose of the Center – that also has the publishing house La Lipa – is “the co-existence of Orthodox believers, Catholics of Eastern and Latin rite in the aim that each should grow in his Church, in the charity of the one Christ”. The Atelier sets itself the same target in the world of art. “We are a very tiny reality”, Father Rupnik says. But the mosaics in chapels and churches throughout the world, created by him and his friends, silently assert that a very tiny workshop can offer great witness to Christian beauty.

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