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The Holy See at the Venice Biennale
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The Holy See at the Venice Biennale

Picture of Marinel Valentini
Updated: 27 January 2016
After a gradual ‘divorce’ from the arts in the past century, the Catholic Church will reclaim its position as a patron of the arts by participating for the first time at the Venice Biennale. The Holy See aims to partake in the global art dialogue by offering contemporary artworks that respect its Christian values.

Although no stranger to the arts in its centuries-long history, the Holy See has never before participated in the contemporary art world’s preeminent artistic showcase. Thus the Holy See’s participation is the one most anticipated by art critics and the public alike. Having received a lot of media attention – both positive and negative – in recent months, the Vatican seeks to draw attention to its efforts to establish a new dialogue with the contemporary arts scene.


The theme of The Holy See’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale revolves around the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Christian Bible. With the title of Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation, the exhibition interprets and explores topics such as the creation of mankind by God, original sin, the flood and near-destruction of all creation, and the safeguarding of God’s realm. Separating the showing into the three sections of the title, the Holy See Pavilion features the work of multimedia and installation group Studio Azzurro, photographer Josef Koudelka and painter Lawrence Carroll. Through the work of these artists, the Holy See Pavilion offers conceptual and modern depictions of themes tackled by some of the most renowned artists in the history of art. In particular, 2013’s theme pays homage to Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes from the Book of Genesis on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.


Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who is also President of the Pontificial Council for Culture, is the commissioner of the Holy See’s Pavilion. Ravasi began fostering plans for a Holy See Pavilion around 2011, during the 54th edition of the Biennale. With this historic participation, Ravasi, with the support of Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, aims to place the Vatican City (and the Catholic Church in general) in the international arts arena and make it an active participant in the artistic debate of the present. ‘My wish is for the Christian presence to be felt…in the arts of the 21st century, the Catholic Church’s aspiration is to aggregate ideas and to create [artistic] stimulation,’ revealed Paolucci in a recent interview.


The Holy See is one of 11 countries participating for the first time at the 2013 Venice Biennale. The roster of new entries also includes the Bahamas, Côte d’Ivoire, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, the Maldives, Nigeria, Paraguay, and the Republic of Kosovo.


The Holy See Team

Title: Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation

Commissioner: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

Artists: Studio Azzurro, Joseph Koudelka and Lawrence Carroll

Venue: Arsenale – Sale d’Armi


About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale. Watch this space for our daily Venice Biennale updates or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!


By Marinel Valentini



The Culture Trip showcases the best of art, culture and travel for every country in the world. Have a look at our Vatican City or Europe sections to find out more or become involved.