Since May 29, 2022, the Roman church of San Marcello al Corso has been displaying a curious image inside: a modern Madonna with an unborn Child inside, visible, the work of Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, who intends to celebrate life through beauty.
This image, baptized as the Monument to Life, was blessed by Mons. Vicenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Pontifical Council for the Laity. Academy for Life of the Vatican. It will not be the only image of this kind to be seen around the world. Along with the sculpture in Rome, Washington will host a replica of this Monument to life.
Schmalz himself has pointed out that the source of inspiration for the Monument to Life found it in Pope Francis' Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace.
The artist, who has been received several times by the Holy Father, was struck by what the Pope called in this message the "globalization of indifference." Based on this idea, Schmalz thought that a sculpture could help raise awareness of those other vulnerable lives in the wombs of their mothers. In other words, to make the invisible visible.
In this sense, as Tim Schmalz emphasizes for Omnes, it is not that society has difficulty accessing transcendence but that "human nature is to believe in what you see. If the fetus could always be seen, I think there would be a society that would hold it more sacred."
The development of this sculpture was, as the author points out, "very fast and beautiful. I made an initial sketch and, the moment I saw the drawing, I knew it was excellent".
The whole image directs the viewer's gaze to the center: the unborn Child. At the same time, it also "picks up" the viewer, who is reflected in the silvery steel circle of the Virgin's belly, which acts as a mirror. "The viewers of the sculpture literally see themselves at the center of the work, symbolizing their connection to this creative source." Schmalz says.
The Monument to Life is a donation from Movimento Per la Vita Italiano . In this sense, as Bishop Vicenzo Paglia pointed out at the blessing of the image, "it is about the commitment so that the woman (and the couple) receive all possible support to prevent abortion, overcoming the difficulties, including economic ones, that lead to the termination of pregnancy."
Its Roman location, in the church of San Marcello, which houses the "Crocifisso miracoloso", which Pope Francis brought to the Vatican during the pandemic, is a way to make many people, from all places, encounter this hymn to unborn life.
The placement and blessing of this image has come at a time when the debate on life has returned to the forefront in countries such as the United States. With the Monument to Life the sculptor wants, in fact, "celebrate life". It is true that both the development and the inauguration of this monument has not been brought about by the debate, but has turned out to be a coincidence.
Coincidentally or not, for Tim Schmalz "we must defend all life, as Pope Francis said, even if it is not convenient". For this reason, the artist wants this sculpture to be located where it can serve as a testimony. Hence the Monument to Life After short stays in different cities in the United States, it will be permanently installed in the country's capital.
The migrant boat in San Pedro
This is not Tim Schmalz's first work set in the heart of Christianity; the Canadian is the author of Angels Unawaresa striking sculptural group that, since September 2019, occupies one side of St. Peter's Square. The huge work represents a raft on which a group of migrants and refugees from different cultural and racial backgrounds, and from various historical periods, huddle expectantly. Among them, the wings of angels stand out, referring to the text of the letter to the Hebrews: "Do not forget hospitality: by it some have entertained angels without knowing it". A sculpture that was a challenge for the sculptor.
Angels Unawares was an initiative of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development to commemorate the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis himself presided at the Holy Mass after which the sculpture was blessed.
When he received the commission from the Holy See, Schmalz admits that he felt, more than happiness, "a very great responsibility to give the best face of our faith through art. There was no time to rest. In addition to the one that can be seen in St. Peter's, Angels Unawares can be seen on the campus of the Catholic University of America.
A "homeless" special
Among Timothy Schmalz's best-known religiously inspired works are his Homeless Jesus. These sculptures show a homeless homeless man, lying on a street bench and covered by a threadbare blanket. Looking closely at the marks on his feet, we discover a Christ whose face is hidden in the figure of the most extreme poverty.
There are numerous places, usually outdoors and in constant traffic, where these striking works can be seen: the surroundings of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, the Seosomun Historical Park in Seoul, the shores of the Sea of Galilee or the exterior of the Roman headquarters of the Sant'Egidio movement, are some of these places.
One of the characteristics of many of Schmalz's works that depict particularly painful realities such as emigration, homelessness or exclusion is the serenity with which he conveys these harsh scenes. Tim Schmalz tells Omnes that, when confronted with such realities, "I focus on the subject and try to make it as authentic as possible. I believe that a work of art is beautiful if it shows the truth of something."
"Faith is the reason for my sculpture."
The Canadian sculptor states unequivocally that "my faith is the only reason why I sculpt, it would be impossible to put so much time into my art if I didn't have a mission from God". For Schmalz, the artist is an evangelizer and must be aware of it. To make his work a way of understanding, of approaching the other and God. "If the sculpture were good enough it would change people's hearts and minds" Tim Schmalz points out, "if it doesn't succeed it's not religion that fails, it's us, the artist, the priest, all of us who evangelize who fail to present the truth in a way that people can see".