‘Four Saints in Three Acts’ combines art, iconography at DePaul Art Museum

Companion exhibition explores French Romantic revision of St. Vincent de Paul

​​CHICAGO — Art and the representation of saints have been intertwined for centuries. An upcoming winter exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” will feature works by contemporary artists who use religious imagery to consider their own relationship to religion, belief and faith.

A complementary show, “The Many Faces of Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred,” will examine how artists depicted DePaul University’s patron saint in material culture and decorative arts. Both exhibitions open Jan. 26 and run through April 2.

“St. Vincent de Paul’s life and work drive the mission of the university and museum. These exhibitions will help us explore his legacy as an advocate for the poor and for what we know today as social justice,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, the museum’s director and chief curator.

Four Saints in Three Acts

“Four Saints in Three Acts” takes its title from an unconventional 1920s opera. Written by Virgil Thomson, with a libretto by Gertrude Stein and stage design by artist Florine Stettheimer, the play “marked a modernist, avant-garde take on the depiction of saints,” said Widholm. “In that same spirit, I wanted to consider how contemporary art intersects with notions of belief and faith, while expanding who is represented in these venerated aesthetic traditions,” she said. For the group exhibition, Widholm will bring together work from contemporary artists including Devin Mays, Dan Ramirez, Rodrigo Lara Zendejas, Jeni Spota C., Kehinde Wiley, Nate Young and Andrea Büttner.

“Though the art world today tends to be very secular, the influence of religious iconography endures,” said Widholm. “Many of these artists are using iconography to critically explore their relationships to religion. It’s very personal.”

Lara Zendejas’s “Chapel” is a room-sized, cathedral-shaped installation that houses saintly sculptures of iconic 20th century artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. A Mexican-born artist who now hails from Chicago, Zendejas was raised Catholic, and this work is a reflection of his personal history and decision to devote his life to art.

“Faith and belief are vital to the life of an artist,” said Widholm. “These works ask whom we venerate, revere and why. We also want to contemplate how saints and artists both create a legacy that outlives their life.”

The Many Faces of Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred

Long before pop stars inspired T-shirts and trinkets, St. Vincent de Paul’s devoted followers were clamoring for items in his image. In “The Many Faces of Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred,” guest curator the Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., gathers items from DePaul University’s collection that reflect the rise of Vincent’s popularity.

holycard
A holy card shows St. Vincent de Paul with a halo, holding an infant. These small, inexpensive images made devotional art accessible to the masses during the 19th century. The item is from DePaul University’s collection and is part of a special exhibition, “The Many Faces of St. Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred,” at the DePaul Art Museum. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
“During his lifetime, Vincent was a controversial figure and a classic church reformer. After the French Revolution, that was all history,” said Udovic, a professor of history and senior executive for university mission.

In the 19th century there was a refounding of the Vincentian order, and the French “reinterpreted Vincent in a very romantic, heroic way,” said Udovic. Instead of being pictured as an evangelizer, artists began depicting St. Vincent holding and rescuing children. “One baby was good, two babies were better and three babies were great,” said Udovic. He explained that this shift mirrors France’s movement toward a more secular society, and St. Vincent was venerated as the “apostle of charity.”

This makeover of St. Vincent’s image coincided with industrialization and the emergence of the middle class, so devotional items made in his image became more accessible, explained Udovic. “There were all kinds of holy cards and statues. In just the sheer scale and scope, it was an explosion,” said Udovic.

He added that “Vincent is by far the most popular 19th century French saint. Figures of him outnumber everyone else’s by a wide margin. He was marketable because what he represented was marketable.”

DePaul University holds the world’s largest collection of material culture related to St. Vincent de Paul. Artifacts on display from the university’s collection reflect the varying quality and artistry of devotional items from the period, said Udovic.

Today, Udovic and other Vincentian historians are interested in examining what is fact and what is fiction in artistic depictions of St. Vincent. “You can look at the thousands of images of St. Vincent de Paul and see the themes — artists who are trying to uncover a universal truth,” he said.

Admission is free at DePaul Art Museum, located at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the CTA’s Fullerton ‘L’ stop. Museum hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more on DePaul Art Museum’s upcoming exhibitions and events, call 773-325-7506 or visit http://museums.depaul.edu/.

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Sources:
Julie Rodrigues Widholm 
julie.widholm@depaul.edu  
312-325-7229

Edward R. Udovic
eudovic@depaul.edu
312-362-8042

Media Contact: 
Kristin Claes Mathews 
kristin.mathews@depaul.edu  
312-362-7735​​​