SICILIAN ICON OF THE KING OF SORROWS

The primary influence on my “King of Sorrows” series is derived from 15th and 16th Century Italian art, when it became increasingly sensuous, even erotic, and a new problem presented itself to the Church following the Reformation. This sensuous appeal - the indefinable sensuous “certo non so che’ (a certain something) became as much a part of sacred images as of Venus and Adonis. You can see these conflicts/tensions in my photographs. They present an aesthetic of the sacred and profane in art, or as Caravaggio called it “fra secolo e devoto”- between the sacred and the profane.

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden."[1] In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the dichotomy sacred/profane was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.

Caravaggio’s tenebrism (use of dramatic theatrical lighting) in the context of a late 16th century positive reassessment of darkness influenced my King of Sorrows series.  In the writings of John of the Cross the Spanish mystic, darkness became a necessary preamble to enlightenment. Whereas in biblical symbolism dark was equated with evil and light with good, dark now became the complement of light, playing a necessary role in meditation and as a precondition to conversion.

A secondary influence on the “King of Sorrows” series is the recurring use of a traditional iconic image of Christ (see image above) that has been in the possession of my family before they immigrated to America from Sicily in the early 20th century. This iconic image refers back to an earlier time in the history of Christianity – the Byzantine Church. At that time, the use of icons of Christ mediate Christ’s presence in a direct way. The icon was a symbol which represented a reality outside of the actual image. The portrait (the type) is associated with the model (the prototype) like a shadow is to a figure. They resemble each other but exist in quite different forms.

My “King of Sorrows” photographs function on two levels –as religious icons that can mediate the presence of Christ or spiritual beliefs, and/or as purely aesthetic objects that are interesting in themselves without any mediating power..the choice is in the eyes and mind of the viewer.

Technique and media

A majority of photographs in the “King of Sorrows” series are monotone Platinum prints that combine two or more of my vintage view camera photos with the iconic painting of Christ, referred to above. These monotone images rely on the use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism to achieve their dramatic visual effects. A more recent direction combines my contemporary color photographs with the Sicilian portrait of Christ. These photos use color as well as chiaroscuro to express the feelings of “secolo e devoto”.