Knights of Columbus Museum: Past Exhibits

Pope John Paul II

An Interview with the Artist

by Elizabeth Ela

Contemporary Italian art has come to the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn., from revisits to well-known, Renaissance works to conceptual expressions of man’s search for meaning in the universe.

“The Art of Antonella Cappuccio: Contemporary Italian Paintings” is the museum’s latest exhibition running through Oct. 4, 2009.

Cappuccio, born in 1944 on the Italian island of Ischia, lives and works in Rome, where she has produced commissioned works for the Vatican and the Italian Military Corps and government.

Her works on exhibit range in their variety of styles and mediums – from sketches on paper to a giant, three-dimensional montage paying homage to Italian art – and many are accompanied by poetry, which Cappuccio believes helps draw out the emotions a painting is supposed to convey.

An adamant believer in the preservation of classical art techniques, all of Cappuccio’s works convey a sense of meaning, with forms grounded in reality and the human experience. This is in contrast, she said, to modern art’s loss of a religious sense and tendency toward self-centeredness and “self-expression.”

“Modern art has no spirituality,” Cappuccio said, speaking through a translator in an interview after presenting her paintings in the museum gallery.

Even her more abstract works – a painting in reaction to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, for example – use graspable symbols to depict emotion. 

Shocked when she heard of the attacks, Cappuccio began painting on Sept. 12, 2001, and finished a week later – most of her works take at least a month to complete.

The work itself reveals an artist’s sensitivity to the emotions unleashed after the terror attacks. It depicts a man and woman embracing – their bodies portrayed as land against the sea – and rising out of black sand with the words “11 Septembre 2001” traced upon it.

sept 11

Love, unity and fraternity emerge from the blackness of tragedy, she explained, just as the sea and ground rise out of the black sand.

A prime example of Cappuccio’s devotion to the classical Italian masters is her cycle of paintings based on well-known Renaissance works of art, including Botecelli’s Primavera.

In the original painting, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, is center stage, surrounded by other deities, nymphs and signs of the coming spring.

Cappuccio’s twist on the classic, however, is a comment on modernity’s worship of youth: she painted the scene from the rear, and the beautiful goddess and her company have passed us by.

Following primavera

“Nowadays,” Cappuccio said, it seems “the only value [is] to be young, beautiful.”

Another modern take on an old painting – an attempt to raise new ideas, Cappuccio explained – is Absent Love, based on Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love.

Titian’s work depicts a bride and Venus, both representative of love, sitting on a fountain in the midst of an idyllic, country setting. In her rendition, though, Cappuccio removed the bodies and left their clothes. The fountain’s drained, and the sheep in the far-off pasture has been devoured by a wolf.

The absence of love in this painting, Cappuccio explained, signifies modernity’s “farewell” to God and values.

This awareness of such a loss – both in the art world and humanity in general – drives Cappuccio’s passion for her own work.

Penetrating Stars, for example, depicts the dark blue expanse of the galaxy, with the traces of a man’s face and arms faintly visible amongst the spray of stars. It is one of three paintings in a series on outer space.

Man is trying to reach out to the universe, she said while explaining the cycle – and it’s a longing that ultimately points to the need of God.

absent love

In her sacred art especially, she said, she seeks to express from her heart religious truths – to provoke questions about “the values that the world has lost” and to recover a sense of spirituality through art.

“We’re human beings,” she said. “We have to feel something when we look at [a work of art.]”