FACE OF CHRIST
Since his youth, Guido Dettoni della Grazia has lived out, through his paintings and sculptures, the representation of Jesus Christ.
Since 1990 he gave up making it because he believed that Jesus, his face, should be just imagined, seen “inside”.
It was in 2000 that he managed to evoke and awaken the presence of Jesus, resorting back to his representation. He does it, but in a way that everyone can see the Face of Christ ‘within’; visible only with hands, helped by blindness.
The artist invites us to be willing to see by touching that which sight cannot reach. TOUCHING the Face of Christ without seeing it with the eyes means letting go of all conditioning and visual help in order to feel it and see it “inside”.
The evocation and reawakening to the presence of Jesus thereby becomes a choice that requires will and, maybe, courage.
Facing the Cross we introduce the hands under the translucid glass hiding the Face to touch it. If we open our eyes and watch, our own woman or man face is confusedly reflected in the glass.
The Face was shaped by the author -in chosen blindness- with wax the day of Easter 2000. Some reproductions of it were made: one carved in amaranth-wood is installed since 2001 at Saint Michel church in Majorca; another carved in linden-wood is since 2005 at Pontmain Sanctuary in France and another one still, always in linden-wood is installed since November 2014 at Santa Maria delle Rose in Assisi.
The artwork Face of Christ was presented for the first time in Rome in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto July 5 to 21, 2000. The initiative was of the “COMITATO MESSA DELGLI ARTISTI”, of “ANASTASIS International Cultural Association for Christian Art” and “NESHER Cultural Association”.
The reproductions of the Face of Christ installed in Majorca, Pontmain and Assisi are not openly exhibited to the public, but accessible only in spaces reserved for a private experience.
Santa Maria in Montesanto, Roma, Italy in 2000
Basilica de Sant Miquel, Pama de Mallorca, Spain, permanent since 2001
Basilique du Folgoët, Bretagne, France in 2007
The Face of Christ by Guido Dettoni della Grazia
Fr. Miquel Ambròs
Published in the SERRA D’OR magazine of Montserrat Abbey, N. 496 - April 2001
On July fifth of this year Guido Dettoni della Grazia presented the Face of Christ in Santa Maria in Montesanto in Rome, the artists’ church, under the patronage of the organisation NESHER and the international cultural Association for Christian Art, ANÁSTASIS. The event is significant enough to give it a special mention, because the Face goes beyond art, entering fully into the religious experience and lends itself, as did other artistic manifestations of the past, to theological comment, if I may use this expression.
Before going further into the subject I should like to say a few words about Guido Dettoni and his work.
This Italian artist was born in Milan in the year 1946 and, although he has travelled all over the world, he came to live in Barcelona whilst still very young. Here he made contact with Catalan culture and learned the language.
His work does not move in the contemporary art circuits. His artistic ‘search’ gave rise to a series of works that he called Yada in 1989. This Hebrew verb formed by the words YAD – hand – and AYIN – eye – means ‘know’, know in a specific sense, the knowledge that comes from the experience of the senses: what the eyes see, the hands touch. This was the origin of a process which allowed the terms to be inverted, that is, the hands see, and the eyes touch. The works that emerge from the hands of the author are conceived, from their very birth, to reach the hands of everybody. Thus the sculptures of Mary and the Face are Yada sculptures, or sculptures to be perceived with the hands.
Some years back I had the satisfaction of presenting to my Majorcan countrymen the image Mary, captured definitively by Guido on 8th January of 1998 in Palma. Mary is a unique image, made in hand-size and reproduced in thirty-three different types of wood, comprising an installation in accordance with the design the author prepares for each church or space where it is exhibited. The success of the tiny image is so huge that it has been visited and admired in all the towns it has been to: Barcelona, Vic, Tarragona, Rome (twice: in the Gregorian University and in the Basilica of Saint Clement), Tortosa, Gerona, Assisi and Verona. Very soon it will be shown in Saragossa (October-November) and in Palma (November-January). So the force of Guido Dettoni’s work is evident, unimaginable not only for those of us who have experienced his work, but also for himself, and quite unstoppable.
There is a traditional idea within Catholic and Orthodox tradition expressed by the words ‘Ad Iesum per Mariam: to Jesus through Mary’. This is the path Guido Dettoni has followed. Even though he has experienced the representation of Jesus in his painting and sculpturing since he was a young man, the Face of Christ emerged after the “Mary” experience. It is the same everywhere: the mother provides access to the child.
As I mentioned, the author, right from his youth, felt attracted to the figure of Christ, and as he is an artist, he has used his hands to model His Face, the fruit of a process of reflection that has lasted ten years and which has made him understand that the face did not have to be represented visually. Some may think, “How can this be? Is this not a contradiction of his purpose? Indeed it is not. With this work the author proposes an interior vision of the Face of Christ. Or to put it another way, after touching it, or even better, seeing it with one’s hands, one must evoke and awaken the presence of Christ until seeing it in his or her interior, blindly. Thus, renouncing any kind of visual aid or conditioning, the believer or anyone who feels drawn to the person of Jesus, after feeling Him inside, comes to see Him. And at this point the vision is no longer that of an artist, but a personal one. On approaching the work the onlooker does not collect yet another image of Christ in his or her memory; through the sense of touch and a direct relationship with the sculpted face the observer projects what Jesus of Nazareth, Christ, the Lord, actually is for him or her. The tactile experience becomes a spiritual experience. Vision through the hands becomes mystical contemplation.
The artist gave expression to the face blindly using wax and later reproduced it in amaranth wood and incorporated it into the cross made from the same kind of wood which forms the body. Bent sheets of iron at the bottom of the cross suggest the worshipping attitude, the physical expression of which is the kneeling position. The Face of Christ is touched when the observer, positioned in front of the cross, places his or her hands under the veil. The action of touching it on the back of the cross insinuates the evangelical concept of following Christ. Some may ask, “Why a veil?” “When I touch the Face, I see my face reflected in the veil”, is my reply. Guido Dettoni expresses plastically the concept of imitation of Christ and of the continuity of His work as saviour through the faith of His followers. In other words the Lord, who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto, (1 Tim 6:16), takes on the features of his followers to reach the far corners of the earth, and be present in history. Also, the veil, frequent in oriental iconography, is always a symbol we find in things sacred and on the edge of transcendence.
Guido Dettoni’s Face of Christ meets the paschal perspective of the Christian mystery head on, not only because the work was finished on Easter day of this very year, but also because it evokes and contains it. Touching the Face, I recalled two phrases of Jesus, revived in the way John transmits them in his Gospel: Touch me not or leave me, the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning in the garden where they meet (Jo 20,17). Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side (Jo 20, 27), the words of Jesus to Thomas when the disciples are assembled within the great room with the doors shut.
The touch me not of Mary Magdalene expresses the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” which lends dynamism to the life of any believer who already has Jesus and who at the same time does not have Him fully. A new reality is already present (the touching hands), tensed towards a future of fulfillment, when the process of internalization and personal discovery of the features that form a face turns the believer into an “alter Christus”. It is the itinerary of everyone who starts from a specific point: the “already” of touch, to reach the level of Man par excellence and Model, or – if you prefer – mold, according to which every man and woman is projected in the divine mind (the Word that was with God, as John writes at the beginning of his Gospel), that is the “not yet”.
The reach hither thy finger of Thomas is the sensorial experience of a reality which is out of our reach: the resurrection. It is also the continuity of the past and present of Jesus, expressed through his tangible, human reality. When Thomas touched and felt the hands and side of Jesus, he entered into communion with his flesh and death, which communicates Life. On touching the Face, exploring the corners of its mouth and following the line of all the features, we commune with the Christ hidden inside, which evidently communicates Life. Curiously enough, Thomas, when he demanded to touch the body of Jesus in order to believe – place himself at His disposal, to use more profane language – was seeking contact like that of the past, before the crucifixion and death. He did not accept the novelty of the present. Jesus demanded he overcome the past in order to accept the present. Once he had accepted, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” I see a parallel with Guido Dettoni’s Face of Christ. Often believers and the devout are slaves of the past and simply want to see. This Face demands they have the courage to break off with the past and center on the present: discover the Jesus that is revealed from within, through touch, like Thomas. And what is the reward? Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jo 20:29). The intuition of the author comes to the fore once again: “The Face of Christ did not have to be represented visually”.
Guido Dettoni presents the Face to us with closed eyes and sealed lips. There is no sense of hearing or smell, only that of touch, as he himself says. I would add the following: the task of anyone who touches it is to open eyes and lips with their personal testimony of the experience of Christ. If closed eyes and sealed lips are the symbols of the dead Jesus, the action of opening them must be a symbol of resurrection.
Testimonial by a visitor
Santa Maria delle Rose - Assisi THE FACE OF JESUS, 12 am - 12 August 2015
My hands upon His head a sob rises from my heart. Tears flow down my cheeks. I let go of something locked within, it comes into present moment. I want to give something to him. His voice within me says, “You are not for giving….I am Forgiving.” “Forgive me Lord, forgive me” I reply. Tears continue to fall. My hands again start to explore His form, an honour, a joy, a connection so real, to hold His head, to stroke His eyes. Jesus softly calls me, “I am your path now.” It seems too big, too different. I feel the longing to follow, yet I am holding back… Austerity, suffering images, ceremonial display of gold and fine cloth. Bishop and Pope, grandeur – to me uncomfortable, cold and unapproachable, too much… “Lord Jesus, my heart can not reach you through this!” His soft voice, “your own way, follow Me in your own way.” My heart lifts, my life has changed, a new path is open. New Love.
Martin Rogers, Clacton-on-Sea – Essex, England, UK