Saturday, December 20, 2008

AltXmasArt 7: Joseph and the Christ Child

“Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani
Respect for fatherhood and for Native Americans combine in “Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani. Religious Christmas images usually focus on the Madonna and child, often leaving Joseph out entirely. This icon does great service by affirming men as loving father figures, gentle enough to nurture a baby. Giulani’s icon also reverses the terrible history of Christian missionaries forcing their religion upon Native Americans with violence and cruelty. Instead of turning Native Americans into Christians, Giuliani turns Christian subjects into Native Americans. Joseph gives up his traditional Middle Eastern robes and dons a typical Navajo chief blanket, beaded necklace and headband. The baby Jesus is naked. Both have skin, hair and features that appear Native American. All they kept is their halos. Nobody would even recognize them as Joseph and the Christ child without the icon’s title -- and maybe that’s the point. All people are created in God’s image. Can you see the face of Christ in an ordinary Navajo man and his baby? Giuliani is an Italian-American Catholic priest who has made dozens of Christian icons with Native American imagery from a variety of tribes. He studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but wanted to expand the concept of holiness to include Native Americans as the original presence of the sacred on the continent. “I suddenly began to wonder what I was doing using traditional Byzantine aesthetics and forms, living as I do in North America in the late 20th century,” he says in an interview in Sojourner Magazine. “Then the idea came to me of using the images of the continent’s original peoples in icons, as a way of celebrating the spiritual gifts they have given to the world.” The son of immigrants from a poor agricultural town near Naples, Giuliani attributes his affinity for Native Americans to a shared sense of connection to the earth and the cycles of nature. He lives in a monastic community in rural Connecticut “Even though I’m not Native American, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the varied indigenous cultures of this land,” says Giuliani. “Their understanding of the world of nature and of God, their emphasis on being caretakers rather than exploiters of the land—all that is wonderfully consonant with the best of Christian thought and tradition. In my work I try to celebrate a union of a common spiritual understanding, to show how a single mystery can be approached through diverse cultures.” Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 8: “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by Father William Hart McNichols

1 comment:

Ms. Kathleen said...

I so love Fa. Guiliana's painting. I have one of Mary and Baby Jesus. They are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this one. Merry Christmas!