Looking up at the beautifully detailed biblical paintings currently on display at the Knights of Columbus museum, average Yalies might mistakenly attribute the masterpieces to European Renaissance painters.
But the artwork, ranging from the 16th through the 20th centuries, originates a little closer to home. The new exhibit, installed in time for Easter, is entitled “Images of Faith and Art from Mexico” and features 48 works by Mexican artists. The exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Knights of Columbus in Mexico. The Knights of Columbus, founded in New Haven in 1882 and still headquartered in the city, is a fraternal Catholic organization that is one of the nation’s largest insurance providers.
Mary Lou Cummings, curator of the museum, said while the primary purpose of the exhibit is to commemorate the expansion of the order, it serves as a “tribute to the indigenous artists.”
“The artwork is really unique in the sense that the indigenous artists were really able to convey their religious beliefs using older European techniques,” she said.
In a written statement to the press, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the organization’s chief executive officer, called the exhibit a tribute to the religious convictions of the Mexican people as a whole.
“It is fitting that we honor the faith-inspired art of Mexico during this centennial anniversary of the Order’s founding in Mexico,” he wrote. “It is our hope that this exhibit will allow us to share the profound faith of the Mexican people with their neighbors to the north.”
Of the 48 paintings on display, Cummings said only 13 belong to the Knights of Columbus. The rest come from the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Metropolitan El Sagrario Shrine and The Profes, located in Mexico City.
Cummings said the temporary removal of the paintings “won’t leave a dent” in the expansive collection of the cathedral.
“The cathedral is beautiful,” she said. “It is covered wall-to-wall in the paintings of the local artists.”
The process of obtaining the paintings was a complicated, long-term endeavor, she said.
“Because the paintings are considered the property of the Mexican government, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson had to undertake negotiations with the Mexican government’s National Council for Culture and the Arts and the General Office of Sites and Monuments of the Cultural Patrimony,” Cummings said.
Anderson also worked with the Archdiocese of Mexico City to secure the paintings.
Although the exhibit has not been publicized heavily, it is already drawing people from all around the New Haven area.
Jim Sommo, a resident of New Haven, came to compare the paintings to the ones he had seen on previous visits to Rome.
“The facial expressions are so much different,” Sommo said. “The eyes in the paintings in Europe are all staring at you, but here they’re not.”
Over the next couple of weeks, the museum will send out close to 160,000 mailings to Catholics in the tri-state area to publicize the event.
“We really hope to reach the Hispanic population so they can see and appreciate the religious beliefs and art of their people,” Cummings said.
The exhibit features numerous depictions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an important religious figure for Mexican Catholics, she said.
The exhibit is free of cost and will run through Oct. 9.