ROME — In a tiny chapel hidden on an upper floor of Rome’s Pantheon, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and a group of Italian artists met June 10 to induct new members into the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi at the Pantheon.
The ceremony also was an unusual opportunity to view the academy’s collection of sculpture, frescoes, paintings and manuscripts — a collection of “contemporary” art that began with the gift in 1547 of a sculpture of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus by Vincenzo de’ Rossi.
The academy was founded in 1542 as the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Holy Land and its members not only were artisans and artists, but also were volunteers dedicated to helping the poor of Rome. The academy’s art collection is comprised of work donated by the members themselves.
Ravasi, president of the council coordinating the work of the pontifical academies, told the artists that their purpose today, like that of those who went before them, is to promote a dialogue between contemporary and classical art and to help artists and all modern men and women find a path to God through beauty.
Members of the academy, named by the pope, are Italian professionals in the field of culture, architecture, visual arts, cinema and literature or are well-known scholars of those fields.