One thing I’ve been keeping up with during this time at home (other than many, many Netflix shows) is feast days in the Catholic church! There are some pretty cool saints and special celebrations in the liturgical year that I had never even heard of, and I’ve been a part of the Catholic church for nineteen whole years.
One of the devotions that I did know about and love is coming up this Friday! The celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is inspired by the apparition of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673. She recounts the appearance of Jesus to her as follows:
“The Divine Heart was presented to me in a throne of flames, more resplendent than a sun, transparent as crystal, with this adorable wound. And it was surrounded with a crown of thorns, signifying the punctures made in it by our sins, and a cross above signifying that from the first instant of His Incarnation, […] the cross was implanted into it […].”
The celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to the love that he has for his people and the passion he underwent for them. As is known through his appearance to Saint Margaret Mary, his heart is on fire for everyone, and he calls us to make our hearts like his own. I wanted to look at artworks that were made of this encounter, because by this description, I felt that there would be a lot of really cool interpretations of what this actually looked like to Saint Margaret Mary.
As it turns out, every single piece I came across looked near identical. The above image is what came up when I google searched “Sacred Heart of Jesus”. This was definitely a shock to me at first, because I thought there would have been more diversity in artistic vision, but once I came across one particular image, I understood why they all looked the same. This painting to the right is the most famous depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Painted by Pompeo Batoni in 1760, it was placed in the Jesuit Church of the Gesù in Rome and from there became the official image that is associated with the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from which lots of other depictions drew inspiration.
My job is made fairly easy in interpreting the symbolism of this piece because Saint Margaret Mary commented a fair bit of what she understood this apparition to mean to her. I can speak more on Batoni’s rendering of Jesus, though! He is seen dressed in red, symbolizing the blood of his passion and the fire of his love for humanity, and he is also wearing a blue mantle, which can symbolize the sky (Heaven) and divinity in general. His hair is long but his beard is not, so he looks quite youthful here. He holds out his right hand, inviting the viewer to rest their head on his breast, as he invited Saint Margaret Mary to do, while his left hand holds out his Sacred Heart that burns with the fire of love for humanity.
With the Immaculate Heart of Mary being celebrated in the Catholic church this upcoming Saturday, I wanted to show how similar the portrayals of Mary’s heart are to Jesus’ heart. Almost all of the images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary show Mary in the same pose as her son, revealing her heart from behind her mantle (which are even the same color!). The image below shows how similar these two devotions are depicted! The one on the left is Batoni’s and the one on the right is by Leopold Kupelwieser.
I love looking at religious art in general, but learning more about this piece brought me a new appreciation for the Sacred Heart of Jesus as well as a desire to see more diverse depictions of it! If you need me, I’ll be searching for obscure renditions of religious art until I write to you all again.