Can the Catholic imagination dream up beautiful and compelling clotheswear?
That’s one of the questions behind an exhibit collection set to open next year through New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art
“The Roman Catholic Church has been producing and promoting beautiful works of art for centuries,” Greg Burke, director of the Holy See’s press office, told the New York Times. “Most people have experienced that through religious paintings and architecture. This is another way of sharing some of that beauty that rarely gets seen.”
“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” set to launch in 2018, was organized through the Met’s Costume Institute. The exhibit brings together Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism, taking inspiration from Catholic iconography, the liturgy, or other parts of the faith tradition.
The exhibition will run May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018.
The church garments, many of which are still in use for liturgies, will be displayed separately from the fashion exhibit out of respect, the New York Times reports. There will be about 50 items in this separate exhibit. They come from the Sistine Chapel sacristy’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and range in age from the mid-1700s to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.
The exhibits will be hosted at the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the medieval rooms at the Met on Fifth Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in uptown New York City. The three exhibit spaces total 58,600 square feet. It will be the Costume Institute’s largest show yet.
Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge at the institute, suggested the exhibit may have more potential than any other previous exhibit.
Explaining the exhibit’s vision, he said: “the focus is on a shared hypothesis about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology. Beauty has often been a bridge between believers and unbelievers.”
Bolton had consulted with several Catholic groups and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to avoid any controversy in the fashion selections. The Church was receptive to the idea, but he had to travel to Rome eight times to discuss the show.
Bolton, who is Catholic, said he had initially intended to include the five world religions that are represented in the museum’s collections, but narrowed his focus after realizing that most Western designers were interacting artistically with Catholicism. He suggested this was because so many designers were raised Catholic.
— The Met (@metmuseum) November 8, 2017
The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will include a Chanel wedding gown inspired by First Communion dresses and the fashion designer Valentino's couture gowns that draw on the style of the paintings of monk’s robes by the 16th century Spanish painter Francisco di Zurbarán.
One artistic rendering of an Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, made for the summer of 1939, appears to evoke the keys of St. Peter and the color scheme of Christian iconography.
Versace and Dolce & Gabbana will contribute art in the style of mosaics, including mosaics of Sicily's Cathedral of Monreale.
A 1983 exhibit of Vatican liturgical garments at the museum was the third-most visited exhibit in its history, with nearly 900,000 visitors.
The “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit will have such sponsors as the media company Condé Nast and the Italian luxury designer Versace, as well as patrons such as Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman.
The New York Times reporter Vanessa Friedman suggested that the exclusive, expensive opening night gala for the Costume Institute’s exhibit, as well as the exhibit's luxurious clothing, appear to contradict the priorities of Pope Francis and Christian humility.
The opening night gala’s honorary chairs include the Schwarzmans, Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, the pop star Rhianna and the prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has been invited to the gala, but it was unclear whether he would accept.