The art in the Church of the Incarnation was the topic for discussion at Dinner and Discourse this past Tuesday. Professor and artist Lyle Novinski gave a lecture about the history and meaning behind some of the staple pieces in the University of Dallas church. Novinksi created many of the artworks himself and oversaw most of the others. Some were given as gifts to the university and other pieces were specifically commissioned. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but every piece has deep meaning and symbolism, not only for the Church of the Incarnation, but for the Church as a whole.
The crucifix hanging behind the altar seems unconventional to those accustomed to seeing a traditional Western depiction of the Crucifixion. Created by former professor Heri Bert Bartsch, it reflects the style of crucifixes at the time, depicting a tortured, anguished Christ, a trend that was popular following the events of World War II. The crucifix is made of wood from a cedar tree. The face of Jesus is horrified, calling to mind the agony of an omniscient God, enduring not only the physical pain of crucifixion, but the mental torture of seeing the horrors of past, present and future. The crucifix illustrates the true Passion of Christ, according to Novinski.
The statue of Mary outside the Church of the Incarnation has become a familiar story to students as the plan to create a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe advances. A group of students wanted to create a grotto on campus, and were able to acquire the funds to purchase the slab of marble that would eventually become the statue outside the church. Andrew DeCaen and Eric Winogradoff approached Novinski about creating a life-sized marble statue of the Madonna. The two students were given housing and food for a year while they worked on carving the lifelike statue that now sits outside the Church of the Incarnation.
St. Joseph’s Painting
Located at the back door by the adoration chapel and the confessional is a painting of St. Joseph done by Novinski. According to Novinski it is slightly unfinished, and is paler than it should be. While creating the painting, Novinski wished to bear in mind the often-asked question, “Who was Joseph?” The art professor chose to depict St. Joseph as a young man instead of the older figure often seen in renderings and iconography of the carpenter. In the painting, Joseph is practicing his craft of carpentry surrounded by white lilies, which represent Mary.
St. Michael the Archangel Statue
Located in the foyer of the church, a “slightly unfinished” statue of St. Michael the Archangel stands. The statue was also created by Bartsch. The statue was carved out of a large pecan log that had been donated to the art department. The process took several years, evolving from a model to the statue that now resides in the Church of the Incarnation. The statue was placed at the front of the church as a gift from Donald and Louise Cowan.
Stations of the Cross
Unlike most churches, which have the Stations of the Cross displayed on the walls, in the Church of the Incarnation they are located on the ground in the form of simplistic engraved illustrations and symbols. The stations were placed on the ground in order to serve as a parallel to the paving in Braniff, the Mall and Haggar, reminding students that they walk in the footsteps of Christ, both inside the church and in every aspect of their lives.
Located on the Due Santi campus in the Chapel of the Transfiguration hangs a mosaic done by Novinski of the Transfiguration. It was created as a painting first, then made into a mosaic. The chapel was named in honor of the Transfiguration because of the understanding that most of the students would undergo a transfiguration themselves while in Rome. Novinski wanted the chapel and the art to reflect another parallel between students and the life of Jesus.
“Christ took his apostles up on the mountain to show them what glory was. They wanted to stay there, but he said, ‘We have to go back down and work,’” Novinski explained.
Novinski commissioned a procession cross — one with a body, but a blank face. His response to questions about the facelessness of the work is simple: “What face would you like?” He explained that the lack of a face is significant because everyone sees Jesus differently, and everyone sees a different face of Christ. He wanted to draw a parallel to the very name and focus of the church – the Incarnation.
“It is the primary Christian fact. Christ came and is incarnate. And so a figure, a male figure, without the accidental genetic mix of facial features was by choice,” said Novinski.