Divine Intervention? The Vatican Pulls the Plug on a Show Looking at Andy Warhol’s Catholic Side

A show of the artist's religious works will go on in Pittsburgh, however.

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper (Pink) at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam in 2012. Photo: Lex Van Lieshout/AFP/GettyImages.

It sounded like a match made in heaven: The Andy Warhol Museum and the Vatican Museums collaborating to celebrate the artist’s devout Catholic faith and its profound influence on his art. But heaven will have to wait. The Vatican Museums has pulled out of plans to host the show, citing conflicts with a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.  

The Warhol museum in Pittsburgh, however, is going ahead with an exhibition on the artist’s religious work, due to open in the fall of 2019, a spokesperson for the Andy Warhol Museum tells artnet News. That opens the door to another possible venue, however, and the Warhol museum will announce details soon about where the show might travel.

In January, Barbara Jatta, the director of the Vatican Museums told The Art Newspaper that it was collaborating with the Warhol Museum. “We are very interested in exploring the artist’s spiritual side,” Jatta said. But in August, she hinted that Warhol would have to wait. “In 2019 and 2020, we’ll be having the celebration of Leonardo, and there are many projects in the museums, so for the moment I cannot confirm [Warhol],” Jatta told the Catholic magazine Crux.

Next year, numerous exhibitions are planned across Europe to mark the the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death. The Vatican Museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The Warhol exhibition was expected to feature the artist’s renditions of Leonardo’s The Last Supper as well silkscreens of skulls casting dramatic shadows. Other late works inspired by religious iconography included a series of paintings of the cross. A churchgoer throughout his life, Warhol’s portraits of film stars and celebrities were partly inspired by the many icons he first saw as a child. Growing up in Pittsburgh’s Ruthenian community, the then Andy Warhola and his mother would go St. John Chrysostom, a Byzantine Catholic Church.

The Warhola family attended St John Chrysostom, a Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In New York, Warhol was a regular at the Church of St Vincent Ferrer, where he attended Catholic mass and spent time in silent prayer. In 1980, he traveled to Rome and famously met Pope John Paul II. Warhol wore a tie and and a neatly combed silver wig for his moment with His Holiness.

The biographer John Richardson revealed to the wider world Warhol’s hidden piety after the artist’s sudden death in 1987, at age 58. Speaking at Warhol’s memorial service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Richardson said that Warhol, “took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood.”

But Warhol’s spirituality was never entirely hidden. In 1975, he was interviewed by Jackie Kennedy’s sister Lee Radziwill for his magazine Interview. He said that he had been to church that day, “but only stayed for a minute.” She also asked him whether he still received Holy Communion. Warhol replied that he did, sometimes, though added: “I never feel that I do anything bad.”

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