A Life Dedicated to Sacred Art

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A few weeks ago I had the honor of meeting Robert Rambusch and Larry Hoy of Renovata Studios, Inc. for lunch. What an absolute thrill to share a meal with these two men and engage in an inspiring discussion on the current state of liturgical art. I am pasting below a reprint of an article written by Gonzague Leroux in 2012 for the website Land of Compassion. The last sentence of Leroux’s article above asks us to respond to Rambusch’s concern for the continued evolution of religious art and identify forward thinking contemporary artists who know Christ and are capable of sharing Christ’s message with today’s Christian. Are you one?

Contemporary liturgical artists, especially those who have experienced the collaborative process of art making, are invited to share their work. Please comment below this post.

RobertRambusch_GonzagueLeroux
Robert Rambusch ©Gonzague Leroux

by Gonzague Leroux, originally published   May 17, 2012

Robert Rambush has participated in the restoration of 24 cathedrals in North America as well as hundreds of churches and monasteries. What is his vision of sacred art?

Robert Rambush worked for over 36 years in the family company, Rambush, founded in 1898 by his Danish grandfather who immigrated to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Today Robert has his own company, E. Rambusch Associates, and  works as a consultant for designs of liturgical spaces. Despite his age, he is currently working with energy and enthusiasm for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Family in New York City and the Chapel of St. Catherine of Siena in Greenwich, NY.

After serving in the army during World War II, Robert Rambusch returned to Paris, and lived there from 1947 to 1948.  There, he enrolled in a study program at the Center for Sacred Art, founded by Father Marie-Alain Couturier (1897-1954). Father Couturier, a Dominican, close to artists like Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, was associated with another Dominican, Father Pie-Raymond Régamey (1900-1996); both considered religious art as an organic whole. The art that is “sacred” – especially if it is intended to be a place of worship – must be thought in relation to the whole and in accordance with the spirituality of the place. These two Dominicans taught their new approach to sacred art using two main principals:

  • Religious art is the “visible face” of the Church; its quality informs the people about the condition of her spirituality.
  • To be genuinely “religious,” art cannot develop outside of the artistic life of its time. One must discern the works and contemporary artists that can best express  Christian (Catholic) spirituality.[1]

Upon his return to New York in 1948, Robert Rambusch worked for the family business as well as for Catholic Worker, following Dorothy Day’s pacifist and social movement toward the most destitute people by serving them food and offering them special care.

At the beginning of his professional life, Robert knew the artistic impulse of the 50’s and the renewal post Vatican II in the late 60’s. For intance, the Matisse Chapel in Vence (France) was built between 1949 and 1951, Notre-Dame d’Assy (France), where we can find works by Matisse, Rouault, Chagall, Bonnard, Léger and so forth, was consecrated in 1950, and the Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp (France), designed by Le Corbusier, was completed in 1955.

One of Rambush’s maxims for his creative process at work comes from Renaissance painter Fra Angelico: “To paint Christ, one must know Christ.” The prominent French Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, who taught Robert when he was in Canada, states that “we must allow art to speak to people.” The beholder is then naturally invited to open his or her own inner space in a quiet attitude, to enter into an inner dialogue with the artwork.

Today, Robert Rambusch is concerned for the evolution of religious art. What is missing, in his opinion, is a prophetic glance. Nowadays, in terms of liturgical space, we tend to look to the past instead of looking toward the future with new ideas. Perhaps Father Couturier would ask us to be audacious and identify contemporary artists capable of transmitting the message of Christ to the man of the twenty-first century, as he did himself. Who could these capable contemporary artists be?

[1] Françoise Caussé, La critique architecturale dans la revue L’art sacré (1937-1968), in Persee, 2001, numéro 2.
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