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Archdiocese commissions Galovic icon of St Martha

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Archdiocesan Chancellor Christopher Meney with artist Michael Galovic and Fr Paul Smithers. Photo: Adam Wesselinoff
Archdiocesan Chancellor Christopher Meney with artist Michael Galovic and Fr Paul Smithers. Photo: Adam Wesselinoff

Artist and iconographer Michael Galovic, well-known to Catholics for his icons and contemporary religious art, has completed a unique commission for the Archdiocese of Sydney.

The icon of Jesus in the House of Mary and Martha was commissioned for the relocated archdiocesan chancery at St Martha’s Renwick St in Leichhardt, where it has been hung in the renovated chapel.

Archdiocesan Chancellor Christopher Meney said Mr Galovic—who completed the work in record time, between late April and its delivery on 4 October—was sensitive to the location and history of St Martha’s and the saint for whom the site is named.

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“It was a home for girls, teaching them lots of domestic skills, and I think it’s important to honour the reality of that history rather than trying to contrive something,” Mr Meney said.

“People know that story. Everyone’s heard the Scripture that talks about Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus.

“So they’re familiar figures, and I think Michael’s represented them wonderfully well in the icon.”

Fr Paul Smithers, a member of the chancery’s relocation committee, helped commission the art after having obtained pieces from Mr Galovic for the churches of his parish of Sydney City South.

“We’ve come back to this type of art, because in the Catholic Church in Australia we’ve been deprived of beauty for so long,” Fr Smithers said.

“People are saying now, ‘Our words aren’t getting through. Maybe our art can?’”

Mr Meney added that for much of the history of Christianity, the spoken word and religious art were the primary ways of communicating the Gospel, rather than the written word.

“It’s an important thing; art’s very powerful,” Mr Meney said.

“The way Michael uses the gold and vibrant colours to draw your attention—it’s brilliant. That’s the first step to drawing people into a deeper understanding.”

While the work is completed in the familiar iconographic style, Mr Galovic said it was “crucial” to know his icon is not a replica of an existing prototype, but develops elements from existing icons to produce something new.

The story of Mary and Martha is sometimes included iconographically in miniature as part of collections of scenes from the Gospel, and Mr Galovic drew on these depictions to produce “absolutely a unique piece in itself.”

“There we have to differentiate carefully between the tradition and the convention. Most people, I dare say, confuse the two,” Mr Galovic told The Catholic Weekly.

“We have to experiment, but we have to be careful: very careful, very balanced, very reasonable about it. We have to consult, I believe, with the churches, with the clients, with the parishioners.”

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