Vatican’s new artist follows Old Masters
ROME - Agence France-Presse
The Vatican’s newest official court artist Natalia Tsarkova poses next to a painting of Pope Benedict XVI. ‘I like the atmosphere here,’ she says. AFP photoAfter Michelangelo and Raphael, the Vatican’s latest official painter is something of an unusual choice, an ebullient Russian woman with a pet owl who is a regular at the court of cardinals and popes.
An Orthodox believer in the heart of Roman Catholicism, Natalia Tsarkova paints her classical-style portraits in a flat filled with Vatican memorabilia by the walls of the Holy See.
“I like the atmosphere here, I feel needed,” Tsarkova told AFP. It is a dream come true for this graduate of the prestigious Moscow School of Arts, whose paintings including portraits of Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II hang in Vatican palaces, Roman churches and museums around the world.
Tsarkova arrived in Rome in the early 1990s and began doing portraits of Roman aristocrats, who introduced her at the Vatican where her background captured the attention of late pope John Paul II.
“He spoke Russian with me. He said ‘Long live Russian art!’” remembers the now 45-year-old, thumping her fist for emphasis with the same glee as the late pontiff.
A small bridge
John Paul II made great strides in rebuilding relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and Tsarkova said she too feels she can play a role.”I feel like a small bridge between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I am like a diplomat with art.”
Tsarkova said she often reads religious texts written by her models so as to help understand them and inspire her work, but she also often makes small talk as they sit for hours in front of her.
She spent hours studying Benedict in St Peter’s Basilica where she was seated near him at masses.
“I did millions of sketches! I was able to immerse myself in the prayer and draw at the same time.”