Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
16 Mar 2012
Internationally-acclaimed Melbourne-based sculptor, Louis Laumen has created a powerful and moving Crucifix in bronze for the chapel at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Homebush.
The Crucifix has now been installed in a niche to the right of the altar and stained glass window of St Peter and St Paul. Slightly smaller than life size, the beauty and power of the Crucifix is immediately apparent and strikes what Laumen describes as "the balance between reality of a terrible event of great suffering and the wonderful aftermath that inspires us all."
"I wanted the crucifix to be terrible but beautiful at the same time," he explains.
This latest work by Laumen was commissioned by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell last year as a replacement for the Seminary's slightly larger crucifix, also created by the sculptor, which is now in Rome where it dominates the main altar of the Chapel of St Peter Chanel at Domus Australia.
"The original crucifix was life-size. But when it was finally installed at the Homebush seminary in 2007, the Cardinal and I decided it was a little too large to be harmonious with the space in the small chapel," he says and admits he was delighted when His Eminence decided his sculpture should instead be sent to Rome where it now hangs above the main altar in the beautiful and much larger chapel at Domus Australia, the home away from home for Australian pilgrims in Rome.
The commission to create a second sculpture of Christ on the Cross for the Seminary at Homebush, was as challenging as creating the first.
"One of the chief challenges was taking what is a very traditional subject and presenting it in a fresh way," he says. "Another challenge was to depict Christ in the midst of his suffering and somehow show Him both as human and divine."
Turning to the great artworks of the past for inspiration, he studied those from the Gothic and pre Gothic era through to the Renaissance and as far back as the Byzantine and the earliest Christian eras as well as studying the works created several centuries before Christ when crucifixions were a pagan form of punishment.
"Many crucifixes depict Christ as emaciated. I didn't want show Him this way. But equally I didn't want Him to look overly muscled and robust.
Finding an artist friend in his 40s whom Laumen said "had the sort of physique I was looking for," the sculptor then began creating a series of sketches of what the finished sculpture of Christ on the Cross might look like.
Using Byzantine art as one of his main inspirations, he consulted extensively with Cardinal Pell, sending him sketches from Melbourne and later a maquette, the name for small scale model of a sculpture.
"His Eminence very much liked the maquette and from that time on, gave me a free hand," Laumen says and explains the Cardinal, who has a deep knowledge of art in all its forms, is not someone who dictates but gives the artist his complete trust and respect.
"Cardinal Pell enables you to give of your very best and gives you the freedom to come up with something from deep inside," Laumen says adding he regards His Eminence as carrying on the long tradition of the Church as a patron of the arts.
With the maquette approved, work in the sculptor's Melbourne studio began in earnest.
With his artist friend agreeing to pose for the sculpture, Laumen constructed a mock-up cross attached to a steel frame. "I asked him to hang from supports on the cross for long as he could stand it. Ten minutes was about the maximum he could take at any one time. But having a human model helped enormously and with his skinny but not emaciated frame along with his straggling beard and longish hair he had all what was needed."
The crucifix was completed and installed in the Seminary chapel late last month.
"It is very powerful and very beautiful, and I know will inspire our priests and seminarians and everyone else who comes into the chapel to pray," says Fr Anthony Percy, Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd.
Cardinal Pell presided over the Mass at which the crucifix was blessed on Sunday, 4 March.
Now the Seminary is eagerly awaiting another work from Laumen, this time a sculpting of Our Lady Help of Christians which will be installed in the Seminary gardens at Homebush.
But before the acclaimed sculptor can begin work on this, he has several other commissions to complete. These include life size sculptures of a well known footballer and a track and field star, as well as two of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
Laumen's wonderfully vibrant statue of Australia's first saint, accompanied by two young children, has become an admired and beloved feature on College Street beside the Western transept of St Mary's Cathedral. Another of Laumen's sculptures of St Mary of the Cross stands outside St Xavier Francis Cathedral in Adelaide.
In addition he has created busts and other sculptures of the founder of the Sisters of St Joseph and is currently working on one for the Melbourne Campus of the Australian Catholic University, and another for St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne.
"When St Patrick's contacted me, the first question was: 'have you got any more Mary MacKillop's in you?'I told them I had at least half a dozen or so left,'" he says laughing. But each one, he insists, must be different from the others.
"It's important to stay fresh as an artist and what excites me is a wide variety of subjects, especially those I've never tackled before."