> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Pope Visits The Venice Biennale

April 29, 2024
A photograph of Pope Francis in his white robes

Pope Francis

The 2024 Venice Biennale has been one of the most memorable events in the art world this year thus far. Some of the highlights have included Archie Moore, an Aboriginal Australian artist, winning the Golden Lion award for the exhibition’s best film; Israeli artists have kept their country’s pavilion closed until a ceasefire can be reached in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war; and the city of Venice has implemented an entry fee for tourists visiting for the day. However, the most recent highlight was Pope Francis’s visit to the Biennale on Sunday, April 28th, the first time ever that a pope has attended the exhibition.

The Pope visited the Vatican’s pavilion, located in a women’s prison on an island in the Venetian Lagoon. He toured the pavilion’s exhibition, titled With My Eyes, which focused on themes of human rights, human suffering, marginalization, repentance, and regeneration. The first thing one sees after getting off the water taxi is Maurizio Cattelan’s black-and-white mural showing a pair of dirty feet. The Vatican’s culture minister, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, compared the mural to the bare feet of saints depicted in paintings by Caravaggio, while others made similar comparisons to Andrea Mantenga’s Lamentation of Christ. However, dirty, bare feet also represent charity and love in the Catholic tradition. Bishops, including the Pope, participate in the ritual washing of feet every year on Holy Thursday to emulate Christ washing his disciples’ feet. This comes from the gospel according to Saint John: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. […] Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master”. While previous popes have participated in this ritual, Pope Francis has stood out by not washing the feet of priests, as is normally done, but by performing the rite with lay people, including women and non-Christians. He made headlines one year after visiting a prison to wash and kiss the feet of inmates.

After exploring the exhibited works, Pope Francis shared his thoughts with the gathered artists and exhibition visitors. He spoke of the arts as a vital sanctuary for humanity. The Biennale’s theme this year, ‘Stranieri Ovunque’, or ‘Foreigners Everywhere’, resonated with him deeply. He urged the artists, saying, “I implore you, artist friends, imagine cities that do not yet exist on the map; cities where no human being is considered a stranger. This is why when we say ‘Foreigners Everywhere’, we mean ‘Brothers Everywhere’.” He also had the opportunity to meet some of the prison’s eighty inmates, who had contributed to the exhibition by composing poetry on the walls.

Following his visit to the Vatican pavilion, the pope stopped by the Basilica della Salute before saying mass in the Piazza San Marco to a crowd of 10,000. He commented on the city’s beauty without ignoring its serious problems, most notably climate change and overtourism. Despite his poor health in recent months, many who were present with the Pope noted his energy and enthusiasm during the visit.