For nearly two millennia, countless artists have depicted the Christian story in images that reflect their own particular time and culture: Jesus, Mary, and the saints have been envisioned in forms as diverse as those of Italian peasants, African nobility, South American villagers, and Dutch bourgeoisie. The images convey the fundamental truth that while the Christian faith began in a specific time and place, all peoples can nevertheless claim ownership of it.
And so it may not be surprising to see paintings that feature a Navajo Christ or a Hopi Virgin and Child, works of art that blend Native American imagery with Christian themes. The unexpected part is the artist responsible for these images: Father John Giuliani, 64, is the son of Italian immigrants and a resident of Connecticut, a man who is more likely to be found working in an inner-city soup kitchen than on the windswept plains of the West.
But while Giuliani is not Native American himself, his work reveals a deep appreciation for Indian culture and traditions. The Native American faces in his paintings are almost mesmerizing in their intensity, with solemn eyes that hint of mystery and richly textured details that reflect the traditional dress and artifacts of the tribe represented. Father Giulianis paintings draw the viewer into a world that is both familiar and unknown, blending two cultures and two spiritual traditions into one harmonious whole.
The key to understanding Giulianis work is that these are not just paintings, but icons. For centuries the Eastern Orthodox Church has viewed icons as windows to the divine, a way for worshipers to gain access to the spiritual realm. In his work Giuliani draws on the techniques and forms of Byzantine iconography, but reinterprets them in ways that reflect Native American culture and spirituality.