Curated

Curated: the Faces of Fabiola

The Intersection of ARTS and MEDICINE


By Britni R. McAshan | August 1, 2017

Francis Alÿs, a Belgian artist, moved to Mexico City in the early 1990s in search of Picassos for pennies on the dollar. He never found inexpensive paintings by the Spanish master, but he did find hundreds of replicas of a portrait of St. Fabiola, the patron saint of nurses and abused spouses.

The portraits, which depict a veiled woman in red, vary in size, shape and material. One is even made from rice and beans. And all are hanging on the back wall of the Byzantine Fresco Chapel in Houston, part of the Menil Collection.

“This great wall idea, I thought of Baroque churches in Italy, southern Austria, Germany and Mexico, where there is this tendency to overwhelm with images, some of which are way above eye-level,” said Toby Kamps, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Menil. “I thought we could echo that in this installation.”

Francis Alÿs: The Fabiola Project is made up of nearly 500 amateur portraits of St. Fabiola, a fourth century precursor to Mother Theresa who built a hospital in Rome and nursed the sick.

“She was a noblewoman who married a bad guy,” Kamps said. “It was an abusive relationship. She got a divorce and married again. After her second husband died, she returned to Christianity and repented for the sin of divorce. She used her fortune to open the first hospital for the poor and she was friends with St. Jerome, who recorded her deeds.”

But no one knows what St. Fabiola looked like. No one painted her portrait before her death in 399 A.D. It wasn’t until a Spanish-born priest in England, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, published a book about St. Fabiola in 1854 that her image began to appear in art.

“She was almost a forgotten saint until the mid-19th century, when Cardinal Wiseman kind of resurrected her story for a revival of Catholicism in England,” Kamps said. “In 1885, the French painter Jean-Jacques Henner painted a portrait of St. Fabiola, and it is a profile view of a very beautiful woman in a red veil seen from the side. This was just at the advent of color printing technologies, and it was a top-selling postcard at the shop at the Louvre and it was very widely reproduced.”

Although the original painting by Henner was mysteriously lost after it was sold at auction in the early 1900s—some believe it perished in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906—the iconic painting lives on in countless replicas.

“Why did so many people paint this portrait?” Kamps said. “There is something magical about putting an image through your imagination.Looking at it, processing it and putting it out there in your own painterly voice. The persistence of that, why all of these people around the world— from Lebanon, from South America, Europe, North America and Mexico—devoted all of the hours it took to paint these is a great question. And that accumulative quality, too. All of those people thinking about this saint … what does that signify?”

Kamps, who starts a new position as director of the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum in September, encourages guests to make a few visits to the free exhibit at the Byzantine Fresco Chapel and connect with the space in a deeper way.

“We have comfy couches, chairs,” he said. “It is intentionally quite dark in here. The images are spotlighted dramatically so you walk in from a typical bright Texas day and it takes your eyes a few minutes to adjust. We hope that you slow down, sit down, take a breath and use this like a chapel. We want to be clear that you are invited to come back again and again and see this on different days, different moods and different seasons—much as you would keep reconnecting with a church or meditative practice.”

The Fabiola Project is on display through May 13, 2018, at the Byzantine Fresco Chapel on the Menil campus at 4011 Yupon Street at Branard Street. Information: 713-521-3990 or menil.org. During the renovation of the main Menil building starting in late February 2018, the campus’ other exhibition spaces—including the chapel— will remain open.




Social Posts

profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Alexandria, MN: Veterans honored at annual program https://t.co/V2VArBMQg0 via @echopress

16 mins ago
profile_image

TexasHeartInstitute

@Texas_Heart

Did you know that most foot amputations in patients with #diabetes occur due to a non-healing foot ulcer? THI is part of a clinical study of an investigational product that may improve healing of diabetic foot wounds. More details: https://t.co/hCoHKb8G5D https://t.co/iyR3dTBqy5

1 hour ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

The American Veteran: From Omaha Beach to wheelchair basketball, the warrior spirit is unbreakable https://t.co/FrPA5eOay1 via #VAntagePoint

1 hour ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

More than 1 million babies born in the U.S. were conceived through #IVF. One #HoustonMethodist doctor explains what to expect from this procedure, from side effects to success rates.. https://t.co/AmRJrRLtQB #infertility https://t.co/iJdV1Cay9I

2 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @Rice_Biz: The tree is decorated! 🎄🦉 https://t.co/HB3IFuBi1R

2 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @SammyTheOwl: Today I visited the first responders in the community to show them thanks for their service https://t.co/QdOc5OsN2f

2 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Marine from Elgin, IL runs nonprofit to assist other Veterans, first responders https://t.co/m562Q6gisV via @chicagotribune

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Stem cell transplants can be a lifesaving option for patients with #leukemia, #lymphoma, myeloma and other blood cancers. Watch this video to learn about the types of stem cell transplants. #endcancer https://t.co/eK340H1vjZ

3 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Why should you volunteer for a clinical trial? https://t.co/mFVCbHVpOT #research #clinicaltrial https://t.co/qi0dWhYAmR

4 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

Join #HoustonMethodist for the Inaugural #CriticalCare Symposium on 1.19 from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. for a full day of seminars about critical care practices. Register today: https://t.co/MuIkLyb5rG https://t.co/QZHvAV2N61

4 hours ago
profile_image

TexasHeartInstitute

@Texas_Heart

RT @TIMEHealth: A New Study Says Low-Carb Diets May Help You Lose Weight. But Are Carbs Really So Bad For You? https://t.co/ySSVk9gfMR

4 hours ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Janet Chin. Janet served during Operation Uphold Democracy.Janet was born in Los Angeles, California and enlisted in the Army. Janet’s first duty station was in South Korea; she was then stationed with the 63rd Signal Battalion at Fort Gordon, Georgia, before being deployed to Port-au-Prince with the unit in support of Operation Uphold Democracy. This operation lasted from September 1994 to March 1995.During her service, Janet became interested in advocating for children and founded the M. Janet Chin Youth Foundation in the Rosemead community. She continued to serve with the California State Military Reserves in their signal corps and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to the 79th IBCT.For her service, Janet earned the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Medal, and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. She also earned the California Achievement Medal and Professional Development Ribbon from the CA State Military Reserves. In March 2012, Janet became the Communications Director of the 22nd Senate District and is currently working as the District Director since May 2016 for the California State Senate. She was also appointed to become the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for the Los Angeles area in December 2016 and still serves in that position.Thank you for your service, Janet!

5 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @RiceBasketball: Word on the street is there may be a new jersey unveiled at tomorrow's game 👀#GoOwls👐 x #TheRiceWay https://t.co/I5VE…

7 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

After chemotherapy failed, triple-negative #breastcancer survivor Barbara Lewis finds success in an #immunotherapy clinical trial: https://t.co/EJdCT5EGIO #BCSM #CancerMoonshot #endcancer

7 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

Nearly half of parents are holding on to leftover antibiotics, as reported in a recent survey. Here’s what you need to know from the @CDCgov on using antibiotics safely: https://t.co/87EOlDE8iu. #AntibioticResistance

7 hours ago