Renowned sculptor Cody Swanson addressed the Jesuit student body at Convocation today (Feb. 5), surrounded by his works of art installed throughout the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
He is the artist responsible for creating the statues of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier on the chapel's façade, The Stations of the Cross along the chapel's interior perimeter, the statue of Jesus Christ on the Cross in the Priests' Sacristy, and the newly installed statues of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and St. Joseph, the Guardian of the Savior, which flank either side of the altar.
Swanson first became interested in classical art in high school – particularly that of the Renaissance period – and enrolled at the Florence Academy of Art with the intention of becoming a painter. Due to a long waiting list for the painting program, he enrolled as a sculpture student and fell in love with the art form. He would go on to teach sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art, and earn master's degrees in liturgy, sacred art and architecture from the European University in Rome.
Last week, Swanson, who was born in the United States but has lived in Florence, Italy for the last 16 years, traveled to Jesuit to install the two new statues in the Chapel, as well as one of Jesus Christ on the Cross in the Priests' Sacristy. Additionally, he is restoring statues of St. Ignatius and St. Anthony of Padua that will be displayed on Jesuit's campus at a later date.
Though all of Swanson's creations begin with a scale drawing, the respective processes for each of his works tend to diverge from there. Most recently, the process for creating the statues in the sanctuary began with Swanson sculpting scale models out of clay. Then he used a mechanical apparatus called a pantograph to create a full sized clay rendition. From the full sized clay statue, a mold was created and the final product was cast in plaster from that mold. In his depiction of St. Joseph, Swanson says that he symbolically represents the Holy Father, and that the intersecting vertical and horizontal lines of the composition form the shape of the cross. His depiction of Mary holds her womb to represent the Immaculate Conception of the Savior, while her foot crushes the head of the serpent to symbolize triumph over sin.
Similarly, the statues on the façade of the chapel were first designed as scale models made from clay; however, they were scaled up digitally and laser carved into a marble base. From there, Swanson hand carved all of the statues' intricate features. The statues of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier extend their arms outward to inspire others to go forth and spread the gospel.
Because of their smaller size, the Stations of the Cross began as full scale clay models, which were then molded and cast into plaster. The 14 stations, which feature over 80 different figures, form a singular procession through Christ's Passion and were iconographically inspired by the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.
The crucifix in the Priests' Sacristy was made with fired clay and then painted. The integration of color for Jesus Christ's flesh is meant to remind observers of his true presence during Mass.
Spending an average of 10 hours a day sculpting, Swanson finished the sanctuary statues in five months, the façade statues in seven months, and the Stations of the Cross in one year.
Swanson has been sculpting for years and has completed many esteemed commissions, such as a life-size bronze sculpture of St. Michael the Archangel and a four-meter tall depiction of St. Emygdius commissioned by the Cardinal of Florence, but he attests that the art he created for Jesuit was particularly significant to him.
"All of it was very moving. The Stations of the Cross were really wonderful to reflect upon," Swanson said. "I'm 33 now, so I'm the same age that Christ was when he was crucified. It seemed like an appropriate time to work on something like this, but it all held a deep significance to me. St. Joseph is my patron saint, and my youngest son was the model for baby Jesus. It was all very personal."
View a video of Swanson's Convocation and a photo slideshow of his visit and artwork below.