This Japanese painter discovered religion via sacred artwork
Osamu Giovanni Micico had never read the Bible, knew nothing of Christ's stories in the Gospels, and had never heard of the apostles when his experience of studying sacred art in Italy brought him to the Catholic faith.
“When I came to Italy, painting was the only road for me professionally. Thank God, here God also gave me my spiritual rebirth, ”Micico told CNA.
Catholicism changed my life. How I relate to others, how I see the world. And the direction I'm going in my life. The importance of suffering. Everything has changed. My conversion gave life to death. "
Micico has been interested in drawing and painting since childhood and adolescence in Tokyo, but originally pursued a scientifically sound career to please his parents.
During college, however, he met an artist who inspired him to pursue his passion for painting.
The 37-year-old artist moved to Florence in 2008 to study the paintings of old masters such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
He told CNA that at that time he mainly painted landscapes or portraits, unless he copied the great masterpieces to learn from. But he didn't know what he saw.
"I was with my Catholic friend and asked my friend, who are these fishermen?" said the artist. In a way, he encountered the gospel in the same way as people in the Middle Ages who could not read through the symbols of art.
"I" read "these pictures before I knew the gospel. I didn't know what stories they represented, ”he said.
"I think like music, these pictures spoke to me harmoniously and it enlivened my soul. It wasn't just technology – they made a realistic painting – there was something else that was very sacred there. "
Another personal encounter influenced Micico's conversion: his friendship with the Irish religious artist and the Catholic Dany MacManus, who was living in Florence at the time.
While Micico knew nothing about the Bible, MacManus invited him to give a lecture on the theology of the body of John Paul II. "That made an impression," said Micico.
MacManus was sponsored by Micicos when he was baptized in 2010.
“Art was the entrance. I think that even without words, like with Bach's music, you can understand the beauty of a creator, ”he said. "Ultimately, God the Merciful was represented in the painting … that appealed to me."
Micico now creates sacred art.
"I wanted to spread this good news using the same medium," he said. "I am sure that there are many people who are touched by contemporary sacred art. And if I can put my hand on this beautiful mission through my profession, it is fantastic. It was very natural."
In November 2018, one of Micico's paintings was donated to the Nagasaki Archdiocese. Micico's "Holy Mother of Grief and Hope" was hung in Nagasaki's Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the Chapel of Mary dedicated to the victims of the 1945 atomic bomb.
It shows Our Lady of Mourning in the foreground, with the background showing the exploding atomic bomb and the burning city below.
"I have seen that painting can be an instrument, very useful, very strong," said the painter. "And it goes straight to the heart like music. Even without understanding it, people can stand in front of it with their mouths wide open, looking at it and thinking about it. "
After his conversion, Micico learned more about the history of Christian persecution in Japan. Christianity was banned from 1600 to 1873. In the late 16th century, the military ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi drove the missionaries who had brought the faith to Japan, had religious objects and Bibles destroyed. There were thousands of martyrs.
The few lay Catholics who survived kept the faith orally and through baptism, the only sacrament they had for hundreds of years. During this time, they created their own sacred art, Micico said.
Some of the pieces were visibly religious, such as pictures of Christ in Ecce Homo style. In many other cases, however, Christian symbolism was hidden in a Buddhist or Shinto style for security reasons. For example, they would paint a traditional Buddhist female figure but add a baby to their arms to create a picture of the Madonna and Christ child.
"This secret art is so beautiful to see because its dedication took shape in this visible form," said Micico.
“When I think of myself in this situation, why should someone risk their lives by painting sacred pictures? I mean, it would have been easier for them to survive without painting these pictures, but they wanted to manifest their love for the Lord. "
"Sacred art," he said, "is not for one person or a group of people, but for everyone, for all generations."