Heavenly Bodies

Sharon Lorenzo visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters for this exhibit.

Medieval Galleries, The Cloisters

Medieval Galleries, The Metropolitan Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its affiliate property, the Cloisters in New York City are hosts to one of the most hotly debated and highly anointed exhibitions this season of fashion mixed with papal regalia and monastic culture on loan from the Vatican collections in Rome, Italy. The story of how this came about is as fascinating as the contents of this show where 55 designers cooperated with curators Andrew Bolton and his assistant Wendy Yu of the Metropolitan staff. New York Times critic Jason Farago says that we all might consider genuflecting at this altar of haute couture.[1]

If there is ever a question as to whether art is a factor in cultural diplomacy between nations today, this show is a testament to that theory, as this show took ten years of travel, negotiation and dialogue between many pieces of the art and religious world. Emily Rafferty, former President of the Met, suggested that Andrew enlist the assistance of both the Jesuit priest James Martin in the USA, who is now editor of America Magazine, and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the minister of culture for the Vatican collections.[2] With their assistance, trustee Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue magazine and chairman of the Met Costume Institute, made many trips to negotiate loans from the Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the aide to Pope Francis himself. Numerous ecclesiastical garments as well as treasures from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy came across the sea with bodyguards in tow. The museums were shepherding these items for months with complex installations in both locations. A dramatic opening night brought out the best and most brilliant icons of our American artistic culture, including Katy Perry, Madonna as well as Rihanna and Sarah Jessica Parker, as noted below, in their own interpretations of Catholic cultural repertoire.

Sarah Jessica Parker


The installation itself in the entirety of the medieval galleries and beyond in both locations is a marvel designed by Diller, Scofidio and Renfro. The lighting and musical operations feel like church and choir amidst the quiet of these contemplative spaces. Lengthy essays from both sides of the Atlantic enumerate in the catalog the fascinating history of collecting within the Vatican as each Pope and magistrate added his own accolades to the church with thoughtful purchases and acquisitions from medieval times to the present. Bolton’s theory was that beauty and faith can be experienced and articulated through the body as we see objects juxtaposed with vestments in this show.

Byzantine Processional Cross in silver and gold, Metropolitan Museum collection, circa 1000 AD

Gianni Versace, 1997 collection, evening dress in gold metal mesh and glass

Sponsors of the exhibition were the team of the Versace family, Donatella and her brother Gianni honoring their forty years of financial success in the fashion industry.   Extremely generous donations to both the Met and the Catholic Church by Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, made the costs of this highly expensive endeavor possible. The dozen lawyers on the Met legal staff had paperwork a foot high to secure the insurance, loan agreements and shipping details that would boggle the mind. Perhaps nowhere else will we see the best of church and state side by side in this decade.

I found the entire experience in both venues inspirational, thoughtful and moving beyond words. Critics saying this was a sacrilegious endeavor should be conscious in this multicultural age that fashion brings everyone to the fore, as it is easy to experience and not intellectually intimidating to the average viewer. It embraces the message of this current Pope that the role of the church in this world today is one of inclusivity and blessings for all. I applaud all involved in this massive undertaking that brings angels from heaven to these special spaces in the museums for all to enjoy.

Byzantine floor mosaic, 500 AD, marble and glass

Dolce and Gabbana, 2013-14, evening dress in beads and crystals

Cope of Benedict XV, 1918 silk and gold thread, Vatican Museum

Mitre of Pius XI 1929, silk and brocade, Vatican Museum

Heavenly Bodies Catalog – Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. $65, $58.50 for Met members


The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Met Cloisters Heavenly Bodies Exhibit

May 10 to October 8, 2018

[1] Jason Farago, Heavenly Bodies Brings the Fabric of Faith to the Met, New York Times, May 9, 2018.

[2] Jason Horwitz, How the Met Got the Vatican Vestments, New York Times, May 3, 2018.