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Leonardo da Vinci, He Qi, and indigenous art

When the artist He Qi visited the Concordia Seminary campus recently, he told the following story about the artwork above, "The Risen Lord."

A church in China commissioned the work from He Qi for their sanctuary without any strings attached. He Qi went to work with a "blank canvas," so to speak. When he showed the pastor what he had made, the pastor was speechless.

Two minutes of frozen silence passed. He finally spoke.

"Its too Chinese," the pastor said.

He then asked He Qi if he could make a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

One of the interesting things about Dr. He Qi, though, is that he is also an art scholar. And he then proceeded to remind us that Leonardo's models for "The Last Supper" were all his fellow citizens of Milan. We could just as easily say about it, "Its too Italian."

Needless to say, he did not make a copy of Leonardo's famous work.

Which makes me think that all art, including all religious art, is indigenous art. It is enculturated within its own setting, time, and context. Even when an artist attempts to express a subject within in its own "historical" setting, it often says more about the artist's own perspective of that history, rather than the history itself. And that's a good thing. It is what makes Leonardo, He Qi, and all great artists so fascinating.

"The Risen Lord" is part of Concordia Seminary's ongoing exhibit, Look Toward the Heavens. In addition to its regular Monday-Friday hours (8:30-4:00), the exhibit will now also be open prior to the Bach at the Sem concerts, from 1:00-3:00, on the Sundays of November 15, December 13, and January 31. Two extraordinary arts events for the price of one. Actually, for the price of none...they're both free of charge.