The Many Faces of Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred
Long before pop stars inspired T-shirts and trinkets, St. Vincent de Paul’s devoted followers were clamoring for items in his image. In “The Many Faces of Vincent de Paul: Nineteenth-Century French Romanticism and the Sacred,” guest curator the Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., gathers items from DePaul University’s collection that reflect the rise of Vincent’s popularity.
“During his lifetime, Vincent was a controversial figure and a classic church reformer. After the French Revolution, that was all history,” said Udovic, a professor of history and senior executive for university mission.
In the 19th century there was a refounding of the Vincentian order, and the French “reinterpreted Vincent in a very romantic, heroic way,” said Udovic. Instead of being pictured as an evangelizer, artists began depicting St. Vincent holding and rescuing children. “One baby was good, two babies were better and three babies were great,” said Udovic. He explained that this shift mirrors France’s movement toward a more secular society, and St. Vincent was venerated as the “apostle of charity.”
This makeover of St. Vincent’s image coincided with industrialization and the emergence of the middle class, so devotional items made in his image became more accessible, explained Udovic. “There were all kinds of holy cards and statues. In just the sheer scale and scope, it was an explosion,” said Udovic.
He added that “Vincent is by far the most popular 19th century French saint. Figures of him outnumber everyone else’s by a wide margin. He was marketable because what he represented was marketable.”
DePaul University holds the world’s largest collection of material culture related to St. Vincent de Paul. Artifacts on display from the university’s collection reflect the varying quality and artistry of devotional items from the period, said Udovic.
Today, Udovic and other Vincentian historians are interested in examining what is fact and what is fiction in artistic depictions of St. Vincent. “You can look at the thousands of images of St. Vincent de Paul and see the themes — artists who are trying to uncover a universal truth,” he said.
Admission is free at DePaul Art Museum, located at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the CTA’s Fullerton ‘L’ stop. Museum hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more on DePaul Art Museum’s upcoming exhibitions and events, call 773-325-7506 or visit http://museums.depaul.edu/.