Title: “Like a grain of wheat…”
Technique: Oil painting on canvas
Dimension: cm 150×110 (59×43 inches)
Author: Giuseppe Antonio Lomuscio
Iconographic Description of the Painting
The inspiration for this painting grew from the wish to celebrate the memory of Blessed Clelia Merloni with a new image depicting the moment of her holy death.
This piece completes a series of works intended to draw attention to the charism of the Foundress which has always enlivened and sustained the apostolic works of the Congregation. It is also symbolic of the charism as a gift and sign of holiness.
Looking at the painting as a whole, the elements signify both the “welcome” and the “manifestation” of Clelia’s encounter with Christ and the contemplation of Beauty. This is the long-awaited and privileged union that Blessed Clelia now experiences as a reward for her faithful vocation to consecrated life.
In the painting, Mother Clelia lies helpless on her bed in her room, assisted by a few sisters gathered around her in prayer and meditation. Her closed eyes and her weakened body instantly invite reflection on the mystery of life and its brevity. However, Mother Clelia does not appear to be dead. On her face is that serene expression of someone who has just fallen asleep in the absolute certainty of awakening to a new life, that life promised by the Gospel which she both sought and found in the Heart of Jesus.
The faces of Christ and Blessed Clelia occupy privileged spaces in the composition opposite each other yet complementary; their positions reflect an exchange of emotions, both human and divine in a free dialogue of love. Not surprisingly, Mother Clelia’s face is positioned in that particular space described as the “golden section” along with the mirrored image of the face of Jesus that seems to dominates the scene. The image speaks not of death but of Resurrection. There is Christ, at once her Consolation and her Spouse, standing before her in that moment of shared blessedness that reveals a state of grace and a prelude to Salvation.
In replicating the gesture and position they have in the reliquary case kept in the Generalate Chapel, the hands of the Foundress become the distinctive sign of a symbolic message, the invitation to welcome Jesus into one’s life and to show the beauty of his Word.
Mother Clelia gave voice to that Word which in turn has echoed in every member of her Congregation.
In this iconographic space, profoundly weighted with silent emotion, the sisters are portrayed showing a variety of expressions that call to mind both the contemplative life and the dynamic life of mission. There are four sisters represented signifying as it were cardinal points branching out into the world in the work of evangelization and witness.
One of the sisters bears a lamp in her hand signifying multiple meanings. It is that light of Christian faith with which Christ illumines our souls. At the same time it reminds us of the radiant example of the saints, “children of light” (Jn 12: 36; Lk 16: 8), and invites us to follow the path of light which is the Gospel: “So let your light shine before all, so that they may see your good works…” (Mt 5: 16)
The image of the present Superior General, Sr. Miriam Cunha Sobrinha, is also there. She is shown contemplating the Crucifix in the hands of the Foundress perhaps meditating in that moment on the meaning and importance of her own mandate as Superior General.
Her presence in the painting places the commission and the completion of the piece in the present day, rendering more explicitly that sense of continuity of the fulfillment of Mother Clelia’s dream which still remains alive today through the apostolic works of her daughters called to be that constant presence of the merciful and loving Heart of Jesus in and for the world.
The other sisters who are present are intended as metaphorical images of the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. They all have the same face and are not the portraits of any sister in particular. Representing different ages, they symbolically characterize all the members of the Institute today who are formed and have matured in the Charism of their Foundress.
The sister in the center of the picture is holding the crucifix to her chest as she looks out at us. She is the youngest, portraying that face of hope that never dies. Her gaze is an invitation to all to trust in the Heart of Jesus and to be witnesses of His Love.
Further to the left, another sister stands out from the group as she is the only one to have her sleeves rolled up, signifying the particular commitment of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart to those charitable works carried out daily in service to the poor.
Below and in the foreground, the eldest sister is seated with her head turned toward the Blessed Mother. In one hand she clasps the Crucifix while in the other she holds an open book. It is the Gospel, the book of the Word, that beating heart which nourishes and supports the apostolic works carried out in the Congregation in education, healthcare and pastoral service, according to the specific instruction of Mother Clelia: “What must be common to all Apostles is that spirit of charity which will be one in all of its various expressions” (Blessed Clelia Merloni).
Finally, the narrative is completed by the detail of two ears of wheat resting on the desk near the right edge of the painting. A grain of wheat, just fallen, offers the viewer the key to the entire piece, the inspiration for its very title: “Like a grain of wheat…” (“If the grain of wheat, fallen to the ground, does not die, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit…Jn 12: 24). It is my hope that this painting can keep fresh the memory of a cherished moment that took place long ago in the life of the Foundress and that it can contribute to the triumph of the love and mercy of God the Father, to be able to “look at the past with gratitude, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope” (Pope Francis).
With renewed esteem and gratitude, I take this opportunity to send to you and to the whole community a cordial, affectionate greeting and best wishes for all that is good.
Giuseppe Antonio Lomuscio