VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict met artists from around the world in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday and urged them to inject spirituality into their work, saying contemporary beauty was often "illusory and deceitful."
The Pope told the gathering of hundreds of painters, sculptors, architects, poets and directors, held beneath the vaulted ceiling of the chapel painted by Michelangelo, that he wanted to "renew the Church's friendship with the world of art."
"Beauty ... can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate Mystery, toward God," Benedict said.
The Vatican said it invited some 500 artists to the event, regardless of religious, political or stylistic allegiances.
More than 250 accepted, mostly from Italy, including singer Andrea Bocelli and award-winning film composer Ennio Morricone.
Amongst the other guests were Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, whose Maxxi modern art museum has just opened in Rome, and F. Murray Abraham, the American actor who won an Oscar for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.
The Pope told them that in a world lacking in hope, with increasing signs of aggression and despair, there was an ever greater need for a return to spirituality in art.
"Too often ... the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful ... it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy," he said.
Against the backdrop of Michelangelo's vast fresco of the Last Judgment, which adorns the chapel's altar wall, Benedict lamented that the once-close cooperation between the Church and the artistic community had weakened.
"Faith takes nothing away from your genius or art," he said. "On the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them."
Saturday's event marked both the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's 'Letter to Artists' in 1999 in which he spoke of the Church's "need for art," and the 45th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's original meeting with artists in 1964.
After a number of spats between the Vatican and artists in recent years, including a controversy surrounding writer Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, the latest overture to the artistic world is being driven by the Vatican's new culture commissar, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi.
In a sign of efforts at reconciliation, the Vatican has said it will participate in the 2011 Venice Biennale, one of the world's major art festivals held every two years.
Edited by Crispian Balmer