October 6, 2008 / 9:51 PM / in 9 years

Glasgow RC cathedral commissions Madonna painter

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - The Roman Catholic Church has asked a leading Scottish artist noted for his nude portrait of the singer Madonna to paint the largest work of art it has commissioned in Scotland since the 16th century Reformation.

Artist Peter Howson -- who has been commissioned to provide the painting for Glasgow's St Andrew's Cathedral -- is noted for his powerful religious imagery. But he is probably best known for his 2002 portrait of Madonna.

Archbishop Mario Conti said the Church had asked Howson to produce a huge dramatic rendering of the martyrdom of Saint John Ogilvie, canonized in 1976 as Scotland's first saint in over 700 years, depicting his hanging in Glasgow surrounded by hundreds of people.

"I have read everything I can get my hands on about Saint John Ogilvie, and have already completed a few initial portraits. I feel I know the man so well now, and that will increase over the year I expect to be working on the painting," Howson said when the commission was announced.

Asked whether the former painter of nudes should be involved in such a project, the Herald newspaper quoted Howson as saying: "I don't think any artists in history have been saints. I can't think of one."

Archbishop Conti added: "If you want to see nude figures, go to the (Vatican's) Sistine Chapel: there are plenty there."

Ogilvie was born in 1579 about 20 years after Calvinism became the predominant religion in Scotland and the Catholic mass proscribed. He studied in Europe, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1596 and was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1610.

He returned to Britain and was arrested and interrogated in Edinburgh and faced a second trial in Glasgow, where he was hanged in public at the Glasgow Cross near the Cathedral site on March 10, 1615. He was condemned ostensibly for refusing to accept the supremacy of the monarch -- James VI of Scotland and I of England -- in spiritual matters. He admitted to saying the mass, which was a capital offence.

Pope Paul VI canonized Ogilvie in 1976.

Howson's painting, eight meters by five meters (26 ft X 16 ft), will form the backing to the new Blessed Sacrament shrine after a multi-million pound renovation of the cathedral is completed in 2010.

The cathedral was built as St. Andrew's church in 1816 for the growing population of Catholics from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands who were attracted to Glasgow by the city's industrial expansion.

Constructed in Gothic revival style on the north bank of the Clyde river, it became the city's cathedral in 1884 after Scotland's Catholic hierarchy was restored after a gap of some 300 years.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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