Paintings of artistic genius Rembrandt, who traditionally was more associated with Protestant Europe, now are on display at the Vatican Museums -- a first for the popular spot that attracts millions of visitors annually. Titled "Rembrandt in the Vatican: Images Between Heaven and Earth," the show includes 53 artworks from the Zorn Museum in Sweden and the Kremer Collection in the Netherlands. Some of the Dutch artist's best-known works are biblical scenes, such as "The Raising of the Cross" and "Adam and Eve."
The exhibit opened after Pope Francis' October visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, reports RNS, and runs until Feb. 26, 2017. It was organized by the Vatican group responsible for promoting Christian unity, along with Swedish and Dutch embassy staffs.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said he hopes the exhibition can "strengthen mutual love between Catholics and Lutherans and their commitment to the quest for unity," according to RNS.
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669) has been considered a master of light in painting and printmaking. The Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517, had spread to the northern Netherlands, where he lived. As the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, the artist infused both religions in his work.
"He was exposed to the elementary religious transformations of his era, of growing confessionalism and religious wars in Europe," Koch said. "In his paintings, he addresses the poverty and helplessness of ordinary people. There is also a shining light to be seen from above that indicates the always stronger divine grace and guidance."
Arnold Nesselrath, deputy director and curator at the Vatican Museums, said Rembrandt is an artist who is rooted in the Protestant as well as the Catholic environment, so "he's an ideal artist, an artist of that caliber who can actually transmit these ideas."
"There are his most famous prints, like the one of the '100 Florins,' 'Christ Healing the Sick' and the famous 'Three Crosses.' These images have a great impact," said Nesselrath.
Rembrandt's images also reflect the pontiff's message of mercy and compassion for the poor. "Beggars, poor or crippled people appear in the context of particular iconographies like the 'Return of the Prodigal Son,' the 'Healing of the Lame Man at the Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem,'" said Nesselrath. "But Rembrandt makes these people a subject of their own right."
Antonio Paolucci, Vatican Museums' director, said Rembrandt is a Protestant who travels "to the heart of Roman Catholicism," reported CathNews New Zealand.
Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are considered to be his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible.