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DSPT Student, Justyn Michael Zolli, Commissioned for Liturgical Art Painting at St. Dominic's in Benicia

Saint Dominic's Catholic Church in Benicia, California, the first Dominican church in the state, has recently installed a newly commissioned liturgical altar painting by visual artist Justyn Michael Zolli.

Zolli is an accomplished, professional visual artist who creates both liturgical and contemporary visual art and maintains his studio nearby in the Benicia Arsenal Arts Complex. He is also presently a grad student at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, where he is focusing on the study of aesthetics, iconography, and liturgy. 

He states: "I was very honored to have been selected to create an altar painting for such a beautiful and historic church such as St. Dominic's, Benicia. It's a blessing for any Catholic artist to have the opportunity to use their talents to beautify a house of Our Lord, but it's a particularly great blessing to be offered a commission to adorn the central space around the tabernacle. It's something that will be seen by the parish at every Mass for many years God willing, so it's a great responsibility I take seriously, and I feel humbled and grateful to the Dominicans for such trust and confidence in me."

The work was commissioned as a parting gift by outgoing pastor, Father Carl Schlichte, OP, who worked with Zolli on refining the concept, design, and theological accuracy. Addressing the parish he wrote, "Using part of a bequest from the estate of Jeri Lange, I commissioned a piece that you will soon see in the sanctuary immediately behind the tabernacle. The blue wallpaper will be replaced by a mural of seven angels in the style of Fra Angelico. I commissioned the local artist and DSPT student Justyn Michael Zolli for this work. Justyn had previously painted the statue of Our Lady in the Garden of Hope. All the Benicia friars were very excited when I shared Justyn's design with them."

Zolli states, "I thought a design in the style of the most important Dominican artists, Blessed Fra Angelico, would be most fitting for such a space. His artistic sensibility really has all that I love in medieval symbolism but combined with the warm, human feeling of the early Italian Renaissance. It was important to me that the design be as sympathetic and harmonious as possible with the architecture. I used 24 ct. gold leaf on all the halos, censers, etc, and pure pigments to achieve as much light, clarity, and shine as possible, in keeping with the Florentine tradition of Fra Angelico but while also painting with my own artistic sensibility. Since the dove of the Holy Spirit is not represented elsewhere in the church, I thought that He should be placed at the pinnacle of the arch, descending in rays of light over the tabernacle. That then naturally suggested the 'Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit,' symbolized by seven angels in adoration of the throne of the Blessed Sacrament, and the cry of 'Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus..!' in a latin scroll around the arch."

Fr. Gregory Liu, OP, Associate Pastor at St. Dominic's Benicia, wrote about the new work: "What is the significance of depicting angels around the tabernacle? Whenever we participate at a Mass, at every church in every part of the world, while still on Earth, we are mystically transported to heaven. We are truly in the presence of the living God, joining ranks and ranks of angels in worship. By extension, a tabernacle, in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and safeguarded, is none other than the throne of God, since the blessed Sacrament is the true presence of Jesus Christ, second person of the Holy Trinity. In faith, we can understand that at every tabernacle, there are also myriads of angels worshipping Jesus Christ both day and night. May this newest adornment of our beautiful church serve to remind us, whether we are praying quietly in front of the tabernacle or worshiping God at Mass, we are never alone. Rather, we are accompanied by thousands of angels praising God in unison."

July 2023