Teilhard's Litany and Henri Pinta's painting

This is the account of the words written on Pinta's Sacred Heart found on Teilhard's desk. Click on image  to see larger version. The text is taken from Christianity and Evolution, published by Harvest Books, 1974.


The 'litany' was written on a holy card by the artist Henri Pinta.

Henri Marius Ludovic Pinta was born in Marseille in 1856 and lived a long life - dying in Paris in 1944 aged 88.
Pinta achieved fame initially by winning the Prix de Rome in 1884.  He was to become best known as an artist who specialised in religious works of art - including paintings, stained glass windows and mosaics. Read more HERE.

 Pinta's Sainte Marthe et La Tarasque
Pinta's portrait of Debussy

Between 1885- 1888 he  was resident at the Villa Medici in Rome.

 In 1886 he was lucky enough to be resident at the Medici at the same time as Claude Debussy.  And his portrait is perhaps one of the most well-known images of the composer. 
Early on in his career he got a  reputation as someone
 with a rather unconventional approach to religious art. One painting - Le Christ pleurant sur l’inutilité de son sacrifice - was actually considered to be somewhat heretical.    I have yet to see a copy of this painting, but it is evident from the title that he is stepping outside the artistic conventions.  Despite these criticisms he later went on to paint another picture which challenged the accepted modes of representation.   In 1887 Sainte Marthe et La Tarasque was criticised for the way in which it departed from the conventional way in which the story was portrayed in  religious art.   If  we look at his painting alongside the standard image of the subject we can quickly understand why it was considered to be somewhat irreligious.  Typically these portray the Saint protecting the people or town by restraining the beast ( the Tarasque).  However, the monster has a rather marginal role in Pinta's painting: the central focus of the picture is a beautifully painted nude who is being embraced by the Saint.    So we can see from this that Pinta was not afraid to depart from the accepted conventions of religious art.   We are to see this again in his unconventional portrayal of the Sacred Heart after the first world war.  But it is obvious that this rather unconventional approach to religious art was hardly likely to get him commissions, so his later works tend to work within conventions rather than outside them.

Naissance du Jour
As we can also observe from the painting of St Marthe, Henri  Pinta was a very talented painter of the female form.  We can see this in a later picture,  'Naissance du Jour', completed in 1903.  This, along with his portrait of Debussy, is one of his most widely reproduced work and is still being sold as a print. Another 'best seller' is his picture of L'Ange Musicien -  painted in 1892 - which again shows his gift as a figure painter.

L'Ange Musicien

 Pinta was also  a  talented landscape artist, as well as a portrait painter.   But his best work was to be art inspired by religious themes.  For the most part Pinta's religious art  accepted the prevailing conventions and modes of representation.  However,  Sainte Marthe et La Tarasque in many ways anticipates the image which found its way onto Teilhard's desk.  As in his early Sainte Marthe picture, Pinta later  shows himself able to be far more unconventional in representing the most important image of French Catholicism: le Sacre Coeur!

'For me this quite simple illustration is a vague representation of the universal “foyer” of attraction which we are aiming for. '
  Teilhard's comment on the card given as a farewell gift to Lucile Swan, 1941.

Pinta's sons listed on the memorial 
Pinta's picture of the  Sacred Heart that was treasured by Teilhard as a holy card and on which he wrote his litany appears to have been completed in 1921.  It departs from the standard version by showing the heart not as an anatomical object but as what Teilhard referred to as a 'Golden Glow'.  To understand the picture we have to place it in the context of Pinta's own life.  By the time he painted the Sacred Heart (above) Pinta had lost two sons in the Great War.  In this period he painted a picture on 'la mort de Joseph' in the chapel of Saint Joseph in the Church of Saint Francois-Xavier in Paris ( VIIe) (HERE ) dated 1915.

Pinta's painting in the Chapel of the dead, SFX (1921) 
Pinta's 'la mort de Joseph' , 1915
  A few years later he returned to the SFX church to paint two pictures (dated 1921)  in the chapel which commemorates the dead soldiers of the 1914-1918 war  - one presumes of the parish - and his sons are listed on the memorial in the chapel. 
However, when you step out of the chapel the first thing you notice on your right is the  Chapel of the Sacred Heart which contains a large painting by Félix Villé (1819-1907) dated 1895.  Pinta would have seen this painting a good deal and the striking feature of the painting is, of course, that Jesus is shown not with a heart but what Teilhard would call a 'golden glow'. 

Sacred Heart by Félix Villé, 1895

Of course, we cannot say that this painting by Félix Villé
 directly inspired Pinta, but at the very least it is highly co-incidental.  His own Sacred Heart was painted around the same time he had painted the pictures in  the chapel of the dead. This picture although unusual, is not so unique.  A visit to churches in Paris will show that statues showing the heart as a golden glow were fairly common - although they do actually show a physical heart.  However, such images as that painted by Félix Villé must have been quite rare: Teilhard himself only ever refers to the Pinta image as a representation of what he understood by the Sacred Heart.  
However, I have no doubt that Teilhard would have appreciated this picture as also being a 'vague representation ' representation of his ideas about the Sacred Heart as a the universal 'foyer' of attraction: a 'golden glow of divine love  filling all creation. 

(See Blog here for more discussion.) 

Later Sacred Hearts by Pinta - most notably the mosaic and the stained glass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Marseilles -  are pretty conventional.  So, the 1921 image appears to be something of a 'one-off'. 

 As to Félix Villé - who knows? 

For more on Félix Villé go (HERE )