Henri Pinta and the Sacred Heart

'For me this quite simple illustration is a vague representation of the universal “foyer” of attraction which we are aiming for. '
 Teilhard de Chardin SJ 1941 

As we have noted,  in his early career Pinta had shown himself to be quite prepared to approach religious images in a very unconventional way.   So it is not so surprising that when he paints the Sacred Heart in 1921 he rejects the conventions - just as he had done with his painting of St Marthe and Le Christ pleurant sur l’inutilité de son sacrifice.    But here he is not just rejecting any old conventions.  In the aftermath of the first world war French Catholicism - and the French state was intensely pre-occupied with the Sacred Heart.   But  Pinta rejects the standard image of the Sacred Heart.  We only have to compare his Sacred Heart with the conventional image to realize how far he is departing from the conventions.  It is therefore not surprising that it does not appear to have been a very popular image.   Hardly any copies of the picture seem to have survived.   Later on, he is to produce far more conventional images of  Christ and the Sacred Heart, but the image of 1921 is very different . Unlike the conventional representation - which did not appeal to Teilhard -  Pinta chose to focus on light rather than a red bloody heart. It it is this 'glow' which Teilhard admired so very much.  In this it has something in common with Luc-Oliver Merson's great mosaic in the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.  The mosaic had been completed in 1922.  It is more than likely that Pinta would have seen Merson's creation - so it could have served to inspire him.  At one level we might say that Pinta combines the standard or popular Sacred Heart with the Merson 'light' approach.

But, Pinta is doing something far more radical in his picture.  Merson's image is a Christ in majesty, but Pinta's shows Christ as very human and loving.  It is not a Christ dressed in majesty, but a  Christ at the moment of resurrection. The heart is now glowing with the energy of divine love.  Teilhard loved this picture because of all the images he had seen of the Sacred Heart Pinta's came closest to expressing what Teilhard thought about the Sacred Heart.  Merson's Sacred Heart is a massive political statement.  Pinta's is, however, a profoundly private reflection.  This is a Sacred Heart of a man who had suffered the pain of losing his sons in the war only a few years before.  His Sacred Heart is not about blood and pain ( as in the traditional version) nor is it a political statement: Pinta's Sacred Heart is an image of Jesus as the way, the truth and the light.  It is a Christ who is risen: it is a Christ who is comforting those in pain.    It is a private and very  intimate work of art which is given as a personal gift to one Maurice  Belle on his ordination as a priest.  It is later turned into the holy card treasured by Teilhard.  I wonder where the original is now??

He was responsible for several other pictures of Christ - and the Sacred Heart-  in later years, and none of them as far as I can discover revisited his 1921 picture.  However, if we want to understand his Sacred Heart we have to look back to an earlier composition: The death of St. Joseph,  completed in 1915 for the Church of Saint-François-Xavier, GO HERE )   I have been informed by descendent of Henri Pinta that the previous year (1914) he had lost his son Pierre in the war.  In 1915 he was to suffer the loss of a second son, Andre.  A  history of the Church relates:

La tonalité chaude, bien soutenue qui est répandue partout, et que les tons froids modèrent à souhait, est tellement bien amenée par la lumière des grandes verrières avoisinantes, que la scène pourrait se passer comme cela, à cet endroit-là. Combien de fois ai-je vu dans cette chapelle la halte chrétienne de l'humble convoi qui va repartir vers le champ du repos! C'est un heureux choix d'avoir orné cet endroit d'une Mort de St Joseph. Contempler cette toile sera toute une prière, un appel vers Jésus et Marie, suprême consolation de l'âme qui va quitter la terre. Avoir peint une toile devant laquelle on prie... c'est la meilleure récompense que puisse ambitionner l'auteur de cette composition. Et lorsque, devant elle, un père, une mère, verseront sur un fils bien-aimé des larmes de douleur, ils ne soupçonneront point qu'aux jours même où il achevait sa toile, le peintre, lui aussi, aurait voulu pouvoir pleurer près du cercueil de son fils, et que cette consolation lui était refusée parce l'enfant tombait, à vingt ans, pour la France, loin de tous les siens, mais tout près de Jésus et de Marie.  (See HERE) .

The picture shows Christ tenderly comforting his earthly father.  It is an image of a compassionate Christ comforting Joseph with his truth and light.   We can only imagine the pain which Pinta was experiencing as he completed this picture in 1915.  And I think it is  this Christ we see in the 1921 picture and which is evident in later (more conventional) works. ( Sometimes without a beard - is that significant: Christ more of a young man in his twenties?)  It is the face of a Christ  promising love and new life, not the face of a Christ looking down on us from the great heights of a Basilica.

Pinta was  subsequently responsible for several works of art as part of war memorials.  Some can be found in the National Cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette. see HERE It is noted here that the stained glass windows were made by Charles Lorin after designs by Pinta. It also notes that Pinta had lost sons during the war.   I have not found the images from Notre Dame de Lorette - but it would be interesting to find them.  He also did several other paintings to commemorate the deaths of soldiers during the war. See also HERE.   AND HERE ( But I do not know where these paintings are to be found!)

In a homily in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Marseilles by Mgr Jean-Pierre Ellul (see HERE)  he observes of the stained glass windows and the mosaic in the apse by Pinta that he wanted to show the' suffering and glory of the risen'.  He also notes that he lost two sons in the first world war.

In this context the significance  and meaning of Teilhard's  image becomes clear.  This a painting by someone whose faith had been tested by the recent deaths of  two sons.  But he does not paint the traditional Sacred Heart.  Pinta paints a very exceptional picture - a truly HEART FELT  picture - that appealed to Teilhard because it is not sentimental or kitsch.   The love in those eyes is the love of a Christ who knows our suffering and has redeemed it.    It shows the other side of suffering, pain and death:  the resurrection.  Pinta sees what Teilhard would describe as 'the other side of the cross': Pinta represents the Sacred Heart in terms of the transfiguration of the resurrection.  What we are looking at in the holy card that so appealed to Teilhard is not some sentimental image which we normally find, but an image which must be understood as an altogether more profound reflection on the meaning of the resurrection.  This is more than a holy card.  It is an image which has been painted by a man in pain who has experienced profound loss of two of his children,  Pierre and Andre.   But he does not dwell on the bloody heart of Jesus: Pinta's Sacred Heart is not something which was produced for the mass market in pious art.  His Sacred Heart is an expression of his faith in Christ.  When we realise this, the power of the image becomes more apparent.  It really is a painting which tries to express his love of his sons and his love of  the Sacred Heart of Jesus.    I think that is why the picture is so powerful.  It should be better known!!