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Babetto, Giampolo - VM - Jonathan Evens

Giampaolo Babetto: Candle Holder

That’s How the Light Gets Out

by Jonathan Evens

Leonard Cohen sang that there is a crack in everything through which the light gets in. St Paul told the Christians in Corinth that they had the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in their hearts, but that this treasure was in clay jars, so that it might be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and did not come from them.

He used this image of light in containers seen through cracks to assure the Corinthian Christians that they had the light of God in their lives, despite the fallibility and frailty of those lives. Like Cohen he suggested that there are fractures and flaws running through each of our lives, but that these imperfections actually enable the light within to be seen more clearly.

If the container were to be perfectly formed, then the light inside would not be seen from the outside. The light of Christ would effectively be hidden. People would look at our perfect life and not Christ, because they would only see us. Instead, St Paul says, because we are not perfect and have difficulties and flaws, it is then clear that where we act or speak with love and compassion, this is because of Christ in us, rather than being something which is innate to us or simply our decision alone.

Italian artist-goldsmith Giampaolo Babetto designed candle holders for the Dick Sheppard Chapel at St-Martin-in-the-Fields (London), where the candle is ‘mainly hidden and serves to create a mysterious light, thus giving the candle holders a spiritual appearance.’ Babetto has also enhanced the glow of light by covering the interior of the candle holders with gold leaf. This glow of light from the interior is seen because Babetto has cut the shape of a cross into the metal. The cross is the ultimate vulnerability, because it represents the death of God. It is through this crack in the invulnerability of the Almighty that the light of God shines most clearly in our existence.

Babetto also created a chalice and paten for the Dick Sheppard Chapel and responded to the richness of the contents of this small chapel, which includes a sculptural altar by Eric Parry and a bright tapestry by Gerhard Richter, with the discrete designs of this metalwork. His works incorporate hand-beaten sheet metal, an ancient technique that creates forms without welding, to produce objects of ‘great delicacy’ combined with a ‘beautifully sensitive materiality.’ In this context the fact that these objects have been beaten as part of their creation is a further connection with the experience of crucifixion of which they remind us.

Babetto’s process of moulding starts to develop from working a circular form, by tenths of millimetres, beating in a spiral around the surface many times before arriving at the final form. He says that in his work he is seeking to ‘find a form that you think will become a jewel.’ He says also that his work ‘is not made of appearances’ and that he would ‘like it to be something that comes from the inside, that expresses an inwardness.’ That aim has perhaps never been better realised than with these delicately material candleholders from which the light shines out through the crack of a cross.

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Giampaolo Babetto, Candle Holder, 2015-16, image copyright Benjamin Westoby.

Giampaolo Babetto was born in Padua (Italy) in 1947. He studied at the Pietro Selvatico Art Institute in Padua and at the Academy of Belles Artes in Venice. From 1967 he exhibited his work in Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain, Japan, and the USA. His works are in the permanent collection of the Pforzheim Jewellery Museum in Germany. He lives and works in Arquà Petrarca (Padua, Italy). Website: www.babetto.com/index2_en.htm.

The candle holder is featured in The Art of St Martin-in-the-Fields, produced by Modus Operandi Art Consultants, 2016. £9.99 from the Shop at St Martin’s.

Jonathan Evens is Priest-in-Charge at St Stephen Walbrook and Associate Vicar for Partnership Development at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. A keen blogger, he posts regularly on issues of faith and culture at www.joninbetween.blogspot.co.uk. His journalism and art criticism ranges from A.W.N. Pugin to U2 and has appeared in a range of publications, including the Church Times. He runs a visual arts organisation called commission4mission, which encourages churches to commission contemporary art, and with the artist Henry Shelton has published two collections of meditations and images on Christ's Passion. Together with the musician Peter Banks, he has published a book on faith and music entitled The Secret Chord.

ArtWay Visual Meditation January 29, 2017