Crucified Santa Painting To Hang In St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

A picture of Santa Claus hanging on the cross may be displayed at New York’s largest Cathedral Sunday to protest the commercialization of Christmas after years of controversy.

The painting, titled “The Presence of Man,” shows a crucified Santa on a cross over a field of Christmas presents. The shocking image is supposed to convey how Santa Claus has become the embodiment of Christmas, according to the creator of the work, Robert Cenedella.

“To see [Santa] in place of Christ confuses and challenges those who have accepted a myth in place of what is considered the most important person in human history,” Cenedella told the New York Daily News in December, when the work resurfaced.

Ever since Cenedella created the work, he’s maintained that “I didn’t replace Christ with Santa Claus: Commercialism and Capitalism did.” The work now hangs at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

@robertcenedella and his painting “The Presence of Man” (aka “Santa”) are featured in today’s @NYDailyNews. Check out more ART at rcenedellagallery.com and artbastard.com #santa #commercialism #christmas #capitalism #art #artist #painter #painting #picture #robertcenedella #rebel #artbastard #independent #political #nyc #museum #gallery #moma #themet #newmuseum #brooklynmuseum #thecloisters #metbreur #frickcollection #guggenheim #thewhitney #newyorkpubliclibrary #cooperunion

A post shared by Robert Cenedella (@rcenedellagallery) on

While the painting caused quite an uproar when it was first displayed in 1997, one of its harshest critics has somewhat changed his mind.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue objected to the painting 30 years ago, saying its message was confused and bordered on blasphemy. Now, however, he thinks “Cenedella has convinced me that he is well meaning,” Donohue wrote in a blog post Dec. 19.

“It caught my eye when it debuted some 20 years ago,” Donohue wrote. “At that time, I said, ‘We took no objection to art that protested the commercialization of Christmas, but we also maintained that it was not obvious that the painting conveyed that message.'”

A reporter for the New York Daily News brought up the issue with Donohue, and offered Cenedella’s attestation that the work was not intended to offend Christians, but make viewers think about how commercialization has replaced Christ in the holiday.

“We are not far apart,” Donohue told the reporter after hearing the artist’s words. “I take him at his word—-the message he seeks to convey is indeed the commercialization of Christmas. I agree that it is not an auspicious development.”

As he did in 1998, Donohue said “the artist could have made the same point by putting Santa in a noose, thus avoiding a conflict with Christians.” Cenedella’s response is that putting Santa in a noose might offend African Americans in an apparent reference to lynching.

Cenedella’s Santa painting was first displayed at the Art Students League in December 1997, but it was painted a decade before for a show at the New York offices of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency. The painting offended there, too, and the agency took it down.

The painting may now make an appearance in front of the largest Catholic church in New York City. “He always wanted to show it on Christmas Eve at St. Patrick’s to get people’s attention back on Christ on the cross instead of the commercialization of Christmas, which this painting is about,” a friend of Cenedella told Page Six.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral did not immediately return The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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