Nelson Shanks' portrait of Pope John Paul II
remains an enduring legacy of beloved pontiff

It’s not easy to impress artist Nelson Shanks. He has created portraits of presidents, queens and Supreme Court justices. But, one subject stands out vividly among the many luminaries.
"I was in total awe,” said Shanks of Pope John Paul II, who will be canonized this Sunday. “Struck by the holiness of the man."

In 2002, with countless hours of research already under his belt, Shanks traveled to the Vatican under the auspices of the Office of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums to paint the pontiff. While Shanks normally insists on live sittings – he had spent weeks in London painting Princess Diana in 1994 - the pontiff’s ill health and hectic schedule prevented such intimate contact. Shanks, however, studied the Pope celebrating Mass and photographed and sketched him during private audiences with several dozen other people. He worked on the piece in his Bucks County, PA, studio from April to October, 2002.

The painting was unveiled at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia in January, 2003 and has traveled widely. It was part of a U.S. tour of Vatican art and was on display at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. in 2005 when the pope died. Last summer, it was included in a Shanks retrospective at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA.

From museum visitor to museum expert, the image of a vibrant pope bathed in light has resonated soundly. “Shanks’ portrayal of Pope John Paul II is a work of great sympathy and insight,” according to D. Dodge Thompson, director of exhibitions at the National Gallery, “and will be our most enduring painted image of one of the preeminent religious and historical figures of the 20th century”

Nelson Shanks, the founder and artistic director of Studio Incamminati, School for Contemporary Realist Art, is a world-renowned artist and educator. He is only the second living American artist invited to display his work in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, and the Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow. His art has been honored and exhibited in numerous museums and galleries worldwide, His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Kensington Palace, London and Fortezza Firmafede, Sarzana, Italy. Highlighting his numerous honors are lifetime achievement awards from the Portrait Society of America, the National Arts Club and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.