The Painting? Fake. The Jesuit, Too.

The Jesuits have a long history with the visual arts, both as patrons and practitioners. Take, for example, Brother Andrea Pozzo, S.J., an Italian Baroque painter and a master of trompe l’oeil, creating the appearance of domes in churches that had no money to build them. Then there were the finds of paintings by Caravaggio and, possibly, Michelangelo in various Jesuit communities.

Now meet Mark Landis, who perhaps hoped to follow in the footsteps of Pozzo and other Jesuit artists. Landis is a masterful painter, the only catch is that he has used his considerable talents  to forge famous works of art. He also happens to be a fake Jesuit, and would don a Roman collar as he tried to give his bogus paintings to museums. A recent mini-documentary posted at thisiscolossal.com tells the story. Have a look:

I found two things most striking about the story. First is that Landis forged and donated the paintings not out of a desire for money, but out of a desire to be a philanthropist. He wanted to be generous, and tried to be – in his own peculiar, somewhat twisted way. The second was a question that goes unanswered in both video installments: why dress up like a priest at all, and especially a Jesuit?

Alas, as it turned out, Landis was probably better at faking paintings than faking being a Jesuit. When he tried to ‘donate’ one of his copies to the Hilliard Museum at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, it took ultraviolet lights to uncover the forged painting. But something else gave him away as a fake Jesuit right away. As the museum’s curator said in the second installment of the documentary:

[O]ur development director had worked for the Jesuits in New Orleans for many years and she said ‘I thought it was really unusual that he hugged me before he left. Jesuit priests don’t do that.’

Maybe it’s best to set aside the “Jesuit’s Don’t Hug” claim for another post. What I’m really wondering is if Landis will donate some of his paintings to our art-starved Jesuit communities? It’s seems the least one can do for a (faux) brother in the Lord.

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Editor’s Note: Cover photo “oil painting brushes” by deflam via Flickr.

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