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Rev. Richard G. Cannuli, OSA, Presents Exhibit of Old and New World Religious Icons at Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome


For Fr. Cannuli (pictured above), an Augustinian Catholic priest, Villanova University professor and artist, his inspiration for art comes from prayer. His exhibit will travel to noted Augustinian churches and cloisters in Rome and San Gimignano, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic; and Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.


VILLANOVA, Pa. – An Augustinian Catholic priest, Villanova University professor and artist, the Rev. Richard G. Cannuli, OSA, is truly a Renaissance man. His art and teaching spans many a medium – watercolor, oil painting, printmaking and icon painting – and both are inspired by a deep devotion to religion and prayer. As a professional artist, he has designed and worked with stained glass windows, fabric, mosaic and liturgical furniture. Fr. Cannuli’s upcoming exhibit of Old and New World religious icons, “Ever Ancient, Ever New – Sacred Treasures,” represents the range of his work and teaching.

Opening Friday, March 30 in the Augustinian Gallery of Sacred and Contemporary Art at the Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo in Rome, Italy, the exhibit continues through April 30. It will then travel to other Augustinian churches and cloisters in San Gimignano, Italy; Prague, Czech Republic; and Krakow and Warsaw, Poland, before returning to the Unites States in October.

The exhibit comprises 30 large wall pieces, 15 hand crafted liturgical vestments, as well as 43 traditional icons in gold leaf and egg tempera. In media ranging from fabric to photography and mixed media as well as egg tempera and gold leaf, the exhibit offers a look into the centuries-old holy shrines stationed along the streets and alleyways of southern Italy and Sicily, the birth region of the artist’s paternal grandfather. Normally a classical iconographer, as well as an internationally noted watercolorist, fabric and glass artist, Fr. Cannuli merges these and more disciplines in his distinctive treatment of the roadside shrines and processional statues borne by worshippers in holy day observances – particularly timely given the opening of the exhibit comes right before Holy Week.

“Creative expression is a process in which one touches spirituality continually, for in creativity we begin to know the Creator,” said Fr. Cannuli, the founder, director and curator of the Villanova University art gallery and a full professor in studio art. “As we share the beauty and manifestation of new ideas and forms, we explore the potential of ourselves and see the greater self. Art is not a metaphor for creation; it is the continuation of its presence.”

Added Fr. Cannuli, “This is the perfect time for this exhibit to open; the art has a lot to do with Holy Week. My hope is that this exhibit will help others elevate their thoughts to God.”

During his time in Europe, Fr. Cannuli will also impart his knowledge, wisdom and love of the icon onto others, teaching an icon workshop in four cities. Through an image of St. Augustine, he will instruct students on the 22 steps of creating an icon.

“The inspiration for the art comes from prayer,” said Fr. Cannuli. “Once you start working with them and praying with them, a whole new world opens up.”

For the serious practitioner, the art of iconography is a meditation. For Fr. Cannuli, the time-honored and very precise process of creating an image of Christ, Mother of God or a Roman Catholic saint signifies the spiritual journey which he has been on for most of his life. 

Many years ago, the making of classical icons in the Russian tradition helped move Fr. Cannuli to re-evaluate his vocation as a brother in the Augustinian Order.

“In the process of reading the icons, looking, studying and understanding them, I came into communion with them. This raised the question of my spirituality – where I was going, what I was doing. That’s how I started to reconsider the fact that maybe I should move forward,” said Fr. Cannuli, who made the decision to study for the priesthood, into which he was ordained in 1999.

As a religious artist, Fr. Cannuli’s interests are wide-ranging. A certified liturgical design consultant, he has planned worship spaces for numerous religious communities. His designs for stained glass windows, mosaics, sanctuary furniture and liturgical vestments may be found in worship spaces in the United States and abroad. He also lectures on iconography, and art and environment in liturgical space. His watercolors and paintings in acrylics, oil and egg tempera have been exhibited in solo and group shows around the world.

Fr. Cannuli earned his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., his BFA at Villanova University and his certification as a Liturgical Design Consultant from Chicago Theological Union (Chicago, Ill.). He also completed advanced studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia, Pa.) and the Art Student Leagues of New York, N.Y., and Siena, Italy.

Fr. Cannuli has exhibited his watercolors in Italy, Spain, China, Russia, Belarus and Greece—as well as throughout the United States. In 1985, he began his formal training as an iconographer and continues his studies with a Master Iconographer. His icons have been commissioned by parish communities and private individuals, and on behalf of Villanova University, his icon, “Do Not Weep for Me Mother,” was presented to His Beatitude and Eminence Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, Lebanon. One of his icons, “Made Without Human Hands,” is in the permanent collection of St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt.

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About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.