Nicholas Markell art studio.
Nicholas Markell's art studio (Saint John Vianney College Seminary)

Bringing Beauty to Life

Local artist illuminates SJV’s new chapel with Beuronese imagery

Sunlight streamed into Nicholas Markell’s cheerful studio at ArtReach St. Croix.

His bright-eyed and capable assistant, Gabrielle Trom, led a tour through the workspace and showcased piece after piece ready for installation in Saint John Vianney’s newly renovated chapel. Every work crafted by Markell affirms St. John Paul II’s admonition that “the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable” (Letter to Artists, 4 April 1999).

A University of St. Thomas graduate and seasoned artist, Markell shared how his work is helping the college seminary form young men discerning a priestly vocation.

“About a year and a half ago, I was contacted by Studio io (the designer in charge of SJV’s chapel construction) to discuss the possibility of working with them, Father Kelly and the staff of SJV to create much of the interior art for the new SJV chapel,” he said. “The scope included a full set of 14 Stations of the Cross, large murals of the Transfiguration and the Baptism of the Lord for the sanctuary, a lunette image of the Annunciation, inspirational images of St. John Vianney and St. Paul and other devotional works of reverence.”

Markell believes liturgy and worship are among the most important of the Church’s works, and that revival of iconic images is meant to lead to the renewal of lives. He says his studio is dedicated to designing and creating iconic images focused on the three principles of beauty, mystery and meaning.

The Catholic artistic community regards Markell as a master iconographer in the Byzantine and Romanesque traditions. SJV’s new chapel features an artistic approach which had been of interest to Markell for quite some time.

“It was decided that the form of the art was to be Beuronese, a particular liturgical art movement which began with Benedictine monks in Germany in the 19th century,” Markell explained. “The form is more naturalistic in appearance than traditional Byzantine iconography, but more formal, symbolic and sublime than much of the overly sentimental art being created for churches at the time. It was developed in order to communicate both the human and divine dimensions of faith. It has been called liminal art, for it is meant to bridge to space between the created world and spiritual realms.”

Markell speaks humbly of his artistic focus over the past 35 years: “To ‘revive the iconic’ in the life of the Church, creating images celebrating the unity of Christ Jesus’ humanity and divinity. I hope the work of this new chapel will serve to form young men in their formation and priestly discernment and to more fully absorb the truth of God becoming human so we may, as St. Peter states, become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4).”

Editor's note: A version of this story originally ran in the spring 2023 edition of Vianney News. The Saint John Vianney College Seminary is located at the University of St. Thomas.