Portraitist seeks to capture essence of the popes
Since childhood, Cuban-American portraitist Sylvia Castellanos has been intrigued by the human face. That fascination and her love of drawing have led her to paint hundreds of portraits — from Washington, D.C., dignitaries to Central American Maya campesinos.
And with each portrait, her hope is to capture the person’s soul. Not a small task in itself, but her objective became even more challenging when she chose to paint the Church’s spiritual leaders Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“I had a personal desire to paint the popes because this is my Church and these are the leaders of my Church,” said Castellanos, who began painting Pope John Paul II in the last months of his life.
“I was in my 20s when he was elected pope,” she said. “You would have to have been there to understand the significance of this young pope who liked to ski and mountain climb, who was so vibrant, alert and intelligent.”
“With the passage of time, he had become this old man with Parkinson’s disease who could hardly walk.”
“I wanted to try to catch something to bring back into people’s consciousness that this was the real man and this is how he deserves to be remembered,” she said.
Since Castellanos immigrated with her family to the United States from her native Havana at age 9, she said she was “especially interested that John Paul came from a country enslaved by communism.”
“I learned later that he was doing things behind the scenes to fight communism, and that made him especially dear to me.”
After she completed the portrait in 2006, it was exhibited for five years at Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, where she received much praise for capturing the pope’s essence. She values such compliments highly, especially since she never met Pope John Paul, nor his successor, Pope Benedict, whom she began painting in 2010.
Mostly self-taught, Castellanos painted her first “commissioned” portrait at the age of 13. Her portrait of Abraham Lincoln for a school project drew the attention of her principal, who commissioned her to do a portrait of the assistant principal for $10. [More]