Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Schmalz, Timothy - VM - Reinier Sonneveld

 Timothy Schmalz: Angels Unawares

140 Refugees and 140 Saints

by Reinier Sonneveld

A bronze sculpture of a boat with 140 life-sized, contemporary and historical refugees, has been installed in St Peter’s Square in Rome for an indefinite time. It was unveiled on 29th September 2019. It makes quite a statement, also by Pope Francis, who oversaw the placing himself and gave it his blessing. 

The Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz is not afraid of robust, spiritual gestures. He is known for his Homeless Jesus, a bronze homeless man, who lies on benches in various cities the world over with wounds in his feet. It can shock us, but at the same time this is closely connected to how Jesus saw himself. He had no place to sleep, as he said himself. And he said that if you clothe someone, you clothe him.

And now we come to this monumental work with the title Angels Unawares. Schmalz alludes to the Bible text where it says that you should continue to be hospitable, because ‘by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13:2). It is a thought that is comparable to Homeless Jesus: the divine hides in the least expected places. The number of 140 refugees reinforces this: there are also 140 sculptures of saints standing around the square.

Perhaps this is what Jesus came to do: to win this world back for God, conquer every nook and cranny in the world and finally conquer even death with his death. He shone his light everywhere, in the most unexpected places, so that ever since we can expect God in the most unexpected places. 

A broader meaning of Schmalz’s call for hospitality is to be open to new wisdom, to changes in our life’s pathway, to insights that could, perhaps, be repugnant to us.

The political dimension of the refugee crisis is profoundly polarizing. Strangely enough what connects both poles is their standing up for the weaker ones. One pole sees the vulnerability of those who cross the border, the other pole sees the vulnerability of those who stay within borders. I see a measure of empathy shared by both poles. Perhaps the work of Schmalz offers a similar bridge. By his historical approach he suggests that we are all refugees.


Timothy Schmalz: Angels Unawares, 2019, bronze, Saint Peter’s Square, Rome. Illustrations: Angels Unawares: Jesus:

Timothy Schmalz (1969) is a Catholic Canadian sculptor. His work is figurative and has been installed in many places in the world, of which a number of sculptures in churches in Rome and the Vatican. Schmalz describes his work as visual translations of the Bible. Although most of his work is based on a spiritual theme, he also creates large, complex, public sculptures in bronze without any religious themes. Some of these include monuments that honour veterans and fire fighters. He strives to create epic artwork that connects with viewers through design and details that not only touch the viewers on an emotional level, but also allow them to feel ‘part’ of the piece.

Reinier Sonneveld is a Dutch author and speaker. He is especially known for a number of books about the Christian faith and the controversial glossies Jesus! and Death, which he coauthored and developed. He also contributed to various much talked-about projects, such as7keer7, the Goot 500 and Denkstof. He has written more than 100 songs for children, a picture book and three musicals. He was one of the founders of the online magazine Lazarus and recently his graphic novel Song of the Butterfly was published.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 3 November 2019