Super Pope street artist gets new stamp of Vatican approval

Street artist Maupal, whose cartoon-like depictions of Pope Francis as a “Super Pope” have graced buildings around the Vatican for a decade, received an official stamp of approval on Thursday when he appeared at a Vatican news conference.

Maupal, in life Mauro Pallotta, designed a series of posters to illustrate Francis’ 2024 Lent message, which this year emphasises the need for the faithful to let go of hopelessness and bondage to find a path of inner freedom.

The posters will be released weekly over the course of this Lent season leading up to Easter.

Sitting next to one of Francis’ closest advisers, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Maupal said he never sought official recognition from the Vatican but was “proud and honoured” to have been asked to depict Francis’ message in art.

Vatican Street Art
Italian artist Mauro Pallotta in front of his graffiti depicting Pope Francis as Superman (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

“Representing Christian values via art has always been one of the greatest goals of painting and sculpture,” he told reporters.

“I have tried to synthesise the profound concepts expressed by the Holy Father through pictorial language in a simple, easily readable style.”

In the first poster released on Thursday, Francis is shown walking through a desert field of upturned nails, hauling a wheel barrel with a heavy sack and the word “Faith” written on the sack.

“Through the desert, God leads us to freedom,” reads the text, taken from the title of the pope’s message.

Maupal gained broad attention a year after Francis was elected in 2013, with the first graffiti art of the pope as a flying, white-caped “Super Pope”, a spinoff from Hollywood’s Superman, clutching his black satchel with the word “Values” on it.

The graffiti appeared on buildings of the Borgo Pio neighbourhood near the Vatican.

Initially, Rome’s “decorum” police scrubbed the images away but they continued to appear, each more embracing of Francis’ message than the last.

Over time, Maupal became somewhat part of the establishment as far as the Vatican was concerned.

In 2022 Francis met him, and that same year Maupal started collaborating with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

On Thursday, in addition to his place on the podium, the Vatican released a short biographic note about his art and his work in schools and prisons.

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