The artist who made Pope Francis a superhero

Artist Mauro Pallotta's painting of Pope Francis as a superhero on a wall near Rome's St Peter's Square received worldwide coverage this week. Pallotta said he wanted to portray how, like a comic book hero, the Pope uses his power and authority "for good".

The artist who made Pope Francis a superhero
Mauro Pallotta's painting of Pope Francis as a superhero has gone viral. Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Who is Mauro Pallotta and why is he in the news?

Until Tuesday this week, Pallotta, 41, was a relatively unknown artist. He has been working in Rome for 15 years, but hit headlines when one of his pieces, a spray-painted image of Pope Francis as a superhero, was tweeted by the Vatican and went viral.

The image appears on a wall in Rome's Borgo Pio district, near Saint Peter's Square, but Pallotta says he doesn't consider himself a 'street artist' – he also makes paintings and sculptures.

What does the graffiti show?

It is an image of Pope Francis with his fist pointing out in front of him in a Superman-like pose. He is wearing his crucifix and 'valores', the Latin word for 'values', is written on his black bag.

The artist explained that he tried “to respect the clothing that he always wears” by depicting the Pope in “simple shoes, a black bag and iron cross.”

What were the reasons behind it?

Artist Mauro Pallotta said in an interview with the Catholic News Agency that his art aimed to show how the Pope is “ is one of the few people who, having a real power, as a pope, uses it for the good.”

The briefcase represents the “Christian values that he carries… he doesn’t carry anything else. He only carries Christian values.”

Pope Francis has received a series of accolades in recent months, from being Time Magazine's Person of the Year to appearing on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine, for his open-minded attitude and commitment to reforming the Church. 

Pallotta also pointed out the football scarf shown in the picture, coming out of the bag, in the colours of the Pope's favourite team, San Lorenzo.

"This makes him come back to being human” he said. “So he is a superhero, but with that little scarf, he reminds everyone that, above all, he is first human.”

The Pope is an avid supporter of the Argentinian football team, who came to visit him shortly after his birthday. 

What did the Pope have to say about the artwork?

The graffiti received approval from the Vatican, which posted an image of the graffiti from its official Twitter account, with the caption, 'We share with you some graffiti found in a Roman street near the Vatican'. The photo has since been retweeted over 2,500 times.

How has Pallotta reacted to the global coverage?

Pallotta is proud of his painting, saying, "I think this is his perfect portrait. I don’t know, but that's how I see it.”

However, when asked about the picture's global coverage, he seemed unaware, replying, “I still haven’t noticed that. Has it really gone worldwide?”

But graffiti is illegal in Italy – won't he get into trouble?

No, because it's not painted directly onto the wall. Pallotta drew the image on drawing paper first, before gluing it to the building.

“I did not want to interfere directly with the color of the building,” he said, explaining that he came up with a way of doing it which was removable.

"It will be protected a little bit [from the weather], but it will not last long.”

As for the original copy of the drawing, Pallotta said, “I would like to donate it to Pope Francis.”

Don't miss a story about Italy – Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash

Pope Francis met with the anti-migration Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban behind closed doors on Sunday at the start of a brief visit to Budapest where he will also celebrate a mass. 

Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash
The Pope embarked on September 12 on his 34th international trip for a one-day visit to Hungary for an international Catholic event and a meeting with the country's populist leader, and a three-day visit to Slovakia. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

The head of 1.3 billion Catholics — in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress — met Orban, accompanied by Hungarian President Janos Ader, in Budapest’s grand Fine Arts Museum.

The Vatican television channel showed the pope entering the museum, but did not show images of the two men meeting, but Orban posted a photo of the two shaking hands on his Facebook page.

On one hand, Orban is a self-styled defender of “Christian Europe” from migration. On the other, Pope Francis urges help for the marginalised and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty.

But the pope’s approach to meet those who don’t share his worldview, eminently Christian according to the pontiff, has often been met with incomprehension among the faithful, particularly within the ranks of traditionalist Catholics.

Over the last few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.

Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments, and the “Soros Pope”, a reference to the Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, a right-wing bete-noire.

‘Not here for politics’

From early Sunday, groups of pilgrims from around the country, some carrying signs with their hometowns written on them, were filing under tight security toward the vast Heroes’ Square in Budapest, where the pontiff will say mass to close the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

“We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the pope, the head of the Church. We can hardly wait to see him. It is wonderful that he is visiting Budapest,” Eva Mandoki, 82, from Eger, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) east of the capital, told AFP.

Eyebrows have also been raised over the pontiff’s whirlwind visit.

His seven-hour-long stay in 9.8-million-population Hungary will be followed immediately by an official visit to smaller neighbour Slovakia of more than two days.

“Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by only staying a few hours,” said a pro-Orban television pundit.

Born Jorge Bergoglio to a family of Italian emigrants to Argentina, the pope regularly reminds “old Europe” of its past, built on waves of new arrivals.

And without ever naming political leaders he castigates “sovereigntists” who turn their backs on refugees with what he has called “speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934”.

In April 2016, the pope said “We are all migrants!” on the Greek island of Lesbos, gateway to Europe, bringing on board his plane three Syrian Muslim families whose homes had been bombed.

‘Hungary Helps’

In contrast, Orban’s signature crusade against migration has included border fences and detention camps for asylum-seekers and provoked growing ire in Brussels.

Orban’s supporters point instead to state-funded aid agency “Hungary Helps” which works to rebuild churches and schools in war-torn Syria, and sends doctors to Africa.

Orban’s critics, however, accuse him of using Christianity as a shield to deflect criticism and a sword to attack opponents while targeting vulnerable minorities like migrants.

Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.

During the pope’s stay in Budapest he will also meet the country’s bishops, and representatives of various Christian congregations, as well as leaders of the 100,000-strong Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe.

Orban — who is of Calvinist Protestant background — and his wife — who is a Catholic — are to attend the mass later Sunday.

Around 75,000 people have registered to attend the event, with screens and