But what exactly do we see in Cattelan’s work, beyond or in spite of his mimetic realism? The Pope’s face, curiously, is not distorted by pain, as one might expect, when it should be unbearable. His expression is serious, it seems almost contemplative, perhaps surprised by a statistically improbable accident; and his body, instead of being reduced to rubble by the impact of a stone of this size, hurled at full speed through space, remains intact. John Paul II, firmly clinging to his cross, seems to be making an effort to get up. It is difficult not to think here of the scenes of martyrdom, so often represented in Italian churches, in which the tortured victims, indifferent to their suffering, emerge unharmed from the flames or the boiling oil and defy the repeated efforts of their executioners.
Even if the glare of the controversy has died down, La Nona Ora remains, in 2023 as much as in 1999, what the artist intended: a work that disturbs, even shocks at first sight, but which, according to his own expression and with reference to the Passion of Christ, constitutes “a spiritual work that speaks of suffering.”