The equation for a Piscitelli work from this series is as follows: first, find a fresco, illuminated manuscript or altarpiece from the Christian tradition. Then dispense with every backdrop, every symbolic lamb, every ripple of fabric, patron, person. All you're left with, you'll find, are the shapes which lately hung around the holy heads. And what do they mean, without the person to whom we attribute their symbolism? What is the sign without the signified?
St. Peter without a halo is only a man. Holiness, an intrinsically super-human attribute, has distinctly human origins. After all, and if we're honest, nothing is sacred until someone designates it so; a saint is only a saint so long as they are venerated as such. However much we'd like to imagine the divine as embodying something distinct and discreet from our messy mortality, it's a quality as subjective as beauty, say, or 'goodness'. Deities and their superintendents are manmade, but the stories we tell about them demand the assumption that they aren't. This particular paradox of religion encompasses another: while there's certainly a Hierarchy of Holiness in most faith traditions - saints below prophets below gods - it's a qualifier that bleeds between categories while, at the same time, reinforcing them. One can't have a bit of a halo, or be a bit divine. More than this, (and presumably a recurring annoyance for Christian artists), Jesus et al look inconveniently like the hoi polloi. How to distinguish them? How to unravel this tangle of thorns? A thought experiment might make things clearer: erase Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, leave their haloes floating and see where things stand.
From the micro to the macro, and from haloes to continents, we turn to the surface beneath the gold leaf. Piscitelli paints on top of cartographical artefacts, linked in one way or another to the tableau she's drawing from. In Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning, 2017, the artist has applied the haloes of 12 men, painted by Lorenzo Veneziano in a 1370 piece of the same name, to a 1935 map of the Tyrrhenian Sea from the archives of the Istituto Geografico Militare. The oceanic theme of both the found painting and the found map collide in Piscitelli's delicate retelling, less a new idea than a novel spin on the old. While the original story takes place in the turbulent seas of Galiliee, Northern Israel, its associated tradition found an enthusiastic reception many years later in (Catholic) Southern Italy and Sicily, pictured in the map.