A Latter-day Saint artist’s work is getting the royal treatment this holiday season.
Britain’s Royal Mail Christmas stamps feature multiple designs based on the paintings of Jorge Cocco Santángelo, an octogenarian Argentine convert from Catholicism known for his cubist creations.
Royal Mail executive David Gold told the Daily Mail that the postal portrayals represent “beautiful illustrations of the Christmas story.”
They depict an attentive Joseph escorting an expectant Mary atop a donkey, mindful shepherds tending to their flocks, the contemplative new mother cradling the baby Jesus, winged angels trumpeting the birth, adoring visitors worshipping at the Nativity, and camel-riding Magi being led by a glistening star.
Cocco downplays the recognition but is delighted with the increased visibility the stamps will bring.
“One does not work to receive honors but to create a good artistic work and as much as possible to be a good influence for the society that surrounds me,” he wrote Monday in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune relayed by son Amiel Cocco. “In any case, the honor to create the art for Royal Mail allowed the main objective to be achieved due to the scope of it. It is very difficult to reach so many people on my own.”
Cocco’s website notes that the queen approves all United Kingdom stamp designs before they are issued. At least one British lawmaker, however, wishes an illustrator could have been found closer to home.
“It does seem very strange that Royal Mail cannot find a British artist to do this,” Peter Bone, a Tory member of Parliament, told the Daily Mail. “I just wonder how many Argentinian stamps are designed by British artists.”
Last year, Cocco’s work appeared in an even more unlikely forum: a couple of Catholic publications.
The Oregon Catholic Press put Cocco’s image of a horn-blowing Angel Moroni — of Book of Mormon fame — on the cover of two of its printings.
“The sounding of the trumpet at the last is a strong traditional Christian image. We chose this angel because he’s holding a trumpet and what looks like the book that will be opened at the last,” the apologetic Oregon Catholic Press explained. “...We saw a beautiful image of an angel, and nothing more.”
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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of course, immediately saw something else: one of their faith’s most iconic figures, a character that graces the tops of many of its temples.
Born in 1936, Cocco and his wife joined the church in 1962. The denomination later commissioned him to produce a series of paintings on the life of Christ. His self-described “sacrocubist” works, dramatizing religious events in a cubist style, have been exhibited in the United States (including in Utah), France, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and his native Argentina, according to his website. Right now, art lovers can view Cocco’s original pieces firsthand at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas.