REVIEW: “Crucifixion” by artist Daniel Mitsui

I recently received a print by the artist Daniel Mitsui, who has a blog entitled The Lion and the Cardinal, an obvious Patristic reference which never fails to delight me.

The print I received was of the Crucifixion, found on his religious art page here.

This is section of the image of the print.

What you cannot see is the mind-boggling detail of the background or the outer border, which is the text of the Vexilla Regis. There is even a tiny section of the border decorated with Gregorian chant notation of the Vexilla Regis.

Here is a detail.

You can look at the images online, but they do not do justice to the actual print.  Seeing is believing.

I showed it to a venerable priest friend, the great Fr. George Welzbacher – whose knowledge of art is encyclopedic and whose taste is impeccable.

He immediately asked me to order for him a print of the same Crucifixion, as well as two other works on the website.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mitsui does not do online sales.  You must write to him.  I did and hoping to put the two of them in contact.

But you might go to his site and consider getting a print, perhaps as a gift to a priest.  People sometimes have a hard time finding gifts for priests.

A person could spend time with this print considering both the whole and its details and many symbols as points of meditation.  I could picture this framed in a sacristy, at a convenient height above a prie-dieu for a before Mass and after Mass moment.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. All right… gotta ask…

    1) What is depicted in the upper-left with the six figures around a right-triangle altar with a baby dinosaur on it?

    2) In the background detail, I see various crosses, orbs-with-crosses, hearts-with-crosses, Communion hosts, fish, mollusks, frogs, starfish, skulls, fleur-de-lis, other flowers, and… planaria?! (Or are those tadpoles? They look like planaria to me.)

  2. Jeffrey: I hope Mr. Mitsui will chime in and perhaps explain some of the things in the print. It is visually very rich.

  3. Revixit says:

    If they’re not Planaria, they certainly look like them, Jeffrey, though they’re definitely out of scale when compared to the other organisms. I’ve always liked planarians for their simplicity and ability to regenerate. Students usually find them interesting, too. The chambered Nautilus is very nicely drawn, not that that’s surprising in Daniel Matsui’s work.

  4. Iconophilios says:

    Very beautiful; even with all the detail, it doesn’t look busy. It’s not chaotic at all. It’s very beautiful.

  5. Parochus says:

    Jeffrey, the image in the upper left corner seems to be inspired by a 15th-century manuscript illumination depicting the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the “Très Riches Heures” of Jean, Duc de Berry. You can see the the original image here:
    I would surmise that the seated figure on the right is the Emperor Heraclius and the person on the left is Patriarch Sergius. The “baby dinosaur” is actually a lizard-like serpent, no doubt representing Satan, who is being crushed by the wood of the Cross.

  6. capebretoner says:

    The artist provides some explanation on his web-site about the imagery here.

    “Planarian worms might represent the Holy Eucharist, due to their ability to be divided into parts no less complete than the whole, and due to the hypothesis (based on a since-discredited 1953 study by James McConell) that they are able to pass their intelligence on to other worms that eat them.”

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    Definitely check out the artist’s page — fascinating work. The submission of ‘individual expression’ to traditional forms produces great beauty.

    Since my daughter is a devoted fan of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, I’m going to show her the Archangel Michael.

  8. Parochus: Very helpful. Thanks!

  9. laurazim says:

    GORGEOUS–I can’t thank you enough for posting the links. I’ve passed this on to a few priest friends who I know will enjoy it as much as I’ve been on this beautifully chilly day. +JMJ+

  10. Mark M says:

    Another reason to consider getting a print:

    If memory serves, Mr and Mrs Mitsui have a young child of a few years, so it would be good to support them.

  11. AJP says:

    The Lion and the Cardinal is a feast for the eyes – one of my favorite blogs. Mr. Mitsui uses a lot of biological imagery, like planaria, in his art – kind of his signature look.

  12. Semper Idem says:

    I LOVE this. I hope I can get some money saved up to buy one before they run out.

  13. ghp95134 says:

    In addition to being talented (he also does heraldic bookplates), he can admit his mistakes:

    …Several verses of the familiar hymn VEXILLA REGIS are written around the outer border. The silliest mistake that I made in this drawing was accidentally using the text of the hymn as revised by Urban VIII (as it appears in my Liber Usualis) rather than the original by Venantius Fortunatus (which I obviously prefer)….

    Wonderful art! I’m glad to read he is contemplating more Japanese-influenced art.


  14. rogue63 says:

    I cannot say enough good about Mr. Mitsui. I purchased a print of the Crucifixion last year, shortly after he had completed it, and we have since purchased two more prints of his: the Allegory of the Incarnation and St. Columba. Mitsui’s work is beautiful, reverent, thought-provoking, and mystical. My faith is strengthened by having his works hanging in my house. If you’re looking to buy religious art, then by all means look him up. He’s a gentleman, too.

  15. TonyLayne says:

    I had to pass this one on to The Crescat. And, AmericanMother, I checked out the St. Michael print—absolutely gorgeous!

    The thing is, his art doesn’t strike me as imitative at all. Certainly he’s faithful to the idioms, but he also manages to impress them with his own style and his sense of reverence. The Crucifixion doesn’t look medieval, for all its use of Middle Age iconography. Frankly, his stuff is amazing even if you only look at his technical skills.

    I so want a print ….

  16. irishgirl says:

    I echo nazareth priest’s ‘Wow’!

    Looks like something you’d see in an illuminated manuscript!

  17. AnAmericanMother says:


    My daughter said exactly the same thing about the St. Michael painting – he is using the idiom of the Japanese woodblock but the work is his own. She loved it!

    I’m afraid I see a yard sale in our future to collect the money for this venture . . . .

  18. marymartha says:

    I have been lucky to know Daniel for years and he is super talented. As a friend I was lucky enough to receive several original pieces from him and to also commission several pieces. I never fail to see something new in each piece every time I contemplate them.

    Daniel’s works are richly layered and very complex. I will admit that I usually need him to give me a detailed explanation – because he has really thinks through every single square inch of each one of his works and often includes things I would never really ‘get’ without the explanation.

    Daniel does more than just prints – you can commission him to create an original piece of art for a very reasonable price. He does wonderful work and he will create something more amazing than you expect!

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