Dante Cosentino

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Our Lady of Sorrows Church
Our Lady of Sorrows Church, where the last remaining Cosentino frescos appear. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

From the mid-1930s until the 1960s, hundreds of Kansas City Catholics saw Dante Cosentino’s paintings of angels and saints each Sunday. Cosentino was an ecclesiastic artist who adorned the interior walls of these churches with his frescos.

Cosentino, one of 12 children, was born in Rosina, Italy. At the age of seven he started working with his father, a fresco artist. They spent long hours on high scaffolds to reach the walls and ceilings of the churches. He learned his art in the style of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century artists Michelangelo and Raphael. After World War I, Cosentino came to America to join an older brother who had immigrated to Kansas City.

Cosentino brought with him Michelangelo’s “cartooning” technique, a method of transferring a fresco design to church walls in correct proportions. He made a small painting of his design and then enlarged it onto a bigger sheet of paper. He perforated around the outline of the design with a nail, then taped the paper against the church wall and rubbed charcoal over the holes in the drawing. After removing the paper, he connected the charcoal dots to make the outlines of the design. He painted with oil paints and gold leaf highlights. The process could take months.

In 1935 Cosentino was hired by Bishop Thomas Lillis to paint frescos on the walls of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The bishop was so pleased with the work that he made Cosentino the official fresco painter for the Kansas City diocese. Over the next 20 years, Cosentino decorated many Catholic churches throughout the area. He died August 2, 1957, just a few weeks after finishing his frescos in Visitation Church at 51st and Main.

Many area Catholic churches were closed in the 1960s and 1970s. Some were remodeled, and Dante Cosentino’s works were painted over. His frescos in Our Lady of Sorrows Church at 25th and Gillham Road are the only ones that remain.

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A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-dante-cosentino-1892-1957-artist

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Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.