When religion hits mainstream newsstands, you can usually count on the art department rummaging around in the Italian High Renaissance stock to fill space. This weeks cover of US News & World Report is no exception and treats readers to a high quality reproduction of Raphael's (Raphaello Sanzio) Sistine Madonna, to match up with a controversial article on The Real Jesus. Inside, the cover article is "illustrated" by Agnolo Bronzino (1503 72), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Baroque) and the always popular, Pietro Perugino (1445-1523).
This is a safe editorial decision. An illustrator who's been dead 500 years isn't likely to cause much controversy. And, it's safe to say that an article, teamed up with irreproachable art, gains credibility by proximity, even though the substance might be hot-button and largely conjectural.
So sure, it's a good mix: Classic art and controversial religious editorial content. But at the end of the day, sad and perhaps even wimpy.
Had USN decided to hire a living artist, imagine how much more public involvement could have been created - both for USN and the artist themselves. The result would be talking points in the broader media that referenced the core ideas of the article, with contemporary visuals that added to the conversation.
Instead, the brass at USN run for cover and we get illustrations by esteemed artists from history, and bold editorial content that simply hides behind them.
Detail from USN Cover by Raphaello Sanzio