Pope Benedict met artists from around the world in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday and urged them to inject spirituality into their work, saying contemporary beauty was often "illusory and deceitful".
The Pope told the gathering of hundreds of painters, sculptors, architects, poets and directors, that in a world lacking in hope, with increasing signs of aggression and despair, there was an ever greater need for a return to spirituality in art.
"Too often ... the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful ... it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy," he said.
"Beauty ... can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God," Benedict said.
The Vatican said it invited some 500 artists to the event, regardless of religious, political or stylistic allegiances.
More than 250 accepted, mostly from Italy, including singer Andrea Bocelli and award-winning film composer Ennio Morricone.
Amongst the other guests were Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, whose Maxxi modern art museum has just opened in Rome, and F. Murray Abraham, the American actor who won an Oscar for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.
Against the backdrop of Michelangelo's vast fresco of the Last Judgement, which adorns the chapel's altar wall, Benedict lamented that the once-close cooperation between the Church and the artistic community had weakened.
"Faith takes nothing away from your genius or art," he said. "On the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them."