Tag: Florence

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While historians usually peg the beginning of the Renaissance at the year 1500, the Renaissance in Florence definitely belongs to the 15th century (the quatrocento), from whence it spread to the rest of Italy, then the rest of Europe. In chronicling the Florentine Renaissance, Durant neatly alternates between history and culture. A bit of history […]

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see polls showing Republicans inching ahead in the Tennessee and Indiana Senate races, and other key pick-up opportunities are also in reach.  They also hammer President Trump for tweeting his objections to the death toll listed for last year’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico, especially as another major storm is making landfall.  And they react to George W. Bush hitting the midterm campaign trail for several candidates, but not for Sen. Ted Cruz in his own state.

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper

 

This very large fresco has been a secret for most of its history. It was painted in the 1440s for the cloistered nuns of Santa Apollonia in Florence, which is why it was very rarely seen by outsiders. Eventually, it was covered in plaster, which is why it’s so well preserved, unlike the scenes above it. We have it rediscovered only since the suppression of the nuns by the military in the 1860s, and can now marvel at the poetic effect it achieves and see in what its greatness consists. Indeed, authorship itself was unwittingly a secret, but that, too, has been resolved. The last secret, not likely of resolution, is the story of the author. Castagno is little known except by slander and by his works, and the slander is not honest either. The most famous chronicler of Renaissance Italy, Vasari, offers a great big lie of a story accusing him of murdering another painter out of jealousy–so far as anyone can tell, the lie is meant to explain the dramatic quality of Castagno’s painting–his characters have no softness about them. Art history could step in to help us in our time of need, explaining what painting looked like before him and afterward, but that’s too much of a distraction. We can only attend to the mysteries in the painting itself.

This last supper is one of a rare number of paintings that articulate the mystery of the stories in the Gospels in a quiet way, through the technique. It strikes me that some such paintings make far more of a claim for their makers’ craft than you might expect of wall-painters who merely painted stories everyone already knew–the development of technique seems to be tied up with a reflection on what we believe. So I will first point out the Gospel elements of the painting and then look to what the painter added. You can see the Gospel of John, chp.13 faithfully followed in John lying on Christ’s bosom as Christ blesses him; in Christ’s having just given Judas the piece of bread that identifies him as the betrayer; in the confusion of the Apostles; and in Peter’s inquisitive intimacy. Piety is aided by the names that identify the Apostles. The Christian abhorrence of Judas is such that he’s depicted across the table–he does not confront us–his posture means he cannot look at us. On the other hand, it means, he’s closest to us of the gathering…

Piero della Francesca, Resurrection

 

Piero painted this Resurrection fresco framed by two columns, to encourage us to believe that we are looking out of a building upon the scene he means us to see. He wants us to think of the Gospel stories about Christ as real in an immediate way, actual for us when we come upon them. The illusion of the painter only makes sense if we want to take as seriously as possible the paradox of taking our understanding of reality from the Gospel stories. The question of what it means to be a witness for Christ is already implied here, as I will show below. Both by what we see in the picture and what the painter wants us to think about that’s not seen in the picture, we have to come to terms with our situation as human beings and its predicament.

Christ looks you in the eye, as well as me, and everyone else looking upon the fresco–he is looking down at all of us, after all, as he prepares to ascend. We are also looking more or less straight at the sleeping soldiers at Christ’s foot. The relative elevation of our point of view is meant fully honestly to remind us that we are no better than them, even though Christ is looking at us. We are not more exalted. There are two centers to this picture, one human, the other belonging to Christ. We’re somehow caught in-between them. The soldiers sleeping on the ground, in front of the tomb, are attired in the way of medieval folk, not Romans–this is, of course, because that’s who would be viewing this painting. People need to recognize their own in those soldiers to understand what they’re seeing. Yet the Christ shows us the cross, and one of the soldiers bears the shield with the SPQR, the Senatus Populusque Romanus, the manly self-assertion of the Roman republic, with its rulers and ruled put together. The two centers of the painting therefore are the two worlds, which we understand politically in terms of soldiers and the Christ. There is something to this suggestion–that we see the Christ when the soldiers are asleep.

Jesus is caught up in this problematic position of ours. Our world is therefore transforming, revealing life and death simultaneously, as though nature were being returned to chaos or wrapped up. The trees in the distance seem to be changing, or at any rate are different–on one side, they are green, but on the other they are barren. Jesus is still one foot in the grave. We are waking up to this realization, but not the soldiers. Jesus is alive–the wound between the ribs has started bleeding again, as though it were not healed completely. Blood is life. Jesus is trying to put on a garment, to hide nudity–the hand that clasps the garment shows the wound of the crucifixion; then we notice the other limbs are similarly marked. This is what we are supposed to see. The Christ was killed, that is the meaning of divinity, suffering more than any man could suffer. The sacrifice is complete, but it is also permanent. The Christ always carries the proof of divinity, to remind us that we are all embodied, all mortal.

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Some of you may recall that my husband, three daughters, and I recently moved from Italy back to the States. Over the past several months, I have continued to home-school my kids while working as a substitute teacher in the local school system (a story for another day). And my husband and I have been searching […]

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This is a Deposition about which I also wrote last year. It’s a great big painting, about six feet by six, painted in oil on wood. Raphael painted it in his youth–he was about 23. This is a strange work–great artistry is put to work to conceal the terrible loss. Raphael is not showing us […]

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Leonardo’s Annunciation. (A youthful work, in collaboration with his master, Andrea del Verrocchio. It’s done in oil & watercolors on wood. It’s in the Uffizi, in the Leonardo room, where there are no Leonardo paintings, except this collaboration & another collaboration. I think there’s a Ghirlandaio in the room–another apprentice of Verrocchio. They should have called […]

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Today’s painting is another fresco–Andrea del Castagno’s Cenacolo–this one’s going to take me back to my student days–a professor took me to see this fresco in the Refettorio di Sant’Apollonia, due West of the Piazza San Marco; (our own Merina Smith’s favorite monastery in Florence, as I learned a month or two back…) This is […]

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I’ll start this one with something from a year back & then some. Miss Berlinski posted a picture of a painting–Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection. She asked for some comments. I’ve just the kind of ambition required to yap the mouth on such occasions. Here’s me: Piero’s Resurrection–the fresco is framed by columns, suggesting one is looking […]

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It’s been brought to my attention that the first installment of this journal is pretty dark. I’m not a depressed guy. I’m all about figuring out how we can have community by sharing in beautiful things & insightful inquiries. I’m always trying to bring poetry & similar things to Ricochet. Of course, trying ain’t doing; […]

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  I’ve spent some time in Florence this month–I had my first Ricochet meet-up–I remembered my days in liberal arts wandering the streets of Florence a few fleeting days fancifully remembered a decade past…–I sat with my friend & talked over some of the things we saw. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but […]

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Hello, Ricochet, your friendly movie reviewer is back with reports. I am in Florence this week & have just participated in my first Ricochet meet-up. Mrs. Merina Smith & Mrs. Liz were the other members in this conspiracy–well, there were more members, but we were the agents. The scene is the Piazza Santa Felicita just […]

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It looks like our upcoming meetup will be busting out of the “mini” category: we are expecting Titus and his young miss, Merina with her husband and son, and possibly Blue State Curmudgeon and his wife.  We are planning on dinner at 7 p.m. on April 14th. I know that Merina will be staying in […]

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