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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Night at the Flicks

AMarch.jpg UESDAY NIGHT is school night; or class night, since I'm only taking one. We've moved onto Baroque now, having rattled through proto-Renaissance; early Renaissance; 15th Century Northern European; High Renaissance; Mannerism, and Reformation / Counter-Reformation, which sounds like one of those intellectual chitterings they used to run on BBC2 of a Sunday evening, which always seemed to feature Malcom Muggeridge or some other smartypant Oxbridge mugger.

I've always had this niggling question, back of my mind, walking round museums, looking at the paintings, as to whether the ubiquitous religious images were a measure of piety, or of fear - especially the churchy ones: the portraits of bishops, cardinals, monks and priests; or popes, and rings being kissed? They could always be, other hand, entirely mercenary.

There's an extravagant gallery within the Boston Museum of Fine Art, a huge room, long, wide, and tall, whose four walls are lined all the way up and all the way down with religious paintings. They're literally stacked and packed - four, five, six paintings high, inch-pressed column after column - and I don't think I've ever visited a room quite like it anywhere else - except, perhaps, in the paintings of Pannini, which suggests a sly sense of humor somewhere. It was here, in this room with its poorly lit concentrate, that this whispy notion of fear of church crystallized. I'm sure this is not what the curators meant for me to walk away with.

I don't, as it happens, really believe it. I don't believe all those annunciations, visitations, adorations, flights into Egypt; callings of apostles, deliveries of Key, transfigurations, miracles, cleansings of temple; all those maniform Passions, suppers, betrayals, trials, pietas, depositions, lamentations, resurrections, ascensions and assumptions; or legion martyrdoms - I don't believe that they were all of them, or many of them even, writ in fear. But the sense of it was very real, and persists.

[Tip o' the Hat]

This one, for example: El Greco's "Burial of Count Orgaz", which I have not seen in life, for it hangs in a church in Toledo and I've never been to Spain, not even Torremolenos. Its a counter-Reformation piece: part of the Catholic church's propaganda drive to reel the restless proddies back to into the arms of the One True Faith. It contrasts a finely-detailed, perfectly-proportioned almost-photographic here with the billowy willowy illusionistic There!. The unspoken promise: "Stick with us, for we are the Way."

Now: I look at that painting, that image, and can't help asking: "He really had a choice?"

Or poor Botticelli - one of my favorite artists - who an age before fell under the spell of a malign but charismatic monk and threw his own paintings on the Bonfire of the Vanities.

Maybe it's just me? Quite happy to accept that this is all a reflection of my own prejudice, which shies away from organized religion, and runs away from zealotry. I can't escape the thought that it's all just waving sticks at trees, begging the sun to come back in the morning. That's just me. But for all that it's the aura of art; the meta of art - most notably music, but painting too - it's the mysterious resonance of art that compels this self-denying spirit yet to sing and prevents me from taking that final step of renunciation.


Blogger DarkoV said...

"it's the mysterious resonance of art that compels this self-denying spirit yet to sing and prevents me from taking that final step of renunciation."

Perfectly stated. Just recalling the (too) short of a stay in the Sistine Chapel 10 years ago gives me the chills. No photograph can do it justice. Whatever was the true cause for the beauty that surrounds you there is not important, but the location counts for something.

Oh and welcome back! I'd love to know what denizens of the land of the lotus-eaters were the fortunate recepients of all that you were mulling over in the last few months but not writing down. Well, not writing in your blog of. Lucky sods, they.

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