In architecture, the Renaissance was a bit of a fad. Suddenly, the Gothic style represented barbarity and uncouth, crude, and deficient aesthetics. Later on, John Ruskin would disagree, and deplore the wholesale abandonment of medieval styles and craftsmanship in favor of the reigning form of the classical temple front.
The changes in church facades show the faddish aspect of the Humanist wave in all its glory.
Here’s a church front in Padua: simple brick, with the shape of a standard Roman Basilica – high central aisle with two lower sides aisles.
Here is a huge church in Venice with roughly the same form, but some gothic ornament added.
The Renaissance came, found facades of brick, and like Augustus and Rome, left them of marble. Pagan temple facades abound, covering the brickwork of the Christian temples. Architects worked for generations on novel combinations of columns, pediments, hiding the form of the basilica or reflecting it in the shape of the facade. This example pretty much masks the side aisles with a nearly square front.
Eventually the thrill of imitating the ancients began to wear thin, and architects went in search of new excitement, including dynamic Baroque styling, and little ‘jokes’ that their sophisticated patrons would enjoy. Notice the pediment over the main front door that is broken into three pieces, something that would have made Palladio vomit.
I’ve been searching online for an image of this drawing that I saw at the Morgan Museum several years ago, and I finally found it. I have attempted to (inexpertly) remove the watermarks on this large-size version of the digital image.
I’m not quite sure how Signora Fortuna is manageing to ride her wheel as if it were a unicycle.
Last year, I posted about my trip to a work-related conference in San Diego, and my view of the Mississippi River system flooding I saw from the plane: Well, I’m back. I flew over the same terrain, and the damage of the flooding was apparent from the air. You can see how the neat patchwork pattern of the agricultural areas has been smudged with the debris and sediment from last years flood.
Other themes of that post are recurring: animation for one. Then I was reading about Muybridge, friend of Leland Stanford, who did the first time-series images of a running horse. I took a class on programming for Flex – fascinating, eh? – and sat next to a woman who works at Stanford. Wow! And at the museum of art, I bought a kit to make a zoetrope. I just can’t escape myself. The content for the toy was printed in the Sunday supplements of newspapers in the 1890s.
In my class, as I fiddle with code and talk of servers, map-services, instantiating queries, and so on, I think of the vast industry that has grown up to move large amounts of data, including the cartographic data with which I am concerned, over the Internet to consumers. Yes, we are ‘consumers’ of map-services. It’s as good a term as any, but does anyone wonder about how we all got to be consumers…of everything? I get distracted by the sociology of the IT industry, and lose my place in the flow of the programming…
I took some time off to visit Balboa Park’s museums. San Diego has something to offer other than sunshine and conventions, but it’s certainly not good coffee! Next to the San Diego Museum of Art, where I saw a nice exhibit on German Expressionism, I visited the Timkin Museum, for free! It’s a small collection, but there are a couple of knockout pieces of Sienese art of which I was unaware. I particularly like the representation of the Trinity in the center of the second piece below, by Niccolo di Tomme. (Click to enlarge the images.)
Then there was this wonderful portrait by an artist I’d never see, clearly influenced by Leonardo, and newly discovered portrait by van Dyck. The fabric and the hand seem pure Anthony van.
While shopping the museum store, I came upon a book about Yinka Shonibare, MBE, another new one for me. He was born in London, raised in Nigeria, and now is back in the UK, producing installations, ‘paintings’, and sculpture that are filled with sly and not-so-subtle, but very exuberant, send-ups and skewerings of European culture, colonial and otherwise. Turns out, his stuff is on exhibit there, so now I have to get back before I return to NJ.
Niccolò di Leonardo Strozzi, banker to the Renaissance Papal court, on display at the Met in the recent exhibit on portraiture. His sins may have been many, but personal vanity does not appear to have been one of them.
Some months ago I put aside Orlando Furioso after completing the first of two volumes in the Barbara Reynolds translation. Now I have returned to the fray!
As usual, it’s a crazy, exhilarating, bizarre cascade of satire, wit, romance, adventure, and, yes, poetry. Orlando is furioso because he’s mad. Since he’s the main man in Charlemagne’s effort to drive the Moslems-Saracens-Africans from France (in the region where I just happened to have been vacationing in August) his mental incapacitation is most inconvenient. Not to mention the fact that he kills anyone in sight, friend or foe, and all for being jilted by a woman.
His comrade at arms, Astolfo, makes a trip to the moon on a chariot, and finds that it is not made of green cheese, but is an enormous garbage dump of sorts where everything that is lost on earth ends up. While there, he is given some tips on how to find stuff by Saint John, author of the Book of Revelation. Sure enough, Orlando lost his wits, and there they are on the moon! Astolfo gathers up the vial to bring them home and restore Orlando to his fighting best, but not before he notices some of his own wits – he didn’t know he had lost them, but then, who does? – and snorts them up his nose to restore himself to full mental capacity.
While searching for illustrations of the poem, I came across this wonderful drawing of Astolfo on the lunar dump by Davide Bignotti. Unfortunately, this is the only picture from Orlando that he has posted. I think it conveys the wackiness of much of the poem – it reminds me of Italo Calvino too.
Gustave Dore did a set of illustrations for the poem (is there any classic he didn’t illustrate?) They seem a little stuffy after reading the text.
Here is the poem – Canto XXXIV, 83-84
A liquid, thin and clear, Astolfo sees,
Distilled in many vases, large and small,
Which must (so volatile the fluid is)
Be tightly corked: the largest of them all
Contains the greatest of those essences:
The mind of mad Anglante, of whose fall
You are aware and of his frenzied fits.
And on it the duke read: ‘Orland’s wits’.
On other bottles too the names are shown
To whom the wits belong. To his surprise,
Astolfo finds a great part of his own;
And more astonished still, before his eyes
He sees the wits of those he thought had none.
But this his first impression verifies:
That little wit they must retain down here
If such a quantity is found up there.
In today’s New York Times, Ross Douthat makes ‘a case for Hell.’ This is what we are offered as the intellectual ballast of the ‘conservative’ political movement today: a shallow exercise in theology.
One sentence in his screed stood out for me, emphasis added:
As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”
Using GoogleBooks, I read through the introduction that Douthat cites: some pages were left out. Maybe they were the ones where Esolen makes this rather astounding argument about a poem that is often considered a literary summa of the medieval world-view, but I doubt it. More likely, Douthat is not interested in what the terms Christian, Humanist, and Medieval actually mean, at least in literary terms.
The list of attributes he gives above are not normally associated with humanism, even in the simple version I recall from grade school textbooks, i.e: man the measure of all things; skepticism; finding truth with reason; lack of dogma; joy in daily experience, etc. They are associated with the medieval, Christian-allegorical way of seeing the world. But for Ross, that is the only way, I suppose.
Douthat is the clever catechist: He concludes by asking
Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?
If he had read The Inferno, he would know that Gandhi is certainly in hell, down on the First Circle, with all the righteous gentiles and unbaptized infants who died too soon. They just sigh a lot – no torture – lamenting their missed chance at salvation. All those intelligent B.C.E. philosphers are there too! As for Tony Soprano, if there is no hell, there is no heaven. I doubt any theologian really thinks what Douthat claims they think.
It would seem that the entire intellectual concept is rife with contradictions…
From “Taking Liberties,” a review of David R. Slavitt’s new translation of Orlando Furioso, by David B. Hart in Commonweal. 137.13 (July 16, 2010)
During the high Middle Ages, poems written on the “Matter of France”–that is, tales of the paladins of Charlemagne and of Count Roland (or Orlando) in particular–were among Europe’s most beloved literary entertainments… once the Carolingian theme had been stated [The Song of Roland], the variations that followed…departed ever further from the original story’s stern simplicity, and came to incorporate ever more fabulous elements: impossible feats, mythical beasts, magical objects, and superhuman foes.
In the end, the whole tradition culminated in the three great Orlando “romances” of the Italian Renaissance: Luigi Pulci’s Morgante (1478-83), Matteo Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato (finished 1486, published 1494), and Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516-32). These are, without question, among the wildest fictions in European literature. They are “epics,” perhaps, but are every bit as defiant of the classical unities (not only of time and place, but of tone and texture) as the dramas of England and Spain’s Golden Age theaters. Their stories spill across the entire known world, to say nothing of faerie, hell, and the moon. They recount sieges, military engagements, and single combat, but also tell of giants, sprites, sorcerers, sea monsters, magic gardens, and hidden kingdoms. They lurch convulsively–though somehow quite nimbly–from the hilarious to the tragic to the mystical.
Once upon a time, moreover, they were widely read … Now, however, they gather dust in those shadowy galleries where the Western canon’s most rarely visited monuments are kept. This is a pity. Modern readers may not have much patience for long verse narratives, but these works are anything but forbidding; they can be enjoyed by anyone with an imagination and a sense of humor. Yet Pulci and Boiardo are scarcely remembered today outside Italy. Only Ariosto lingers on in the consciousness of educated persons, and then generally only as an important name.
. . . Exactly what [Orlando Furioso] is about is difficult to pin down, but this hardly matters. The narrative takes up the various stories begun in the Innamorato, but left unfinished at the time of Boiardo’s death: the infatuation of Orlando with the beautiful sorceress Angelica, daughter of the King of Cathay, and Orlando’s pursuit of her across Europe and into the Far East; the siege of Paris by the Moors; the adventures of Ruggiero, mythical founder of the House of Este (of which both Boiardo and Ariosto were clients); the rampages of the evil Moorish King of Sarza, Rodomonte; and a number of other plot lines. The principal pleasure of the poem as a whole lies in the ingenuity with which Ariosto weaves the tales together in ever more outlandish and intricate complications–and then manages to resolve them all in a single moment of dramatic finality.
Moving along in Saint Augustines massive City of God, I think he’s pretty much laid to rest the charge that the adoption of Christianity by the emperor and the citizenry of Rome was responsible for its sack by Alaric and its other troubles. He gives a thorough review of the calamities that befell the Republic and the Empire long before Christ walked the earth and asks sarcastically, why didn’t your gods protect you? Obviously, it was not the fault of Christianity, since it hadn’t appeared yet. Morever, excellent rhetorician that he is, he points out that if Christians had been around during the bloodshed of the Gracchi, the various Punic Wars, the civil wars, and so on, the pagans would have immediately argued that it was the presence of Christians that was bringing down the wrath of the gods on Rome. So since there were no Christians, shouldn’t they blame their own gods?
It’s entertaining to see the lengths to which Augustine will go to make his points, but we have to recall he was writing for an educated audience that was very interested in these ‘spiritual’ questions, and not above enjoying some sophisticated repartee at the same time. So, he dwells with glee upon the burning of one temple and the incineration of its sacred idol that claimed the life of a high priest who tried to save it. What! Your all-powerful gods not only could not save themselves from a mere fire, but couldn’t even lift a finger to save the priest who tries to save them? What sort of gods are these, he asks? I’m waiting for the clearcut demonstrations of the beneficent power of the Christian god that comes later on.
1200 years later on, I’m halfway through Don Quixote, the novel, or is it a chronicle?, or maybe just a daydream of a bookworm on drugs, and an argument is underway. The Don, his squire Sancho, and a few local people with some learning are discussing the first part of The Adventures of Don Quixote which was just published. Everyone’s talking about it! The second part is coming soon. [I am reading the second part.] The characters compare themselves to their depiction in the novel, pointing out inaccuracies and complaining a bit of how they are shown. The author of the second part will, it is hoped, be better than that of the first. After all, it is known that there is another version of the story circulating that is a downright fraud, a blatant ripoff of the idea, written and published by some hacks. For his part, Sancho is peeved that the story is a little too accurate for comfort regarding his humiliation at the inn, when he was hurled into the air on a trampoline-blanket by some tricksters. Some verbal trickery from the Don assures him that he wasn’t really there, even if his body was.