Lightning Strikes Twice!

July 15, 2018

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This painting is on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the “Painted in Mexico” exhibition that originated in Los Angeles.  Jesus displays his “carnal” heart – a very popular object of veneration at this time – while a personification of the Church uses the Eucharist to send a beam of light to illuminate a bible.  I like how the beam is not reflected from the pages, but is instead transformed into jagged lightning bolts that strike dead the enemies of the church (and the Jesuits, who supported the cult of the sacred heart against its opposition.)

The image of Jesus is a direct adaptation of this earlier, less complex picture.

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The sacred heart, representations of which originated in the middle ages, was at first shown iconographically, i.e. as a stylized heart shape, but eventually become anatomically correct.  Not quite clear on whether this is a bleeding heart…

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Up on the roof, there is a different, more ironic sort of veneration going on.A70A693E-A4E8-446D-9FA5-564D485B6FAC

 


Speaking of dreams…

May 15, 2014

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Constantine dreams, “With this sign, you conquer.”  At The Morgan.


Rabbit Iconography

May 17, 2013

Poor wabbit!

I noticed this image on the porch of San Zeno in Verona, a splendid Romanesque church.  Rabbits have a curious set of associations in our culture, don’t they?

  • Cute and cuddly
  • Pesky and destructive
  • Fertile, too fertile
  • Innocent
  • Malign

Not sure what the Christian symbolism behind a rabbit being preyed upon is – I noted it on another facade in Venice, I believe.  One source implied that it alludes to the struggle of the human soul to elude Satan, but it is also true that rabbits sometimes represent souls in thrall to Satan.  There’s one in the lower portion of this detail from Bosch’s vision of Hell.


Urban Flight

May 9, 2013

Venice can can get overwhelming:  the sun, the crowds, the art, the beauty…how much of stuff like this scene above can you take?  Sometimes you just have to flee the city.

Fortunately, The Lagoon beckons.  Within it, are several islands:  Murano for the glass manufacturers; the cemetery; Burano, a small island community of brightly painted houses; and Torcello, about a thirty-minute boat ride a way.  It’s a rather forlorn, marshy place, and practically no one lives there any longer, but it was the place where the people of the Veneto first sought refuge from the Hun invaders.  It grew into a city, but poor resource management led to the silting of their lagoon, bringing mosquitos and malaria, and bad fishing.  They up and left for what became the city of Venice.  The citizens of the new city, practical to the core, looted Torcello for its stone, we would say recycled, so only a few buildings remain.

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Not quite the Grand Canal of Venice, but at the end of the walk, there is a nice surprise.

 

I am not talking about Cipriani’s, the tony restaurant outpost of the ‘famous’ Harry’s Bar that is right down the path from Santa Maria Assunta, but the mosaics inside that church, seen in the left of the photo below.  The structure on the right is the Fosca Basilica, and it is quite plain inside.

The counter-façade of Santa Maria, i.e. the wall inside of the main facade, is covered with a Byzantine-style mosaic of The Last Judgment that is incredible.  (The photos are not mine.)  The one below shows the final trumpet raising some of the dead, including a few that met their ends in the jaws of large fish.

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The dead do not have it easy in these scenes of judgment.

 

Better make sure that you are on the right side of the scale used to weigh souls!

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Scapegoats, Ken Russell, and the PRB

December 15, 2012

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Reading a  book about Victorian photography,Francis Frith in Egypt and Palestine, I came across these statements about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) painter William Holman Hunt and his picture, The Scapegoat:

” …with its elimination of aerial perspective, its aggressive placement of the goat in the foreground picture plane (even Ruskin could not abide its proximity) and its hallucinogenic detail and color…”

“The Jewish sacrifice of the goat, bearing away the town’s moral iniquities, was for Hunt a clear Old Testatment prefiguration of Christ…”

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This called to mind those bizarre images from Ken Russell’s Altered States.  As usual with Russell, there’s a lot more going on in his weirdness than a shallow desire to shock and be outlandish.

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OWS: The Beautiful and the Arcane

October 16, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street site yesterday, I saw some people wearing a small enamel lapel pin with this design.  I searched in vain for the man who was giving them away – I want one!  It beautifully expresses the facts of income and social inequality in a clean, concise, and compelling graphic.  Bravo to the designer!

Occupy Wall Street + Walter Benjamin +Pauline Christianity = Anaphoric Solidarity.  Whaa?  One of the strangest amalgams of intellectual systems I’ve come across, represented at OWS by two young men at a small table in the center of Zucotti Park.


A Headline I Just Have to Love!

September 26, 2011

Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics:

Yep, that’s what the article was called!  Click on the link to read it!


Shamans and Heretics

September 3, 2011

Once again, I have to ask, “Who were they?”  These cave paintings of bison at Niaux are as good as it gets with freehand drawings.  Done by torchlight, in the back of a long dangerous cave passage, with primitive brushes no less…about 15,000 years ago.  The large domed chamber near these images has an excellent echo, and the guide suggested it may have been a hangout for shamans.  The cave is not easy to get to, and the view from the entrance of the glacial valley is impressive.  I wonder what the artists thought of it.

Meanwhile, back in the near present, i.e. about 800 years ago, this land was the Pays du Cathar, a region where a heretical sect, a sort of Manichean twist on Christianity, held sway along with the local language, langue d’oc.  (Up north, ‘yes’ was oui, but down here it was said oc, thus the language of ‘oc)’.  Although closely related to Catalan, it didn’t survive as well.  The northern French, with the agreement of the Pope and the creation of a special French Inquisition, launched an internal crusade, known as the Albigensian Crusade after the city of Albi that was a political center of the heresy, and successfully stamped it out with great brutality.  The castle at Foix, located in a stunning valley, is one of the many strong points that couldn’t hold back the tide of the north.


Augustine on Intercourse before Sin

May 9, 2011

In Chapter 23 of Book XIV of Saint Augustine’s City of God, the good doctor deals with some very thorny delicate questions.  He is considering the nature of Adam and Eve’s fall after they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, and thinking of just what was the state of their souls, and their virtue, before the fall.  A question arises:  Would procreation have taken place in paradise, if no one had sinned?

Why does this question of sin and sex arise?  Well, as a Christian, Augustine is at pains to show time and again how the lusts of the body are evil, man’s state of thralldom to his passions turns him from goodness and virtue, and towards damnation, and that the saintly path of renunciation of the flesh is the means to salvation.  But, surely, God did not intend for Adam and Eve to live in purity for all eternity by themselves!  All alone in that great big garden of Eden?  No – it was necessary for the number of saints to increase to its fixed limit (somehow I missed this bit of theology, but when the number of saintly humans reaches a certain value, it will be time for the Last Days), so naturally, Adam and Eve had to have children, had to…do…it.  But sex without sin, without lust, without base animality is not possible, correct?  Ah, not so!

Augustine proceeds to describe to us just what sex without sin would be like, but he does so with great circumspection, avoiding coarse language, and trying to do without any explicit reference to the private parts, because, after all, even with such a virtuous aim, the reference could excite some people to impure thoughts.  The whole business comes down to will power. 

Virtuous men and women have power over their bodies.  Their souls and virtue rule their body, and control its baser impulses.  Just so, Adam would have ‘relaxed on the bosom of Eve’ without any enthusiasm brought on by lust and desire or impure thoughts.  He would simply will his organ to do its duty just as any man can will his arm to move up and down.  The entire thing would be quite wholesome and reasonable, actually.  Viagra would have nothing on him!

Augustine points out that some animals seem to have control over parts of their bodies that we do not.  For example, many animals can cause their hides to flex and jerk, and they do it to shoo away flies, or even to shake out spears. 

Man has not this ability: but surely that does not mean that the Creator could not have bestowed it, at his pleasure, on any animate creatures?…It would not have been difficult for God to fashion him such a way that even what is now set in motion in his flesh only by lust should have been moved only by his will.

To further make his point, Augustine brings forward contemporary evidence:

We do in fact find among human beings some individuals with natural abilities very different from the rest of mankind and remarkable by their very rarity.  Some people can do some things with their body which are for others utterly impossible…Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together.  Others without moving their heads can bring the whole scalp … down towards the forehead and bring it back again at will.

There you have it, simple!  Certainly Adam could have impregnated Eve by virtuous exercise of his will, bringing his mind in its clear grasp of sinless need for children to make his body do what was necessary.  Augustine is filled with such breathtaking insights, but this is only a hypothetical.  We all know what really happened.