The Age of Artistic Wonder - Through the Medium of the Etch-a-Sketch
A Closer Look At Some of The Giants of the Renaissance
THE ARTISTIC AGE OF WONDER
The Renaissance on my Etch-a-Sketch!
For the past couple of decades I have taken my love of World History and the medium of an Etch-A-Sketch and combined the two. These - in conjunction with much of my own photography - help to shape certain segments of World History, from the earliest of man's beginnings through today. Here is a section I have done on the Renaissance, and some of my most challenging work ever!
Map of Renaissance Italy, 1562
Robert Bluestein© 2018
I have been in awe of the works of the Renaissance masters since a very early age. The revival of classical Rome and Greece and the adoration of the human body are an expression of ourselves that I find both romantic and beautiful. The Greek philosopher Protagoras said that ‘’Man is the Measure of All Things,’’ and certainly the Renaissance was a celebration of the human spirit.
Many of us have been taught that this was the great Humanist movement but I believe it covers both the spiritual and metaphysical world. It's not surprising that the artists looked for patronage within the Church. After all, the beauty of a cathedral was the source of pride and expressed each individual' city.
Many of the paintings are spiritual reincarnations of biblical figures. They show a great reverence to the Madonna, the mother of God himself. And how could it be any different? For in 1348-1350 the worst plague of human history wiped out one-third of Europe’s 75-million people. A rebirth was inevitable, hence the word Renaissance.
Almost as quickly as it began, the plagues were over. Part of the recovery process was in the anticipation of the plagues arriving in certain towns. Ruling classes could begin to prepare mass graves in advance so bodies would not rot on the streets and pass additional biohazards to the population. Historians reviewing death-rolls saw a steep decline in the fall of 1350 and the plague appeared to have run its course. But in its aftermath was a devastated Europe.
But there were some unexpected and surprising consequences which were not so bad for those who survived. The town leaders had to do something about the quick spread of the plague and Medieval towns began to clean up. In cities like Bremen and Milan, new plumbing systems were installed that took much of the refuse out of the countryside and into the sea. While not ideal by todays standards - it represented an understanding of causes and effects of social pollution.
The economy of Europe was no longer in stagnation, but was about to boom. There were several factors for this, but the most outstanding result is also the most logical. And so it happened - there was a large amount of money in the hands of fewer people, leaving excess cash to be spent on luxuries rather than necessities. The craftsman of the Middle Ages became the great Artists of the Renaissance.
When most people think of the great works of the period they are drawn to the names of DaVinci and Raphael and Michelangelo and Titian and Botticelli. All five were giants in an era of giants. Raphael and Titian were of the Venitian school and their works were rich in color and deep in meaning. Bellini was perhaps among the most diverse of the great Renaissance artists who like he other Venetian artist dazzles us with color and form.
Born in 1430, Giovanni Bellini's lifespan covers the birth of exploration and the emerging spice and silk trade with the far east. He, perhaps as much as anyone else, revolutionized Venetian painting. It was through the method of his enrichment of oils and mediums that sets him amongst the great ones. He used clear, slow-drying paints that gave amazing depth and tint to his images.
Although others seem to come ahead of him in our memory, he stands out as among my personal favorites. His work reveals a depth of religious and spiritual pathos that seemed to resemble areas of his own and deeply personal life. Nowhere is there a greater example than in his ''Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and St. John.'' It is so soft and so diffuse that it pulls emotions from within that we never knew we owned to begin with. It was an early painting of his and yet it shows his remarkable talent for pulling the most out every stroke of the brush.
This was a publicity shot of me for CNN in 2008. The Etch is a portrait of Aristotle from Raphael’s viewpoint in his painting from the ‘’School of Athens.’’
Raphael's Portrait of Aristotle, ''The School of Athens''
''Histoire De L'Art Renaissant (1923)
Below are pictures from yet another Estate Sale treasure. One of the Classics of Art History and a priceless collectors item!
The sanctification of the human condition after the plague gave a new ideal of humanity in a spiritual context. In Elie Faure's classic, ''Histoire De L'Art Renaissant (1923) , he writes of the cultural happenings that gave new life to the period that Bellini so influenced.
''Un espirit de cette vigueur devait produire sur les premiers hommes que l'ame de Venice commenca de tourmenter, une influence d'aautant plus vive qu'il leur ressemblait moins.''
A spirit of this force should produce on the first men that the soul of Venice began to an influence of aautant more strong and lively that it resembled them less.
Albrecht Durer, visiting Venice for a second time in 1506, describes Bellini as the ''greatest painter in a city of painters.'' His career was prosperous and brilliant. Bellini stands apart from many others in that he skillfully navigated through the artistic styles of the High Middle Ages all the way through the very height of the Renaissance. My personal favorite of his happens to be ''St. Francis in Ecstasy'' where his sensitivity and adoption of multiple styles is melded beautifully into one completely beautiful piece or of art.
St. Francis in Ecstasy - Bellini
Of course, giants among giants left their legacy for students of art today. But other than Vasari's contemporary accounts of the men, we find that we know tantalizingly little about them. Leonardo DaVinci is a mystery to even the best of Art Historians throughout history. Rarely he spoke of his love for anyone, leaving little detail of his own thoughts and passions. Aside from an obituary to his father, DaVinci left us little detail of his own life. But what we do know is fascinating nonetheless.
Leonardo DaVinci enjoyed certain things that most of us today would find reprehensible. He enjoyed looking into the cadavers of those who were in the morgue. It was his natural curiosity about the way things in life really worked. It is rumored that he paid a bribe to get his hands on them so he could look inside the human body and recognize its symmetry.
But as an insatiable and curious genius, DaVinci learned to trust his own eyes, and although it seemed so unnatural to his thinking, he created perspective in art – something that had been long sought after and remained largely unachieved. He believed that through proportion we can reconcile the two parts of our being - the physical and the intellectual. And, I can not escape the third part of our being that DaVinci failed to recognize – the Spiritual.
And yet, he was known in his day for the amount of works he did not finish. In fact, given the idea that he is the most pivotal figure in the Renaissance it is surprising that so few of his finished works actually survived to the present day. Most of his ideas and inventions were military in nature. Consider this – the helicopter, tank, repeating cannon, and various other military weapons were all drawn up by
DaVinci and peddled to the rulers of each of the Italian city-states while they were at war with one another.
But it was these wars which robbed him of the necessary materials to complete great projects, such as the tomb of Pope Julius II and the huge brass horse statues that were to adorn the outside of the entrance for Julius. DaVinci had to forgo the brass horses in order to make cannons for the battle that would be at Alighieri. And yet, even that painting would be a huge and wonderful undertaking by Leonardo.
I fell in love with DaVinci’s work at the age of thirteen or fourteen. I had no idea how to pay homage to the man on canvas as I hadn’t started to paint yet. I couldn’t really draw with pencil in a meaningful way. But I certainly could do it on an Etch-a-Sketch! Go figure. I selected perhaps the hardest medium on the planet and created and honored the works of Leonardo DaVinci on of all things, a children's toy and a darn near impossible medium. I think DaVinci would have been proud.
DaVinci’s Model of the Brass Horse that would be at the entrance of Pope Julius II tomb
I still have this Etch- it is a permanent one that can never be erased. I did this in 1980
With DaVinci’s fame, the idea of the individual was born. In Florence, it was a celebration of the human experience on the planet. Europeans began to explore new and strange worlds. Spices and fabrics began to make their way into Europe from faraway lands. Leonardo moved around, traveling from Florence to Milan to Rome.
Unlike the other Renaissance artists, Leonardo owed allegiance to no one and was a paid mercenary artist. In Rome, he found a city of movement, grace, power and a huge compost of hopes and visions and dreams. Much of its past was in ruins but it was the Renaissance craftsmen who set about restoring the wonders of the ancient past. The Coliseum had become a landfill. The Pantheon had become a home for the homeless and was in utter disarray.
Leonardo and others could not have helped but feel like he was part of the grand restoration of the great Roman Empire. The city and its people were bursting with confidence and were not in a mood to let their antiquity around them crumble away. They meant to absorb it, equal it, and master it. The great artists of the Renaissance were in the process of producing their own legacy and their own heroes.
Christianity was not in competition with the humanist movement as far as most scholars could ever tell. In fact, it seems to work in harmony with it. After all, God had created us in His image, why not honor the image that God has created? Let’s show God that we appreciate his handiwork.
The greater the ideas of the artists and the patrons who paid them, the more extravagant they could create their artwork. Pope Julius II (1503-1513) was perhaps the single greatest patron of the arts in world history. Without Julius, we have no Michelangelo, no Bramante, no Botticelli. Julius was able to inspire the will of three stubborn geniuses. And through it all, Leonardo quietly paints epic pieces like the ‘Madonna and Child’ and the ‘Battle of Alighieri.’ His sketches are unmistakable in their detail, determined in their craftsmanship and undeniable in its innovation.
In Milan, there is a small church called the Santa Maria Della Grazie. It’s name translates to ‘Church of Mother Mary and her Grace.’ The Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, asked Leonardo to paint a fresco on the wall of the refectory of the church. Due to the material and the humidity that was often on the wall, Leonardo had to improvise. The painting was commissioned ahead of time and Leonardo was paid in advance the amount of 500-ducats, or roughly two years of wages. It made him a wealthy man, and considering he had no family to take care of, it was money that went a long way.
The novelist Bandello observed Leonardo at work and wrote that for some days he would paint non-stop, from sunrise, to sundown. He often went an entire day without eating. Part of the legend regarding the faces of the disciples and in-particular, Judas Iscariot, is that DaVinci repeatedly expressed his frustration at being able to adequately capture the emptiness of the one disciple who sold the Savior out for thirty-pieces of silver. The mystique behind this story and the manner in which the Last Supper was completed could make a Hollywood movie all by itself.
Despite the sincere dedication to his work, at times he could suddenly lose all interest and dabble in other things. He worked earnestly to finish the Last Supper but was easily distracted. Soon after he started the work, he would leave Milan and head for Genoa, where the Medici’s, a rival family to the Sforza’s, would commission him for military inventions in their war with Pisa. From there, he would migrate again, heading to Florence where the Arch-Bishop would pay him in advance for one of his Madonna and Child paintings. There are two that hang in the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence and whose halls I have walked and worshipped.
For Leonardo, paying the models for his work was not an easy task. Often, he would use the same models in different parts of the paintings. Babies were notoriously hard to paint, so if you ever wondered why the baby Jesus and John The Baptist look unusual and even whimsically older, it is because DaVinci may have mastered perspective, but he had no mastery of children, choosing instead to use adults as models in order to draw infants. (!)
A Vertical Etch of Leonardo’s Self-Portrait – I did this when I was 14 in 1978
This Etch-A-Sketch took about 22 straight hours and was the most difficult Etch-A-Sketch I have ever done. By turning it sideways I had to essentially learn how to write completely opposite from what I was accustomed to. The Etch is still in my house, faintly visible but certainly something DaVinci himself would be proud of…..
Leonardo continued to be a man on the move. He headed back to Rome and by now the Church in Milan was getting agitated with his unfinished work. Needing models to finish the work and knowing that he had to pay for them with money he had already spent, Leonardo was in no rush to get it completed.
There is a story that has made the rounds with art historians which seems to be true to an extent. When he began the painting, finding models was not a difficult task. After all, the principle figure in the painting was none other than Jesus himself. The line was long and deep for those who forever wanted to be known as the Jesus figure in the painting. The Sforza’s had anticipated that this painting would be a great source of pride for them but the paint began to flake away from the moisture on the walls and the inability for the mediums to bond cohesively to the wall. The painting was in serious jeopardy of going unfinished.
Finally, after much badgering and facing the threat of being thrown in jail, DaVinci found a drunk and a hopeless figure to be the last person in his painting. With the last figure painted, the gospel of John 13:21 came alive. ‘’L’ultimo Cena’’ – or ‘’The Last Supper’’ depicted the moment Jesus announces his betrayal to the disciples. Leonardo wrote in his journal, ‘’…Le variazioni nel tempo tutti gli uomini.’’ This translates into ‘Time Changes All Men.’ And indeed it must, for upon closer inspection, the last sad and pathetic figure in The Last Supper was none other than Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ.
Three years earlier, the painting began with the central figure of Christ making his stunning announcement. The peaceful youthfulness and innocence of the Lord amongst men cast a warm hue on the consciousness of one of the most important moments in the scriptures. He contrasts to the figure of Judas, in recline from Jesus, pulling away, clutching the bag of silver. And yet, they are indeed one and the same. ‘Time, changes all men.’’
Vasari gushes on DaVinci. He is described as having ''outstanding physical beauty,'' ''infinite grace'' and ''great strength and generosity.'' Despite his rather gory fascination with human cadavers, he was an avowed vegetarian at a time when men could ill-afford to deny themselves whatever protein they could muster.
Beyond his artistic prowess is a powerful mind for mathematics. Unknown to most, he worked on a book with the famed Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli. It was titled ''De Divina Proportione'' and it takes an in-depth look at geometry, scale and visual art. The book is possibly the very first book to take mathematics and art in order to bring a greater understanding to those who were learning the subjects. The clarity of Leonardo's drawings helped the book to have an immediate impact beyond the science world, popularizing what was previously a difficult subject to comprehend.
DaVinci would live the final years of his life in Amboise. In fact, I was lucky to discover that the chateau that I stay at in 1999 was none other than the burial place of the grand master of the Renaissance. I wondered just why he was buried in France of all places. The fact that the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre in Paris provides an important clue.
Leonardo carried this painting like you would a business card, offering to paint portraits for whoever would pay him to do it. As a guest to the Doge of Amboise, Leonardo lived the final years of his life in the lap of luxury. Perhaps this is a fitting tribute for a man of such greatness, but because of his remote location and protection, a number of his paintings never got finished. Fewer than 40 paintings of his exist today and yet, he reigns supreme master and commander of the grandeur of the Renaissance.
This is an etch of one of DaVinci’s many charcoal’s. ca 1981
Michelangelo on the other hand was a man of great passions. He reveals passion in his letters and his conversations were the dialogue of greatness. Quick tempered and emotional, Michelangelo was a man of relentless drive. From his earliest works his visions of fantastical movements and the balance of physical weight and the flowing rhythms of antiquity, Michelangelo was perhaps the greatest all around artist that ever lived.
The year 1501 was an incredibly productive one for all of Europe. It had been just nine years since Columbus discovered a land which he himself denied to exist. Trade routes to the far east were being developed because of events happening on the mainland over the Silk Route.
The Muslim Crusades against the Eastern Orthodox Church and the annihilation of Christians, Jews and even other Muslims made overland travel too risky. Finding a sea route to the east was the goal of every European power and it is a reaction to the destruction and mayhem caused by the marauding armies of Mohammad. The Catholic monk Bernard writes, ''...We can scarcely walk a days journey to the Holy Land without finding the heads of the faithful on sticks alongside the road.''
Travelers tales of the far east and the influx of new spices and new pigmentation clays made for an artistic explosion simply in the materials themselves. New oils, techniques, the grinding of stones unseen in Europe, made for a dazzling array of colors and depth that we begin to see in conjunction with the revival of classical themes.
And in the middle of all of this artistic explosiveness, Michelangelo makes his way to the city of Florence where his mind would absorb and then amplify everything that we think of when we think of the Renaissance. His output in every field and every dimension of art is prodigious and he is by far the best documented artist of the entire era. While the blast of talent belonged in Rome, it has a prelude in Florence that is not to be denied.
The Medici ruled Florence and they also bought the Papacy in competition with the other rival families of Italy as well. The families included the Sforza’s, Medici’s, Savonarola’s – each established their own republics with all the Machiavellian elements of power within. They ruled with absolute theocracy and oligarchy. Each city-state commissioned their own great pieces of artwork and the more well known your name was, the more competition there could be over your name.
Once Michelangelo had established a friendship with Julius II, his loyalty was unquestioned. He moved to Rome and established a drawbridge from his room to the Pope’s living room. They spent a great deal of time together, discussing ideas for great pieces of art. Among these ideas were the Marble Crypt for his tomb. Julius wanted to cover his bases and had Michelangelo working on the crypt while Leonardo was working on the brass horses. Imagine what it would have been like to have been Julius II and have frequent audiences with these great thinkers!
Michelangelo’s works were often vast and bold and nimble. The statue of David is at the ‘Academe’ in Florence and is an unprecedented work of art. It is a gorgeous sight. I waited in line to see this as well, and as you walk through the hallways to see the marble effigy of King David, you have to go through the hallways where large chunks of marble lay.
Many of these pieces are what Michelangelo deemed his failures. The large blocks of quarried marble look as if they are in the act of giving birth, with life-sized men reaching out from the granite. Michelangelo considered these failures in his artwork and threw many of them away or simply reused the marble to create other statues. When finished, he ingeniously lay the marble figures in a bath made of milk, and that would wash away the dirt and oils, leaving behind a glistening and brilliant figure that looked as pure as it was designed to be.
Etch of King David: This etch was done in 2007 and was supposed to have been a gift for my mother. Unfortunately, she passed away before she could see this finished work, but it would give her joy nonetheless. She loved my Etch-a-Sketch work!
When you finally get through the halls of the Academe you come upon the statue of King David, standing in complete defiance of anything that was protocol. At first, Michelangelo worried how he was going to create David without Goliath. Initially it was rumored that he wanted to do a sculpture of the Philistine warrior but the constant chipping away the block of marble needed for David made it clear that this was going to be far too much work. So he settles on telling the complete story through one perfect sculpture. In front of me was a sign, a quote from Michelangelo that goes like this:
‘’…When I see a piece of marble, I see a life-form wanting to arise from within it and be set free….’’ Michelangelo
It takes the better part of a whole day to see the Sistine Chapel. There are lines, crowds, tightly compacted corridors, heat, noise and a sense that no matter what, you are going to be exhausted by the time you get there. Very slowly the chatter of Italians and the noise of the surrounding streets begins to get quieter and quieter. A somber reverence for the experience you are about to have is coming upon you as you get closer and closer. And you are rewarded along the way too!
At a bend in the line is a the form of a statue which is dimly lit. At first, I could only see it from behind. But that enabled me to see the faces of the people who were seeing it, and their flow of tears told me it was pretty special. In the statue of David you see he freeing of the captive into a life-giving form, and in this piece, you see the resignation of both the sensuousness of life, and the sorrow of death. This is the Pieta, the most emotionally charged piece of art I had ever seen up close.
Like others who have seen the Pieta, the emotions one feels is deep and personal. Imagine the scene - A caring mother with her dead son in her arms. Human feelings of inadequacy are all I could feel when I saw this up-close. Michelangelo manages to capture the chaos of death and the moment that changed the world for Christians everywhere with one incredibly soft touch.
Poetry and sculpture what the things Michelangelo liked best, so he was not in a good frame of mind when asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was one of the hardest undertakings ever done with a brush – maybe ever. There are highly rounded arches and arch-vaults in the Sistine. There are numerous columns and tricky angles to which the painting had to make sense of. Michelangelo hated painting, but he was loyal to Julius II.
While the ceiling was to be painted by Michelangelo, the wall at the altar (also known as the Stanza della Segnatura) was to be painted by Raphael and Titian, the Venetian masters and perhaps the best showmen of the day. Never above entertaining the lovely women of the era, Raphael was a master salesman and arranged for guided tours of his artwork, something with which Michelangelo was no less impressed by. He found the habit to be annoying and didn’t want women parading through the chapel so they could see the nudity he was painting on the ceilings.
Another very difficult Vertical Etch of Michelangelo’s Sybal from the Sistine Chapel. The Sybals took care of the books and they wre highly valued in the Renaissance. Michelangelo had to paint these Sybals on the most difficult of curved lattices and archways, which is why I challenged myself to do it in this manner!
Showing his allegiance to all of the grand artists, Julius II brought in DaVinci and Bellini, perhaps to speed Michelangelo form a snail’s pace. So there’s the scene – at one brief moment in history, you could have walked into the Sistine Chapel and seen Michelangelo, DaVinci, Bellini, Raphael and Titian all in one room together. What a fantastic experience this must have been!
As for the ceiling itself, it is painted in panels. He began with the one over the door for he believed that would be a good test for him in case it didn’t work out. It so happened that this was the panel of where God is casting out all the evil doers from Noah’s Ark. Among those cast out are his brother, Giancarlo Bonaparte, who had a habit of taking money from their beloved father. One by one the panels were completed, each a little more boldly than the last. His confidence and his vertigo were getting more and more abundant with each passing week on the scaffolding.
In personality, Michelangelo was tempermental and felt entitled. He was not averse to pointing fingers or casting aspersions. He was distrusful and intolerant of others and felt threatened by anyone that could challenge his artistic skills and prowess. Furthermore, Michelangelo couldn't stand the fact that Pope Julius was commissioning DaVinci to sculpt the pontiffs tomb.
But DaVinci wasn't Michelangelo's only competition. The architect Bramante had an equal resentment toward Michelangelo. Seeing the favor that Michelangelo was incurring from the pope, Bramante pushed Julius to insist that Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in order to avoid having to compete with his sculpting skills. Bramante anticipated that Michelangelo would either refuse the Sistine commission, and in doing so incur the ire of the pope, or else fail miserably in his attempt through lack of experience. In either case, he would undermine both his reputation and his position at the papal court in Rome.
An Unusual View of the Uffizi from a private apartment- Robert Bluestein, 2005©
As work started on St. Peter's, Michelangelo began to hint at dark secrets which included a plot to have him killed. An animated discussion with the pope ended poorly for Michelangelo and he went into a deep depression - almost surely a manifestiation of his own imagination.
Propaganda and intrigue were commonplace amongst the artists of the Renaissance. Now it was Michelangelo's turn to get even with Bramante. He set forth a plan to discredit Bramante as a spendthrift who was wasting the Pope's resources and money. Even so, it is difficult to accept Michelangelo's fears about Bramante, who was an ambitious yet peaceable man, as anything other than outlandish fantasy or a fabricated excuse for his hasty departure from Rome.
Julius had to have an ambitious building project. Everywhere around him were remnants of a civilization in decay. Broken columns and ruined temples dotted the city. The Palatine Hill - where the palaces of emperors had once stood, was a mass of shattered rubble among which peasants tended their vineyads. Julius wanted to revive the classical Rome and that meant repairing the temples and building out of new structures that was a reminder of days past.
Somewhat lost amongst the giants of the Renaissance is a Florentine architect named Baccio Pontelli. Acting as the architect for Pope Sixtus, he participated in the pope's urban renewal project. Almost everyone knows whose paintings are inside the Sistine Chapel, but very few know whose chapel it is.
Pontelli's vision and ability to work with confined spaces was unparalelled. His works include part of the hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia. The Ospedale di Santo Spirito (Italian for Hospital of the Holy Spirit) is an ancient hospital in Rome. The hospital was instrumental in the development of future Renaissance artists. It was built with a theatre so that visiting doctors and interns could learn the complexities of surgery. For artists like DaVinci and Michelangelo, it was an opportunity for them to study the anatomy with a new vantage point.
Raphael's ''Fire of Borgia''
In a small quarter of Rome was the School of the Saxons. But the neighborhood had a collection of Franks, Frisians, and the Lombards that all lived in the same area and went to the Saxon school. A group of angry Sarcerans were set to The complex lies in rione Borgo, east of Vatican City and next to the modern Ospedale di Santo Spirito, which continues its tradition. The hospital was instituted just in the site where formerly rose the Schola Saxonum.
When Pope Sixtus visited the hospital in 1471, he voiced displeasure with it. (With an obvious sense of sarcasm) A portion of it had burned to the ground and remained in rubble. He described it: “the falling walls, the narrow, gloomy edifices, without air and whichever comfort, look like a place intended for the captivity rather than health recovery”.
The Entrance to The Hospital of the Holy Spirit
He decided the immediate rebuilt, in view of the Jubilee. Thanks to Sixtus IV, the hospital enjoyed a real rebirth, thus becoming the most important place for scientific research. It hosted famous doctors, such as Giovanni Tiracorda, the personal doctor of Clement X, Lancisi and Baglivi, who conducted important medical projects. Furthermore, within the Antica Spezieria (Italian for "Ancient Spicery"), the use of quina bark was first experimented for the treatment of malaria.
He is also credited with the building of the Basilica of Santa Aurea. It is a church situated in the Ostia Antica district of Ostia, Italy. When it came to the Sistine Chapel, he designed the building's proportions to match exactly those given in the Bible for the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, since the chapel is twice as long as it is wide. (130 feet long x 43 feet wide x 65 feet high)
It also served as a formidable fortress. It really comes as no surprise given his strong background in military inventions and drawings. In this manner - the Sistine Chapel has a number of building elements which was designed to protect it in the event of an attack. And this was a very real threat at the time. The cities of Italy were often at war with one another.
People sometimes wonder why the Renaissance masters, with all of their intelligent curiosity, didn’t make more of a contribution to the world of thought and the history of philosophy. The reason is that the most profound thoughts at this time were not expressed in words but in visual imagery. And although he hated painting, the idea to put him at the top of the Church was a stroke of pure inspiration.
And although he carved faster than any known mason at the time, there was no way Michelangelo was going to conquer the forty or more marble statues that needed to be done to complete the Pope’s tomb. With a heroic energy, he took on the story of the scriptures with a brush for his tool and the viewers blank mind for their imagination.
As you finally walk into the chapel, you are gently reminded by a priest that there are no pictures to be taken whatsoever. Still, the flashes went off from time-to-time. You would see a priest or security guard ask nicely and as soon as they were witness to someone with their camera, they would rush over and tell the person a little more sternly not to take pictures. Naturally, I waited until they were a long way from me and I turned my flash off in order to get some decent images. Indeed it was dark inside the chapel.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter is the fragrance. There is a smell to the Sistine Chapel that I cannot describe. It is wonderful really, because it seems like this is what Michelangelo would have smelled when he was painting. There is an eerie calm in the center space along the floor of the Chapel. Whispers of soft thoughts enter the ears at an ever-so-quiet tempo. The colors dazzle and dance off the walls of Raphael’s ‘’Ascension’’ of the Christ. There is depth and meaning to each panel, and life flows from within them all. And when looked at collectively, there is a crescendo with each panel pulling from the last one, the movement accelerating from one scene to the next.
In the center of it all is the panel where God has brought Adam to life. I thought of the scriptures here, and the one that came to mind was the words God says concerning the creation of Adam. ‘’For God saw this, and saw that it was good…’’
I don’t exactly know why I thought this particular scripture but it gives me a sense of peace and the belief that unlike the Middle Ages, mankind was no longer being punished for sins of the damned and being redeemed through the act of repentance and salvation. And THAT was something I thought, was/is Good!
The Centerpiece to the Sistine Chapel - 1979
Sistine Chapel: God Casting Out The Bad People for Noah
The long lost inspiration for the divine interpretation of the scriptures was in the Mother of God. It is central to the Catholic faith and crucial to the understanding of why God chose us in the first-place. As I walked through the doors that led me out of the Sistine Chapel, I had a new reverence for the type of woman that Mary was even before she was called by God to deliver His son through immaculate conception.
I wasn’t going to make a judgment of what is right or what is wrong anymore. How could I possibly cheat some of these great masters by being so myopic? If they believed it and could produce grand works of art so pleasing to the eye, then who am I to question what drives them?
I did the entire Sistine Chapel on 25 Etch-a-Sketches and hung them in my house. (1979) Many of them fell and broke into millions of little pieces with gray dust everywhere. Unfortunately, no pictures of the entire Sistine Chapel on an etch-a-sketch are known to exist but I do have a number of key pieces that still exist today. In addition, I have many other etches that decorate the Impressionist movement. I have a love of Van Gogh and Renoir that equals my love of the Renaissance masters and my work on Etch-a-Sketches there are no less unique.
I have tried to capture the essence of the Renaissance through multiple mediums over the years. It is as much a part of today's world as it was yesterdays. If we are truly 'alive' to our own souls, then we welcome artistic challenge and we are honest enough with ourselves to change for the better. In one of my latest paintings, I discovered an imperfection in the manner in which I actually see the world. It becomes apparent in my painting of Venice - taken from a photograph I took in the Uffizi Art Gallery in Florence. In the painting I did, I uncovered a basic mistake that we tend to make when looking at our own lives - the absence of shadows.
Personally, shadows represent the word ''consequence.'' Shadows are, after-all, a ''consequence'' of light and form. Where you have light, you must have shadows. Where you have motion, you have stillness.
Venice - ''Without Shadows''
My growth as a person both intellectually and spiritually was profound by this time as a result of viewing these works of art. My own feelings are that it would be a necessary step in my own evolution as a person to accept the passionate emotions of someone else’s creation exactly for what it is. Indeed, it is through art that I still not only find the expression to receive someone else’s thoughts and passions, but to give my own as well. ###
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