Saturday, July 10, 2004

July 10th, Saturday

Milan today.

Brera Museum
I saw the St Mark preaching in Alexandria, and an exquisite, incredible Pieta, both by Bellini. The large painting was wonderful but it didn't have the compositional power of the Martyrdom of St. Mark in Venice. The Pieta had an almost unsurpassable grace in the color, values, and shading. Again this painter astounds me. I must find a way to go to Vicenza to see the Baptism of Jesus.

This museum contained many works of an almost miraculous level of achievement.
Mantegna's Dead Christ was like meeting a famous person--you can't believe you are standing in front of this thing. Dozens of huge 16th century figure compositions were of such high quality that I began to feel exhausted by them. Just as I was feeling unable to absorb anything more, I came across Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaeus, the partner of the one I just saw in the Met last month. It is darker, more sober, and more convincing than the one I had already seen. The reactions of the apostles are less exaggerated, more internal. When I saw this painting, all the other impressions from the museum, together with my fatigue, dropped away immediately, and the Caravaggio hung there as if the museum contained only this work.
Words can never describe this genius properly. As I have felt in many different situations now, the greatest geniuses are those whose techniques are
un-selfconscious, though brilliant.

Crespi (1665-1747)
I first noticed Crespi yesterday in the Uffizi when I saw his Portrait of the Painter Giovanni Sorbi, which was very alive, very human and honest: half of the face shaded in a Caravaggiesque darkness, the other half emerging with one baby-faced round cheek showing a natural, intimate smile. Today, among other things by him, was a tremendous dark crucifixion. His painting has the kind of dark mystery that invites your soul into its quiet shade. He certainly is influenced by Caravaggio. I wonder if he had seen Rembrandt.

some thoughts:

Since I saw the Scrovegni Chapel, I have been thinking about the course of Jesus' life. Giotto's cycle gave a sense of the great momentum of Jesus' actions. We see his entry into Jerusalem, then immediately the upset he causes in the temple, and immediately after that his capture and crucifixion, and the grief of his followers. I think he generated such strong reactions in people that they were unable to process their responses to him--he brought out such deep reactions that some people transformed their whole lives, while others must have felt psychologically threatened, and responded with aggression. In any case, and whoever he was, I think he must been acting from a very deep place in himself, a source of actions that moves much faster than the conventional mind acts. Ironically this was Nietzsche's dream--action unimpeded by the weak, socially constructed part of the mind, action that overwhelms conventional responses and leaves people scrambling to adapt in its wake. Consider the directness, the speed of his acts leading up to the Crucifixion. I don't think that the Apostles knew what was happening, nor do they nor anyone else seem to have understood him. The western world has been trying to organize His radicality for 2,000 years.


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