Friday, July 16, 2004

July 16, Friday

I went to the Casa Buonarroti today.   It is exactly  the kind of little palazzo you'd imagine for a little, well-to-do family, as they were after Michelangelo.   I wish the museum had been more about Michelangelo, though.  It seems like the perfect place to have lots of information about his life and works.  Instead there are a lot of "derivazioni," works imitating him, copying him, etc., and the decorations installed to glorify him by his grand-nephew, all of which, I suspect, would have turned the master's stomach. 
Some small works by M., and two beautiful reliefs from his adolescence.  The Battle of the Centaurs is a great composition.  My eye moves fluidly and without interruption over the whole thing.  The little figure in the lower left kneeling with his head in his hands frames the piece in that corner, helping turn the gaze back into the action.  It also draws you into the experience of the battle.  Looking at him, you think "Ow, that guy must have been hit in the head with one of those big rocks."  The heads and faces are not quite as good as they might be though, in this work.  You can see that his focus and interest was more on the figure.  The expression of the face is much less important in Michelangelo's work, it seems to me, than it is in most painters and many sculptors. 
The drawings were also a disappointment, because they only show a few at a time, and at present these are some sketches for fortifications of Florence from 1527 or so.  I would rather see figure drawings.
After this I spent the afternoon in Santa Croce. 
I have a lot of questions about the Franciscans and Francis now.  I'm getting a picture of him as a major reformer in the Catholic church.  I'm sure the pope would much rather have burned him than have ordained him and authorized his rebellious gang of followers.  Their movement must have spread very quickly among the poor and become so popular that the pope couldn't suppress it.  My guess is that the rise of the cities created a large urban poor population which was not being addressed by the church at that time.  This created a kind of vacuum into which Francis' order grew because of the appeal that his approach, similar to Jesus' own, must have had among the alienated poor of the cities.  Dante called him a "second son," and Francis must have been something like this, with his poverty, evocation of the life of the spirit, and conflicts with authority.  I have always taken for granted the fact that these various orders arose and were incorporated into the church, but I think Francis' approach was a direct threat to the wealth of the pope and would have been suppressed as heresy if it had been possible.  This must have given a whole new spiritual life to Catholicism, and much of it's spiritual validity today, whatever that is.  I think Francis said he would rather save the boat than sink it, referring to the Catholic church, and it may be that that's what he did.
The church was incredible on its own.  The space is wonderful, grand and at the same time evoking (partly) the Franciscan humility with its wooden transept ceiling.  The works are wonderful.  The Giottos are badly worn and faded, but there is still an unmistakable quality to the figures and outlines of the compositions.  You definitely feel Giotto here.  The group standing around St. Francis on his death bed is so moving somehow, even though faded and when viewed from afar.  Their faces are so sad, so real. 
The other highlight of the church for me was the large "tree of the crucifixion" mural painted by Taddeo Gaddi, with a last supper beneath it and surrounded by scenes from the lives of Saint Francis, Jesus, and some other saint I couldn't identify.  Parts of this work are very moving to me.  Particularly the face of the Christ and a few of the apostles in the Last Supper.  The woman on the far left, the Virgin or Mary Magdalen, is so sweet, so beautiful and pure.  I feel that there is a kind of saintliness in some of these faces.  Also the figure of Mary lying in the Christ's lap is also very moving to me.  I guess this show of love is there because this is a Franciscan church.  I'm not sure what the significance of the enormous "tree" emanating from the crucifixion is, but it seems to be organic, energetic in its symbolism.  There are flowing, curving lines emanating from the cross leading to depictions of different scenes and saintly people.  It seems to say that we are all bound together in the spirit by the sacrifice of the Christ. 
The courtyard of the church had a nice feeling, too.  I imagined people coming here hundreds of years ago to get services and charity from the friars.  These guys were the liberals and social workers of the time. 
Still having feelings of inadequacy as an artist.  I know Van Gogh felt this way too, though, which always saves me from feeling too hopeless.  How much worse than mine his feelings were.  How unbelievably committed he was to work as he did in spite of inadequacy, loneliness, and the suffering of his own mind.  How sad his end was, how unbelievably sad. 


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