Monday, July 19, 2004

July 19 Monday

We took a train to Arrezo this morning, but first stopped in to see Santa Maria Novella. The church has a more austere feeling, I felt, and an aesthetic that was somehow cooler than that of Santa Croce. I found the crucifix by Giotto extremely compelling. The Strozzi chapel was also very beautiful. There was a fresco by Masaccio dominated by a very strong pink color.

Arezzo felt a bit like Siena, with its sloping square and hilly medieval streets, but the town was quieter and had much, much less tourist traffic. We saw Piero della Francesca's fresco cycle on the Legend of the True Cross in the church of Saint Francis. What wonderful compositions! He used color and shapes here in bright, somewhat stiff, simplified shapes that reminded me of Uccello's Battle of San Rimignano (spelling?) and even a little of Brueghel. I love this earlier kind of painting and prefer it greatly over the modelling of later mannerists. The night scene, where an angel serves as a light source illuminating the tent of the sleeping emperor Constantine, is wonderfully done. What an inspiration that must have been, both for della Francesca himself and for all those in that time who saw such an unprecedented thing.

For days I have been having one important thought. The Renaissance shows us such a high level of achievement that we are forced to examine ourselves in its light. We realize that the low expectations of our culture, of our community of artists, even, instill complacency in us. We look at our work and unconsciously use a scale to evaluate it that is based on the mediocrity and lack of vision in our culture. If we can't work shoulder by shoulder with great people, we should take time to remove ourselves, to live in a kind of solitude where our standards can become the standards of our own passion, of our own souls.


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