Friday, July 23, 2004

July 23, friday

Visited the church of Santo Spirito this morning. On entering this church, I was struck by an impression of balanced proportions to a degree that I had not experienced before.

Looking down the nave into the transept I experience a contained space opening in every direction. As I move among the arches, the shifting sections of space continue changing and revealing unexpected sensations of freedom. The breath of the space everywhere moves out and upward, is broadened and ascends. I feel as if I'm being sung to as I walk down the gallery, in the sense of the great polyphonic, structural music of the past. There is a crescendo as you reach the transept, and on the way back you are accompanied by the opposite view, mixed with the original themes in inversion.

Brunelleschi provided a plan for this church around 1434, but died in 1446. The church was finished and consecrated in 1481. Changes to Brunelleschi's plan include a flat ceiling instead of the barrel vault he had planned and a typical 3-door plan for the facade of the church instead of his iconoclastic 4 door plan.

Later I went and saw Masaccio's frescos in the Brancacci chapel. These are wonderful, of course. Because it is the low season now the chapel was not full, and instead of the usual 15 minutes, the guard allowed me stay until closing time and draw. From the fresco panel depicting the healing of cripples by the passing of St. Peter's shadow, I produced a little drawing indicating the composition and the characters of the faces of the lepers. I tried to communicate something of how St. Peter's expression struck me but failed. Looking at him, I thought of Eruch Jessawala. The phrase occurred to me, "it is the strength of the love that counts." I imagined a man who knows only one thing, which is total commitment to obeying the life of the path he has chosen. The miracles are not of his doing, and his gaze seems to communicate this, while at the same time showing a kind of mixture of severity and fiery enthusiasm in seeing this manifestation of the divine.

Masaccio's frescoes show a pure intention, a painter who was serious about his work. You can tell this from his invention, from the simplicity, the humanity, and emotionality of the painting, and from the directness of the storytelling.


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