Elizabeth and I got back from Paris a week ago today. While there we were deeply immersed in French history. She was reading The Guns of August, about the years leading up to World War One, and to understand any of that we had to keep dialing backwards into the nineteenth century and the various paroxysms of French society in that time. One day, walking through the old Jewish ghetto--only a few blocks from the office of Charlie Hebdo, though of course we didn't know it at the time--we came onto the Place de la République, which is where all the huge gatherings have been this past week and where the march yesterday began and ended. It's vast, must be more than a quarter-mile across, and in the middle of it (prominent in all the photographs of the demonstrations) is an enormous, stunningly beautiful statue of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty.
I can't say I have a favorite artist from the period, but certainly near the top is
Giovanni Bellini, and one of the reasons, besides the sheer
beauty of his work, is the particular way in which some of his Madonnas seem to be looking somewhere
else, far away, a way I (over?)interpret as (fore)seeing the
Crucifixion. There's a Bellini in the Louvre of the Madonna and Child
with Sts. Peter and Sebastian in which everybody, including the
baby Jesus, seems to be doing it. Even the little angels look
There's another picture in the Louvre, by Antonello da Messina (who moved from his home in Sicily to Venice in 1475 and was influenced there by Bellini), of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns but not yet on
the cross, in sheer agony and terror.
Monday, January 12, 2015
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I've always thought of Bellini (one of my favorites too; has to be one of anyone's favorites) as looking not toward but past that crucifixion, toward an era in which humanity may finally have progressed beyond tribal anecdotes, or have burrowed beneath them, and have found the transcendant (and quotidian) realities which they have been given us. Bellini was truly an exceptional artist: a Mozart; a Dickinson. It is, I have to believe, the era in which most of us live; we must continually try to persuade others of this truth.
Charles, it has taken me only two months to pick up your comment, but I'm very happy at last to have done so. I love the idea of her looking past the crucifixion. I'd add, perhaps, both looking at it and past it--hence, through it.
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