Domenica, November 23

The Sacrifice of Isaac

The Uffizi’s enigmatic blonde gazing at the viewer, in Botticelli’s Primavera, I think her name is Flora, looks like Cate Blanchett. A Wikepedia down load claims that Renaissance blondes bleached their hair in urine.

Bob Dylan sings;

“Ah God said to Abraham kill me a son
Abe said man you must be putting me on
God said no, Abe said what
God said you can do what you want Abe
But the next time you see me comin’ you better run
Well Abe said where do you want this killing done
God said around Highway 61”

When I first heard Bob Dylan’s 1965 Highway 61 Revisited, it was a revelation, a motorcycle ride of harmonicas and electric guitars and surreal images and dream narratives and biblical visions. The lyrics didn’t always make sense. What made sense was the spellbinding logic of rhyme and rhythm. It was poetry with a beat, played by a band flying somewhere I’d never been before. On Highway 61, Dylan’s transformation, that began with Bringing It All Back Home, from the folk singing, freight train riding Oakie, to Rock n Roll star; was made complete.

The colours of Caravaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac are more sombre than the other paintings I’ve seen. Perhaps the others were cleaned, or perhaps it’s the dim lighting in the room, or perhaps that’s how it was painted. Sombre. It’s a sombre business, God ordering a father to kill his son. This painting has a background. The hilly terrain, Cyprus trees, chateau and other buildings, say Rome rather than the desert of Canaan. (Although it looks like the painted background of a 19th century photographer’s studio.) An angel grips Abraham’s knife wielding wrist, and points to the surrogate sacrificial ram. Isaac’s eyes confused and terrified, plead to the viewer. What a powerful rendering of terror. The viewer can do nothing. The eyes of the ram don’t leave the finger-pointing angel.

In the Caravaggio movie he was asked what is best sculpture or painting? Sculpture can’t capture a man’s soul like painting, said the movie Caravaggio. We have coffee at Caffe delle Carrozze. With a close up view of the Ponte Vecchio it’s expensive.

On the other side of the Arno, Cappella Brancacci and Masaccio’s beautiful frescoes. Masaccio commences the Brancacci Chapel frescoes in 1427. In 1428 Masaccio leaves for Rome and soon after dies, at the age of 26, leaving the frescoes unfinished. In 1484, 9 years after the birth of Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi completes the Brancacci frescoes. Italian art is still some time away from the Michelangelo revolution.

Masaccio’s Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, is Edvard Munch like says Ivan. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Conscience and Yahweh is angry, as they now can discriminate good from evil without having to defer to him. If they eat from the Tree of Life, then they become immortal, as gods, so they are expelled. In my 1956 publication of the frescoes, Adam and Eve are depicted wearing stencilled fig leaves. The frescoes have since returned to their original portrayal and Adam has a penis and testicles. Masaccio paints no snake. The only other figure, is a sword-wielding angel dressed in red, ushering the striding couple from Paradise. Eve’s face grotesque in her anguish.

After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Conscience; God said to the woman, “You shall bear children in intense pain and suffering; yet even so, you shall welcome your husband’s affections, and he shall be your master.” And to Adam, God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate of the fruit when I told you not to, I have placed a curse upon the soil. All your life you will struggle to extract a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat its grasses. Thus God expelled him, and placed mighty angels at the east end of the garden of Eden, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance to the Tree of Life.

Genesis 3:23

Masaccio’s work is recognised for its nascent naturalism, yet there is still a medieval stiffness. The Church had used puppets controlled by strings for morality plays. Marionette means Mary Doll. And in Massaccio’s The Tribute Money, Jesus and the disciples look as if made of wood. They gesture uncertain of their moves. The turmoil and the strangeness of it all. Masaccio would have liked Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding;

There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
Outside in the distance A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching The wind began to howl

A wine bar and pizzeria on Via De Cimatori beckons and invites us in for dinner. The Divina Comedia has a bohemian feel about it. I imagine poetry brewing here. A waitress wears a wild hairstyle. The food and wine is tasty and affordable. After dinner, Ivan and Regina will return to Bern on a night train and tomorrow we leave for Paris.