Sunday, March 02, 2008

Renaissance Man

Today I posted my first set of pictures of the Vatican. And I tried to record the midly amusing thoughts I had to myself while I toured the museum. And then I thought, some people might get angry at me if they read these. Catholics, or Italians, or both.
And I thought about going back and backing down and showing 'due respect' and then I remembered who I am.
A ways back I had a stab at a guy who kept a blog that was unapolegettically anti-islam, anti-palestine, pro-zionist. It may not have been witty or even mildly amusing, but I got scared by the offense he took and backed down. I even wrote a blog post about it and he was tech savvy enough to block links.
But in hindsight I shouldn't have backed down, particularly the hindsight of reading 'My Isreal Question' which for some reason has an Amazon page that you can find if you google it but not if you search on Amazon itself. It doesn't even come up if you just search for 'my isreal'.
And interestingly the tags, and reviews do demonstrate what I'm talking about.
But I will write more on this specific issue in a later post.
The Vatican, it is impressive, like much of the world's cultural heritage. And the Vatican isn't just impressive, it defies imagination. The Blue Mosque caused a stir because it had six spires like the Mosque in Mecca, it seemed to have gotten ambitious in its design.
The Vatican by comparison is under no such threat. For one thing to build something as grand as the vatican is, you would nead to quarry a small country (like Italy) for the marble. Then there is the irreplacable renaissance art plastered to every surface.
It is I am sure, maybe presumptuously like nothing else on earth. Indeed probably only Anckor Wat in its heyday rivaled it, and for the advantage of the jungle surrounding of Angkor Wat, it lacks the paintings and is in a much worse state of repair.
The vatican is clearly still quite functional.
So the Vatican is great, why not just say that? why poke fun? well its the subject matter, and the history.
Look since I was about 12 Michaelangelo and Da Vinci and later the rest of the Renaissance artists became a huge influence on me and seeing their work is just surreal. But like all things there's a duality.
For a similar example, you may note that recently Steven Spielburg quit from the job of Artistic Director of the Beijing Olympics, and quit in protest of the Chinese govt's role in Darfor. Part of that is I admit a double standard, the US governments role in propping up dictators for oil over the past 50 years in Iraq and Latin America and to a lesser extent Africa is well documented and highly ignored. But by the same token, Spielburg just works in America, I don't think he has ever worked for America.
But it was a blow for China because the Beijing Olympics amongst other things, is in large part a propaganda campaign targeted at its own people. Every second of the day. It says 'we are a great government and the rest of the world loves us' and a majority of Chinese eat it up.
So imagine if you will, the Michaelangelo didn't sculpt Moses or David, but the Republican Elephant and George W Bush, and that he designed the impressive White House Basillica, or worked on John Howards successful 2004 election campaign adds, or designed the Kmer Rhouge's uniforms.
Yes in part its all history now, but the point is that at the time the Vatican was built, the Roman Church collected a lot of taxes from the population and spent it all on this mountain of extravagence. Michaelangelo was a genius, possibly along with Da Vinci the genius's of the era. But the person paying the bills commissioned him to glorify the entrenched power's that be to its submissive masses. It was all designed to make the Vatican appear actually devine. It is designed to overwhelm and thus help the organisation that brought you the rythym method, spanish inquisition, spanish Armada, the Crusades and so on, the predominant organisation of a part of history so great we call it 'the dark ages' until the 'renaissance' and eventually 'enlightenment' that commissioned it all, as self serving propaganda. So a large part of it is to just deflate that aspect and not fall prey to going 'oooh the Catholic Church really is great' because whilst it is great to have such a wealth of culture and history collected in one place, I certainly wouldn't be voting for the party that said 'Vote Rudd, if elected he will build an immense monument to himself that will last through the ages and attract many tourists'
If their hadn't been the vatican as sponser would the artists still have existed? maybe, maybe not. Since the Church clearly wasn't blowing its money on Galleleo it may have made being an artist a lucrative or at least feasable job prospect, and the Medici wealth was certainly derived from banking for the Vatican, as the other major renaissance sponser.
That said I'm in favor of governments commissioning artists, and on a broader sense people in power commissioning and sharing the wealth a bit. What I am opposed to is commissioning artists to promote themselves and irresponsibly entrench power that frankly people would be better off having their own say over.
As Father Ted said 'Fascists wear black and go around telling people what to do, whereas as priests ahhhh....'
So that's all. The Vatican is great, and I don't advocate a Maoist Cultural Revolution style sacking and burning of it to show a commitment to the future.
But I'm not going to get a romantic notion in my head that the Holy Roman Church has ever been a great power for the people. Like all things it probably had its benifits, but nowadays I think its lack of progressiveness and low attendance rates speak for itself.
St Sophia in Istanbul was successfully converted into a pure museum, and I don't see why in years to come the Vatican couldn't also.

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