When I did the posting a week or so ago on Salome and John the Baptist I searched through my files for pictures I was sure I had taken of an intriguing sculpture in one of the more interesting churches in Roma. Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri was built using much of the existing Baths of Diocletian and the groundwork was designed by Michelangelo just before he died. It is also the location of the meridian that was used to set time in Roma from 1702 until 1846. There is a great working example that allows you to track the movement of the sun along Francesco Bianchini’s wonder of astronomical calculation.
The photos I was looking for where of a marble representation of the head of John the Baptist on the salver by the German-born Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Giving up on finding them amongst the many uncatalogued photos I have, I went with our friend Stephan, on his last day in Rome, and too a few new shots of the piece.
In 2006 Mitoraj was commissioned to created new bronze doors and also the statue for what is “unofficially” Italy’s state church. He is noted for bronze and marble works of incomplete faces and torsos, often wrapped in bandages or bands. His installations – and many of them are large pieces – have been seen throughout the world. His John is not the grizzled, disheveled bear-like figure of approved iconography but rather a young unlined clean shaven face clean with those trademark bandages. And the neck has not been severed but – as is probably the more realistic vision of what happens at a beheading – hacked off.
It certainly plays against the conventions set by previous generations of painters and sculptors and perhaps because I am accustomed to the traditional I, initially, found it unsettling. Now after several viewings I’m impressed by the beauty of the work but I find it a bit cold and unmoving. Perhaps I am more of a traditionalist than I realize.
More examples of Igor Mitoraj’s work can be found here.
And there is another display in Santa Maria which is the second example of that fine old Vatican tradition of rewriting history that I have seen in the past few weeks – the first being the shameless co-opting of one of the great liberal theologians of the 19th century John Cardinal Newman as his beatification draws near next week. The second is an exhibition in Santa Maria celebrating the works and life of Galileo – Galilei Divin Uomo (Galileo a Divine Man). The stated purpose of the exhibition “is to make everybody understand that science means to decode the logic of He who created the world”. It includes the statement that Antonino Zichichi’s book on the great scientist “demonstrates that Galileo was a man of God, dedicated to discovering the ‘logic of the creator’, thus destroying the myth that Galileo was an atheist“. Respected though he may be Zichichi’s book has always been consider highly objective in it bias. And I hadn’t realized that anyone had claimed that Galileo was an “atheist” other than maybe Bertolt Brecht who was really writing about himself more than any Renaissance scientist in his well-known play. It could be amusing, if it were not so damnably dishonest, to see how suddenly Galileo has become a loving son of the Church, encouraged in his work etc. etc. etc. And how Mother Church and Science walk hand in hand. Cor ad cor loquitur (“Heart speaks to heart”) was Cardinal Newman’s motto but for a heart to speak to a heart you need openness and honesty – both of which seem to be missing in this “installation”. But perhaps that is the subject for another day or a personal rant.
14 settembre – L’Esaltazione della Santa Croce