Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Renaissance Man says Yes He Can! Cheers Mr. Obama

Eureka! I have at last found the ultimate answer to our modern life strife
When an absence of purpose and fulfilment can permeate ones very life
But it’s really no secret for the solution does not need a savvy soothsayer
So there is no need for wringing of your hands or even gasps of despair.

History often repeats itself you may recall in textbooks having often read
But unfortunately learning from it does not gain much social kudos instead
We are advised to concentrate on an ever specialised and refined life role
And can miss out on any positive world experience if we end up on the dole.

As an antidote many indulge in dull electronic trivia and banal social media
And some have recourse to drugs for reasons not requiring an encyclopaedia
So it is evident to all that trouble and personal strife has now come to the fore
But do not think us especially different, for man has faced this problem before.

In the Middle Ages artists were also prone to such exhortations of hocus pocus
But they found a solution in a broadening of their human sphere of mental focus
Thus Da Vinci was a great painter and an inventor of strange concepts appealing
And Michelangelo was the world’s finest sculptor and painter of the Sistine ceiling

In this manner these famous Renaissance Artists established their skills and their fame
For they needed to broaden their artistic scope if they were to keep ahead of the game,
So I have decided to broaden my own interests to embrace artistic skill and pure invention
And in this way I intend to dazzle my family and friends and hope to keep their attention.

From now on I will proudly proclaim to all ‘Yes I can’ like the President Barack Obama
And will forge a new spiritual renewal the likes of which characterise the great Dali Lama
My head is already teeming with wild artistic ideas which I can soon hopefully espouse
But to start off I shall in a simple way first apply myself to making a new hen house

But wait, where are the timber laths and nails which are essential for my creative work
Surely Michelangelo did not proceed without basic tools and so I’m being driven berserk
As a result my creative instincts are now stymied and I alas sit forlorn on my garret floor
And if I make too much fuss my family will ridicule my efforts and even call me a bore.

Thus the motto of this verse is Renaissance Artistic fervour is laudable and true to tell
But without proper tools and good equipment available, you might as well rot in hell
So perhaps its really best to reign in my own creative efforts at this Yuletide time of year
And simply to drink a fine toast to all and to offer my fond Twitter Friends good cheer!

Note: This is a purely fictional verse written for amusement only.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Artistic Antagonisms, Anghiari And a Sweet Room in Hell.

The battle of Anghiari is now more famous because of a lost masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci than any perception of the historic significance of the battle itself which took place between the competing forces of the city states of Milan and Florence in mid 1440. The actual painting has being lost for centuries due both to its method of execution and indeed political changes affecting Florence itself over the intervening centuries. However, the sketches which remain and the copy executed by Pieter Paul Rubens depict in stunning graphic detail the ferocity of the struggle between men and horses which characterised the battle and the visceral energy expounded by the participants. To a modern sensibility this may seem like a profound comment of the horrific intensity of human warfare but it was in fact commissioned in the 16th century to actually celebrate it from the perspective of the supposed glory of Florence.

I visited the pretty hillside town of Anghiari some years ago while on holiday in Arezzo and had seen the Leonardo sketches of the battle in a small local museum. However, I had no idea at that time that this work was the subject of a major competition in Florence pitting the then perceived greatest artists of the time directly against each other in producing paintings to adorn the Great Council Hall of the city until I read the wonderful book ‘The Lost Battles’ by Jonathan Jones. In this book he expertly analyses and explains the forces, both artistic, social and political that shaped the work of both Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti in approaching their respective commissions within not only Florence but other key city states such as Milan and Rome at that time. It also introduces us to the personalities and political intrigues of key medieval figures such as Savonarola, Lorenzo de Medici, Machiavelli and Pope Julius among others who not only influenced but sometimes dictated the scope of the work being undertaken by both artists. In fact the Great Council of Florence deliberately encouraged and fostered the competitive ‘duel’ between these artists not only to encourage them to try harder to achieve artistic excellence but also as a symbolic expression of their power base and control of the local populace. Indeed, such was the intensity of the bitterness and rivalry actually forged between these two famous artists that Michelangelo himself wrote a verse in the margin of one of his drawings for the competition referring to the ‘dolce stanza nell’ inferno’-‘a sweet room in hell’.

The Lost Battles book captures in a realistic and profound way the level of intrigue and rivalry which gave rise to the social milieu within which both Leonardo and Michelangelo had to curry favour in order to work at all and the acute strains which developed between each artist as they sought to outmanoeuvre the other. In fact, it is interesting to note despite our own expressed ‘level field’ attitude to modern competitive commissions that such forces are all too evidently at work in the Arts today.

A final interesting aside to this historic perspective is the row, reported in the Irish Times of 4/12/2011, which has broken out among Italian Art experts over the decision to drill a hole through the great painting by Vasari which currently adorns the Great Hall of Florence but which it is thought may hide the lost painting of the Battle of Anghiari behind it. Once again in a small illustration that history repeats itself, the social, political and artist forces within and without the artistic establishment are at ‘war’ over this painting. For my own part, I feel that the artistic vision encapsulated within the sketches and reproductions should encourage us to reflect on the intensity of Leonardo’s vision rather than attempt to uncover small parts of a painting which even at the time of its execution was quickly falling into disrepair.

I would highly recommend Jonathan Jones fine book to anyone with a shred of interest in the forces which mould artistic endeavour and those great artists who give it tangible expression for the enjoyment of present and future generations.