Friday, December 07, 2007

Why Bernini was a genius

It's only one man's opinion but...

Son of a sculptor, in his early 20's Gianlorenzo started creating his own works. His David, Apollo and Daphne, and Pluto and Persephone alone are worth a trip to the Galleria Borgehese. Maybe even a trip to Rome. (The Wikipedia articles on these works are good starting points.)

But the one that I find the most amazing is his Constantine. He was commissioned by the Pope to do a work for a niche of the Scala Regia staircase, which leads from the Vatican to Saint Peter's (the stair was also designed by Bernini, wearing his architect hat. Like Michaelangelo, he was good at a wide range of things.).

I'd like to start with that. He had to make a statue for a long, shallow, niche ; it requires a special sort of inspiration to take that starting point and decide to create a life-sized mounted figure. In order to fit it he had to remove a limb from the horse, but who's counting?

The statue depicts the moment before the battle of Ponte Milvio, when Constantine saw the Holy Cross in the sky and converted to Catholicism. True to the Mannerist / Baroque style of Bernini, he has chosen a moment of emotional intensity and violence. Remember, this was the first person to think of doing a David in the moment before he throws the rock. Not the pretty, petulant victor of Caravaggio's painting or Michelangelo's statue, but a muscular, intense athlete putting all his body and soul into the rock and the sling, not knowing (of course) what the outcome would be.

Back to Constantine. Above the niche there is a window, so light is thrown directly down on the statue from above. Mounted on the horse, twisting up and slightly to the left as the horse twists to the right, the emperor Constantine is staring straight up into the daylight ; his face is fully lit while the rest of his body and the horse are partially shadowed. This is good old chiaroscuro and contrapposto and everything else that you learn about Mannerist and early Baroque art. The clothing, the muscles of the horse, the expression of the emperor -- all of them are executed with the detailed perfection of his workshop and his style.

When I first saw the statue, and looked at the placement, the choice of subject, the execution, the form, the use of the existing window ... I was stunned. It was worth having to argue with security guards and jump a couple of queues to get a closer look when we were in Rome in November, even though the Swiss Guard looked ready to start swinging halberds at me. If you ever get to Saint Peter's, you should do it too. In my books, for that statue alone Bernini deserves all the accolades he has been given.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I think that I shall attempt it again seriously this year.

I have not managed to actually write 50k words in a month since my first NaNoWriMo year; however I think that this year looks promising for it. On the other hand I may cheat and write a series of short stories or other fiction instead of a novel, but I don't think that they'll penalize me for that.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Summer's vacations

Time to backfill all the stuff I haven't written for the last two months.

First off, the four of us went on an amazing hike in the French Alps. It was four days / three nights, with each night spent at a "refuge". These places are wonderful, as they provide room and board so all you have to carry is clothes and personal stuff (books, flashlights, band-aids...). They are generally not accessible by road, so all the food comes in by mule, hiker, or helicopter. Pictures (commented) can be found here:

In July/August we were in Kentucky for my sister's wedding. The wedding was a great weekend -- including cousins we had not seen for 33 years -- and the pictures (uncommented) are here :

We then took some time to go hiking, climbing, kayaking, etc. Kai, my nephew, was with us so if you see a third child in the photos don't start wondering. Kentucky was beautiful, and as if to compensate for the embarrassing idiocy of the creationism museum, there are excellent kid-oriented science museums in both Lexington and Louisville.

We also visited the factory where the Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made, a horse farm, and the Wild Turkey Distillery. The latter, of course, was not really for the kids.

Louis is now proudly wearing a Lousville baseball cap.

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