Friday, April 1, 2016

Sankt Lorenz, Nuremberg

For no apparent reason, here are some of the many photos I took of Sankt Lorenz Kirche in Nuremberg two years ago.

As always with my photos, they are freely available, especially to educators.
Open sourcing forever!

From behind the high altar in the ambulatory looking west into the nave.

The very late 20th century high altar; a post War rebuild

The crucifix behind the altar which a guidebook somewhere said is attributed to Tilman Riemenschneider; I think 'attributed' is the operative word.  It doesn't look like any work by Riemenschneider I've seen.  It's still magnificent though.

Gerrit informs me that this cross is a work by Veit Stoss.  I was thinking this might be by Stoss, the expression on the face, the drapery, but I wasn't sure.  I was only sure that this was not by Riemenschneider or his circle.

A 15th century painted altarpiece behind the high altar

The city of Nuremberg complete with the Castle and the spires of the city's churches, including the Lorenzkirche, in the background of the altarpiece.  The 15th century didn't care about archaeological accuracy.  There was no reason why the Blessed Virgin and her saints couldn't hold court in Nuremberg.

A reliquary complete with saintly bones...and in a Lutheran church!

Yes, those really are bones, femurs it looks like to me.

A glimpse of Jackob Grimm's tracery vaults in the ceiling of the choir, viewed from the ambulatory behind the altar.

Veit Stoss' great Annunciation is always worth an encore

More of Veit Stoss' Annunciation.

I left out the many photos I took of Adam Kraft's spectacular sacrament house.  I plan to do a separate post on Kraft eventually.

A spiral staircase that I think went up to a chantry

Escutcheons of prominent Nuremberg mercantile families.  Like so many late Medieval and Renaissance cities in Europe, Nuremberg was a plutocratic oligarchy, and a little stricter than most.  It was one of the few cities that did not have a guild system and that positively forbade trades from organizing.  For awhile, Nuremberg grew very rich by being so fortunately situated astride the main trade routes from Venice to Flanders, and from France to eastern Europe.  That changed with the warfare that followed the Reformation, and the advent of the global economy in the 16th century.

A rat.  Peter Meyer told be the story behind this little detail, and alas, I've forgotten it.  That's one thing I love about Medieval and late Medieval/Renaissance churches is all the delightful marginalia throughout these buildings.  I wonder sometimes if pietism and later modern form was really worth the sacrifice of all this playfulness.

A painted boss in Jackob Grimm's ceiling tracery.  As I look at it, it might be Saint Lawrence.  He looks like he's wearing a deacon's dalmatic.

Peter Meyer with a very large bell just inside the west door

The bells of the Lorenzkirche

The people stopping and listening to the bells in this video was very much my experience in Nuremberg.  Some of the people in this video are tourists, but most are locals.  I remember enjoying a sandwich featuring the local wurst at an outdoor cafe near the Lorenzkirche on a pleasant Saturday evening when all the bells in the city began ringing at sunset announcing the beginning of the Christian Sabbath.  I remember just about everyone stopping to listen.

Decision 2016

I'll take a wooly headed Bernie or a compromised Hillary over a discount Mussolini or a Christian caliphate every time.

Religion vs. Atheism

... is people making sweeping authoritative pronouncements about matters that no one knows anything about.

Sphinx from an ancient Greek grave stele, 6th century BCE

Counterlight's Peculiars Officially Endorses...

The Family Guy version with Seth Macfarlane doing the singing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The "City Painter" of Brussels

In 1436, the city of Brussels proclaimed Rogier Van Der Weyden the "City Painter" of Brussels in part because of the success of this picture completed in 1435.

This is Rogier's Descent from the Cross painted for the Archers' Guild chapel in the church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Ginderbuiten ("Our Lady Beyond the Walls") in Leuven (Louvain).  He was around 35 years old, and had just completed a long apprenticeship with Robert Campin.  Rogier wanted this painting to be a sensation, a debut to remember, and it was.  The painting was a great success and its influence can still be seen all over Europe, even in Italian painting.

Rogier's painting comes out of more than a century of devotional literature written for individuals emphasizing emotion and empathy over theology and doctrine.  That devotional literature sometimes inspired lurid and sensationalistic imagery of Christ's Passion, but Rogier takes that emotionalism to a new more serious level in this painting.  He conceives this painting as a kind of visionary experience, as if the removal of Christ's body from the Cross happens for us right now on the altar of the chapel.  All the figures inhabit a shallow stage space like that of a carved altarpiece, but these figures are far more than statues come to life.  They are living people who shed tears and blood, who swoon with grief and die in pain.  Christ's body dominates the center of the picture, and the swooning figure of Mary repeats its form, consistent with devotional literature of the time that emphasized Mary's suffering watching the death of her son.  Rogier beautifully composes an enclosed group of figures that always brings us back to the center no matter where we start.  We move from face to face with each of the figures; some are struggling to reign in their feelings in order to do the task at hand or to comfort others, while some characters give way fully to weeping and tears.

Flanders invented oil painting, and Rogier, together with Jan van Eyck and Robert Campin, was one of its first great masters.  Rogier used the luminosity and the naturalism made possible by oil painting to create empathy, to make the emotion, the tears, and everything from the skin, the clothes, to the muddy ground they stand on as credibly real looking as possible.  He wants to win our sympathy by appealing to our experience of the world.  Rogier wants us to reach back into our own memories of loss and pain and to bring us together with the people in the painting.

In this age of nihilism, rage, violence, brutality, sadism, and fanaticism that so horribly manifested itself yet again yesterday, looking at the community of feeling created in this painting by Brussel's City Painter is like finding water in the desert.  It reminds us of a better world where "we weep because others weep" instead of the one we live in now where we are always urged to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to suffering in the name of some cause or expedient.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

AIDS and History

As the USA bid Nancy Reagan and the 1980s goodbye recently, some of us got an abrupt and surprising reminder of why we don't share much of the rest of the country's golden nostalgia about the Reagan years.  Hillary Clinton in an interview with Andrea Mitchell praised the Reagans for starting " a national conversation [about AIDS], when before nobody would talk about it."  Of course the Reagans did no such thing.  The disease first appeared in gay men in 1981, but it wasn't until 1985 that President Reagan even mentioned it publicly, and it was 1987 before he gave any kind of speech about it.  The Reagan administration had no AIDS policy and didn't want one.  In fact, they were openly contemptuous of the people among whom the disease first appeared in the USA, gay men.  For example, here is a sample from a press conference in 1982 with then press secretary Larry Speakes:

All during the Reagan years and into the reign of Bush I, people talked about AIDS sufferers as if they deserved it, as if they had it coming.  Religious fanatics began banging on about God's wrath (as they always do) being visited on gay people for being their own perverse selves.  Many of those self appointed apostles gleefully celebrated the rapidly growing number of cases and deaths in the gay community.  Those damn faggots just couldn't die fast enough or soon enough!  They took it up the ass, they deserved to die, declared one Wall Street trader.
And then in 1985, Ryan White, a 14 year old hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion was denied readmission to his school in Indiana.  All the holy men had to back track and admit that God, like the USA, does collateral damage when taking out the bad guys.  Ryan White became an official "innocent victim" of AIDS.  Before he died in 1990 of the disease, Ryan White to his everlasting credit said that all of the sufferers of AIDS were innocent victims.  That one gracious act heaped mountains of live coals on the heads of our dear leaders.  And indeed he was right.  ALL the victims of AIDS were innocent.

As in every plague that ever was, so it was with AIDS.  The disease and its spread inspired hysteria, superstition, and bigotry.  The disease was bad enough, but the fear and hostility of frightened people caused victims to die in destitution and humiliation as well as in physical agony.  I certainly saw a lot of that with my own eyes.  A young artist I once knew contracted the disease at age 24 and was dead within months of his diagnosis.  His father was a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and effectively disowned his son upon hearing the diagnosis.  He would not visit his son, pay for his treatment, allow any other family to visit him, and wouldn't even come to his funeral when he died.  A group of friends and the young man's sister cared for him in his last days and paid for his funeral.  His bereaved sister was so angry with her family for the way that they treated her brother that she broke off all contact with them.  I doubt that they are reconciled more than thirty years later.  There are many such stories, and some much worse than this.  I remember that the hysteria over the disease was so bad that my mother lost her health insurance, not because she was gay or infected, but because she was in a profession that had a lot of gay men, physical therapy.  It was months before the clinic she worked for could find an insurance plan willing to cover them.
I was in my late 20s and in my 30s when the worst of the plague hit in Saint Louis and in New York.  I visited way too many death beds and attended far too many funerals for a man my age at the time.  I remember the men in their 40s, 30s, and 20s with walkers like decrepit old men.  I remember that the younger they were, the faster they died; usually because they were uninsured and poor.  I knew affluent successful professionals who lost everything upon their diagnosis and died poor and on Medicaid.  There were a lot of people in Saint Louis who ended up in Saint Louis City County Hospital where a hostile staff frequently withheld care and left AIDS sufferers to the mercy of religious fanatics and thieves who preyed on them.

The Reagan Administration's policy on AIDS was one of malign neglect.  They decided to let the disease rid them of a nuisance population; effectively a policy of genocide without having to spend money on bullets and gas, and without the mess and guilt.

The disease was a catastrophe, not a curse.  It was not just a catastrophe for gay men, but an enormous human catastrophe.  It affected poor minority communities disproportionately in the USA.  It cut like a scythe through populations of drug addicts.  The disease spread through heterosexual contact in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe.  The disease so ravaged Africa that it set back decades of social and economic improvement on the continent.

As in every plague, people reacted with selfishness and fear.  As in every plague, those who were unaffected concluded that those afflicted somehow deserved it.  As in every plague, there were all kinds of superstitions surrounding the disease that impeded the care for the suffering and held up efforts to find a treatment and a cure.  As in every plague, there was no shortage of demagogues eager to exploit people's fear of AIDS and loathing for the victims.  There was no shortage of cynics who decided to go along with this for their own reasons, or to just look the other way.

I've always worried that AIDS would be thrown down the old all-American memory hole, that the whole shameful episode would be conveniently forgotten.  Or worse, that its history would be re-written and falsified to protect the sacred cows of Conventional Wisdom (like the blessed Reagans).
That does not seem to have happened since Ms. Clinton's gaffe falsifying history was so quickly exposed and she was forced to apologize.

Between 1981 and 2000, 448,060 people died of AIDS in the USA, including a lot of people I knew and loved.
I will never forget, and I can never forgive.

My current parish of Saint Luke in the Fields in New York was especially hard hit during the height of the AIDS plague.  Clergy staff spent most of their time with the dying in hospitals, especially in the now defunct historic Saint Vincent's Hospital.  There were years when the funerals were so frequent that they would burn through two or three Pascal Candles before Easter.
Saint Luke's choir frequently sang this beautiful setting by John Tavener of the Eastern Rite Funeral Ikos at funerals of AIDS victims.