Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Domes of Rome 1

 




Domes are remarkable spaces whether large or small.  There is no experience quite like that of walking through a vast domed space, a shape that conjures up hosts of associations in a way that no other roof form does.  The flat beamed ceiling or the arched vaults shelter us from the weather, but the dome makes us imagine a vast extension of ourselves as cosmic creatures under the sky, as beings created from the primordial elements looking up at the sun, moon, and stars.  Domed spaces put us in mind of our place in the world both physically and spiritually.

Rome did not invent the dome.  The history of domed structures reaches far back into prehistory to some of the earliest constructed human dwellings.  But no city developed and exploited dome architecture more extensively than Rome throughout its history from its origins to the present day.  Many of the forms and engineering of dome construction first appeared in the Eternal City and spread quickly throughout the world.

For many centuries the Pantheon in Rome boasted the largest dome in the world.  It remained the largest dome from its completion in 125 CE until the construction of the dome of Florence Cathedral in the mid 15th century.  It is as high as it is broad, about 142 feet by 142 feet.
The Emperor Hadrian built the present Pantheon -- the temple to all the gods -- to replace a smaller earlier Pantheon built by Marcus Agrippa, the son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus after the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE.  Agrippa likely built a more conventional four square Roman temple with a windowless cella and a portico on a podium.  The great fire of 80 CE destroyed that building leaving nothing but the facade.  The Emperor Domitian rebuilt that temple only to see it destroyed by fire again in 110 CE.  
Hadrian built the current vastly expanded and altered temple.  Exactly who was the architect remains controversial.  The current consensus says that Apollodorus of Damascus -- the architect to Hadrian's predecessor, the Emperor Trajan -- probably designed the building.  Apollodorus was a Nabatean Arab from what is now Jordan.  The Pantheon is consistent with a lot of his work for Trajan.  Other scholars argue that the Emperor Hadrian himself designed the building.  Hadrian was indeed a very capable architect designing and building much of his extensive villa at Tivoli.  He also designed the largest temple in the city of Rome, the Temple of Venus and Roma in the Forum next to the Colosseum.





For reasons that remain unknown, the Emperor Hadrian kept the original dedication inscription of the Pantheon.  It says in abbreviated Latin in restored bronze letters  "Marcus Agrippa three times Consul made this."  However, Hadrian stamped all the bricks used in the building with his insignia lest there be any doubt.   That inscription stands on top of a row of columns, all single undivided shafts made from Egyptian blue granite from the quarries east of Aswan in the far south of Egypt.  Transporting all these columns up the Nile, across the Mediterranean, and through the streets of Rome and set up on the site was itself a marvel of engineering.  The bases and capitals of these columns are marble from the quarries of Mt. Pentelikos near Athens, the same quarries that supplied the marble for the Parthenon built almost 6 centuries earlier.






The bronze doors on the Pantheon today are the original doors.  They are much restored and modified, but they are the doors Hadrian had installed on the building when it was completed in 125.  Walking though the columned portico and through the doors into that immense round room is still one of the most spectacular experiences of any building in the world.








The dome of the Pantheon is an immense hemisphere of structural concrete resting not on a solid wall but upon a concealed series of brick arches and stone piers created to stabilize the dome as each pour of concrete dried and contracted.  The Romans invented concrete, a mixture of gravel, pulverized stone, and mortar that could be poured into molds and that would solidify into hard durable shapes.  They invented concrete to serve what was at the time was a radical re-conception of building design.  Most large ancient buildings were roofs resting on forests of posts or columns, buildings such as Egyptian or Greek temples, or the wooden buildings of posts and brackets holding up heavy ceramic roofs used continuously in China.  The Romans imagined buildings as giant shells enclosing great uninterrupted spaces, buildings like the Pantheon.








The oculus in the top of the dome measures about 27 feet in diameter and was always open to the sky.  Sunlight, rain and snow pour in from the top today as in ancient times.  Small channels in the floor keep the flooding to a minimum.  The Pantheon is today a church and has been since the 7th century.  Today statues of Christian saints now stand where images of the Roman gods once stood.  Now as then, the vast concrete dome overwhelms all of the images in the building.  The dome in ancient times had a veneer of white marble with blue ceramic tile mosaic filling the inside of the coffers.  Inside each coffer a gilded bronze star or rosette sparkled in the reflected sunlight from the marble floor.  A sunburst of gilded bronze surrounded the oculus.   The outside of the dome was originally covered in gilded copper and visible throughout the city.  Today the dome is no longer quite so prominent.  The ground level around the Pantheon is 12 feet higher than in ancient times thanks to centuries of river floods after the ancient drainage system collapsed.







The Pantheon was the temple to all the gods, not only the gods of Rome but of all the gods throughout the Empire.  The gods of Egypt, North Africa, Syria, the Greek gods, the Celtic gods, and the Jewish God all had their place in this temple.
But especially the Pantheon was the temple of the seven Roman planetary gods, Apollo the sun, Diana the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  The Earth would not be considered a planet until Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th century. We still use those names for the planets and continue to name newly discovered planets (such as Uranus and Neptune) after Classical deities.
The Pantheon formed out of a transition in religion at the time.  Educated people of the day such as the Emperor Hadrian no longer believed in the old sacrificial religions, the idea that the gods were invisible powerful beings who controlled all those things we can't control such as the weather and luck, that religion was a straightforward business of keeping those beings happy, trying to divine their will, and seeking to influence them.  
Hadrian and others like him saw the gods as aspects of a larger cosmic and moral order that they believed pervaded everything and that they called Providence.  The dome that over-awed the images of the gods in the Pantheon as it dominates the saints now visualizes this universal cosmic order.







A section and floor plan of the Pantheon.

The circle dominates the design of the Pantheon throughout, a shape that ancient peoples including the Romans identified with the sky.  But the two other basic geometric shapes, the square and the triangle are also present in the floor plan.  Link all the flat-backed niches and you get a square.  Link all the round backed niches and you get a triangle.  The circle represented the heavens in the mind of the Romans, but the square represented earth and the triangle fire, the element that passed between earth and heaven in the Roman cosmos.

The Pantheon carried a lot of political meaning too that was more apparent in the building's original state.  The Pantheon was an image of the stated mission of the Roman Empire, to bring peace to the world.  The Pantheon shows us the perfect harmonious order of the stars and planets that the Empire seeks to realize upon earth.




A very fine computer reconstruction of the Pantheon in its original form.  It stood at the end of its own forum on top of a high podium.  All of that is still there, though now buried under twelve feet of accumulated sediment from centuries of flooding from the Tiber, and concealed in relatively recent construction.  A large bronze eagle of Jupiter in a wreath of oak and laurel leaves, an emblem of the Empire, adorned the pediment at one time.  The outside of the building today is naked brick, but originally was veneered in white marble.





How big is the Pantheon really?  This is a photo taken in 1925 during a restoration survey of the dome.



The Pantheon is now the oldest surviving dome in Rome, but it was far from the first, and while it was the biggest, it was not the only dome in the ancient city.

Domes remained exceptional features on otherwise very conservative and tradition bound Roman religious architecture.  But domes commonly appeared in those vast pleasure palaces that Roman emperors built to appease public opinion in the city that we call baths.


A reconstruction of the Baths of Caracalla.

People did indeed go to these structures to bathe, and bathing facilities formed the center of these complexes.  Three chambers formed the center of every Roman bath, the calidarium or hot bath, the tepdidarium or luke-warm bath, and the frigidarium or the cold bath.  In most public baths in the Empire these were usually relatively intimate sized rooms not much different from a modern sauna.  The ones in the city of Rome were as vast as the main hall of Grand Central Station in New York.
The calidarium of the Baths of Caracalla was a domed steam bath the size of a state capitol rotunda.  A network of ceramic pipes in the floor and walls carried hot steam throughout the vast room.  Slaves worked long hours stoking the furnaces that kept the boilers running, very hard and brutal labor.
Today only the foundations and two support piers remain of the calidarium of Emperor Caracalla's baths. 




The two remaining support piers of the domed calidarium that once dominated the large complex of the Baths of Caracalla.  




The ruins of the Baths of Caracalla today.

These ruins are still strikingly large and grand.  The three bathing rooms form the center and most prominent part of this structure, but people came here for more than to just get clean.  This complex had gyms and athletic fields.   It had a library (probably not so much for scholarly literature, but for popular novels, usually romance or pornography just as popular then as now).  And it had public gardens and rooms for meeting friends and soliciting sex.






The Villa Gordiani on the outskirts of Rome is a collection of ruins from the 3rd century that may be the remains of the estate of the Gordiani, a short lived imperial dynasty during the time of the Soldier Emperors made up of three emperors in succession all of whom were named Gordian.  All of them lasted very briefly and died violently.   
In the midst of the ruins is a small domed temple known by locals as The Mausoleum, though it was likely not a burial monument. 





The Mausoleum's brick and concrete domed interior.










These first domes of Rome inspired generations of later architects and fired the ambitions of later rulers.  The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire inherited the dome, placed it on top of four large arches and turned it into a central feature of Eastern Christian churches.  Islam would inherit the Byzantine dome and modify it further carrying the legacy of Roman architecture east through Central Asia, to the Indian subcontinent, and eventually to the frontiers of China.

In the city of Rome itself, these ancient domes were only the beginning of a local fascination with this architectural feature that would last down to the 20th century.



Tuesday, May 3, 2022

USA

 

I don't want to live in a theocracy.
I don't want to live in some resurrected version of the old Confederacy.
I don't want to be ruled over by a racial and/or plutocratic oligarchy.
I don't want to live in "America™".

I want to live in the United States of America with Liberty and Justice for All.


Gordon Parks, American Gothic, 1942

The woman is Ella Watson, a janitor in the Farm Services Administration building in Washington DC.


Friday, April 8, 2022

The New Passion Series: Almost Finished

The second Passion series that I began in the fall of 2016 is about to conclude.  I am working on the last 2 panels of the series now.


 


Emanuel with Job and Isaiah








Jesus Enters the City








The Last Supper







Jesus Prays Alone








Jesus Is Arrested








Jesus Before the Priests








Jesus Before the Magistrate








Jesus Before the People








Jesus Before the Soldiers







Jesus Is Beaten





Jesus Goes To His Death







Jesus Dies







Jesus Is Dead (Lamentation)







Jesus Among The Dead








Jesus Rises







Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene








Jesus Appears To His Friends

(my photo; this has not yet been archivally photographed)







Emmaus

(my photo; this painting has not yet been archivally photographed)







Jesus Returns to God

(unfinished)









The Trinity

(unfinished)







Sunday, April 3, 2022

Remembering Bill Paulsen

 Bill Paulsen died March 15 after many years of ill health.  His funeral took place March 23, the day before his 78th birthday.  His passing affected scores -- maybe hundreds -- of people around the world, and it certainly affected me.
For much of his life, Bill served as a Lutheran pastor.  Though his grandparents were Norwegian immigrants, he was not born into the Lutheran church.  He began life as a Methodist and eventually converted to Lutheranism.  He brought to his long years of service as a Lutheran pastor the zeal of a convert.  He served a congregation in Berlin for a couple of years in the early 1970s, and then for many years until his retirement, he lead a Lutheran congregation in south Brooklyn.

"Zeal of a convert" are words that give us pause.  They evoke the image of a hard dour determined Servant of the Lord.  Bill Paulsen may have been determined in his service to the Lord, but he was hardly dour.  Many of us who knew him remember his vast collection of jokes of varying quality and taste that nevertheless kept us all laughing.  I remember riding with him on a train through Germany howling with laughter as we played one of his favorite games, taking the opening words of famous hymns and adding the phrase "...under the sheets." "Oh for a thousand tongues to sing under the sheets!"  Bill could be what I would call "aggressively friendly."  He made a point of going up to people no matter where or what and just talking to them.  He had a talent for immediately disarming people and making them feel comfortable around him.  I watched him use this talent memorably on many occasions.   In particular, I remember seeing him disarm famously surly cab drivers in Paris and winning them over.  One cab driver got himself lost taking us back to the hotel.  The angry and frustrated driver ended up refunding our fare and thanking us profusely for being so understanding after Bill spoke to him.  I note that his talent for fearless friendliness served him very well in those years when he was partially disabled and frequently dependent on the kindness of friends and strangers.  However, I think that's a talent he had all his life.  So many long and durable friendships that he enjoyed began with such active friendliness and lasted over decades and even generations.  That active friendliness lead him to summon the courage and inner strength to rescue  people in desperate situations on occasion (no, I'm not talking about myself, but about people who really were in seriously dire straits and owe their lives to him).

There was a serious spiritual purpose behind Bill's charm and bonhomie.  He believed very strongly in the "freedom of the Gospel,"  that the Gospel was emphatically not another calamity piled onto the backs of sinful humanity by an implacably angry deity, but liberty from all that guilt and grief.  The necessary work of salvation has already been accomplished for us by Christ, by God Himself.  There was nothing we could do to add or subtract from that salvation because Christ is faithful even when we are faithless.  Instead of self-indulgently counting our sins on a rosary of thorns, or beating other people over the heads with inventories of their sins, we should enjoy the freedom Christ gives us and share that joy with others.  "We're full of glory and full of shit at the same time" Bill always said.  The Gospel is the assurance that we will get through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and dwell reunited with all who we love and more in the Risen Christ.  And we will get to that other side despite ourselves since God has already done the necessary work on our behalf.
Bill Paulsen preached this and he lived it.

As much joy as he found in the Gospel, Bill's life saw an abundance of suffering beginning with a lonely childhood and the death of his older brother in a car accident.  He certainly shared in a lot of pain and grief his parishioners suffered over the years.  He spent his last years in constant physical pain from deteriorating knee and hip joints and a growing list of ailments.  I remember one African cab driver in Paris helping him get into the cab describe Bill as "the bravest of men" because of the constant pain he endured.  Of course as would anyone living in such conditions, the pain caused him grief and despair, but the despair never ruled over him.

I traveled with Bill twice to Europe to help him with carrying luggage and other things he was too incapacitated to manage on his own.  The worst was helping him up and down stairs, and getting him on and off trains.  But I count those travels among the greatest and most fortunate blessings of my life.  I met so many wonderful and remarkable people through him in Europe and at home, beginning some great friendships.  I saw wonderful and sublime things with him on my travels.  I would always remember him gratefully for that alone.  I will remember him for that and for his great and very generous friendship, and hope to see him again some day among the saints in light.



Bill with Peter Meyer at the Christuskirche in Nuremberg, 2016






Bill with old friends in Berlin from his days as a pastor there, 2016





Bill with Erika Markgraf, another Lutheran pastor, in Coburg, 2016






Bill with the late Kristal Tsang in Lübeck, 2016







Bill with his family in Svelvik, Norway, 2014







Bill in Oslo at the home of Lasse and Erik in 2014







Erik and Lasse in 2014 at home with Bill in Oslo






Bill in Amsterdam with Knight Hoover, a friend, and Raymonde Oudenrijn in 2014





Bill with Gelli and Kristal Tsang in Wiesbaden, 2016





Bill holds forth with the Hellgermans and friends in Telgte in 2014





Bill with Yours Truly at the Hotel Dieu in Beaune, France in 2014, photo by Jean-Yves Bonamour






Bill and I with friends at the former Dublin 6 in New York in I think 2018.
Left to right, Jon Vinson, Warren Blyden, Jacqui Taylor-Basker and her son, Yours Truly, and Bill Paulsen.





Christmas Day with Bill and lots of friends in his apartment in Brooklyn Heights in 2013