Saturday, January 31, 2009

"You Are a Shining Light"

It's been a rough week, not bad, just rough, a lot of work.  I had to do course advising for students for the first time yesterday; very terrifying because I've never done it before and I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  But I somehow figured it out and survived.   The students were mercifully very patient, and I don't think I did any serious damage.

Now, I'm tired and coming down with a cold.  I've been sneezing and sniffling the whole day.  

Despite all that, I've been enjoying this all day, "You Are A Shining Light."

And Still More Of Why I Will Always Have Second Thoughts About Being a Christian

From IT over at Friends of Jake:

IT said...
I cried today. Stupid. I was at my dentist's (he's a friend and came to our wedding) and he cheerfully said, "How's married life treating you?" and I replied, waaay too seriously, "good for as long as it lasts," and then he wanted to know about the court case, and if we'd heard whether our marriage would last, and when we would KNOW, and how we are doing, etc etc and I had to go through it all again.

I walked out to the car afterwards and got in and cried tears of anger and frustration--not at my dear dentist, but at feeling I'm living betwixt and between, unresolved, at being A Thing whose fate is decided by courts and how the PropH8 people took my euphoric feeling that finally I was a Real Married Person with a real place in society, like everyone else, and they threw me back into the gutter and kicked me back into being an unwanted outsider.

And then I dried my eyes and went to work and tried, yet again, to get past it.

Sorry to be so cranky folks, but there are days when it's hard to see that The Church has done much of anything other than create hell on earth for so many people for 20 centuries.

More of Why I Will Always Have Second Thoughts About Being a Christian

Andrea da Firenze (also known as Andrea Bonaiuto), The Church Militant and Triumphant with the "Navicella" (Christ Walking On Water) above; Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence 1348 - 1355

One of the most splendid rooms in Florence is the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella. In the 16th century it became a chapel and burial place for the Spanish courtiers who accompanied Eleanora of Toledo the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici. It was originally built in the early 14th century as a chapter hall for the Dominican monks who lived in Santa Maria Novella, a church made splendid by the lavish spending of the Strozzi and Rucellai banking dynasties. The spectacular fresco cycle was begun in the year of the Black Death, 1348, and finished in 1355. It is the only known work of this otherwise forgotten artist, now thought to be from Siena.

This room is an iconologist's paradise.  It is one magnificent learned allegory after another.  I'm sure the monks were thrilled with it.  They could spend hours looking at the cycle stringing the symbolic analogies together one after the other.
And that is all to the point.  The Dominican Order is a preaching order for the propagation of church doctrine and the defeat of heresy.  The most famous of the allegories, The Church Militant and Triumphant makes that very clear.  It is a pictorial Dominican mission statement.
The Church Militant on Earth (symbolized by a vision of the as yet unfinished and undomed Florence Cathedral) is lead by Pope and Emperor with assembled representatives of the various classes at their feet.  A group of sheep rests at the feet of the Pope to drive home the pastoral meaning.  To the bottom right, St. Dominic unleashes the "Hounds of the Lord" (Domini Canes, a Latin pun, how delicious!), the black and white dogs who attack the wolves and foxes of heresy and infidelity.  To the right of Dominic, St. Peter Martyr calmly rebuts the arguments of an angry group of heretics.  Furtherest to the right, St. Thomas Aquinas persuades the pagans and unbelievers to discard their creeds for the One True Faith.
Above the whole fresco is another in the ceiling vault of a subject known in Italy as the Navicella, the story of Christ walking across the water to meet the Apostles on a storm tossed boat, here clearly meant to be understood as a metaphor for the Church.

The section above Dominic, Peter, and Thomas is the Way of Salvation Through Penitence.  A group of elegant young Florentines dances and enjoys their young lives as the young have always done, beneath enthroned personifications of sin and licentiousness (Luxury, Pride, Lust, and Sloth).  This is the part of the painting where I've always wondered where the artist's sympathies really lay.  None of those lovely boys and girls appear to be doing anything particularly wicked, at least by our standards.  Penitents who forsake the wanton ways of the world receive absolution from a Dominican priest, and are guided by St. Dominic to the Gates of Paradise where a solemn St. Peter welcomes them to the great High School Honors Society in the sky presided over by Christ of the Last Judgement.  

On the opposite wall is an elaborate allegory glorifying St. Thomas Aquinas with personifications of the Virtues (3 celestial and 4 earthly), and of the 7 Liberal Arts and 7 Useful Arts, etc., etc., etc.  Thomas sits enthroned in the center with defeated Arius, Nestor, and Averoes weeping at his feet.  The Faith Once Revealed to All the Saints indeed!
I wonder what Aquinas would have thought.  I can't imagine that he would be pleased with this.

This whole magnificent cycle reflects the conservative reaction and hardening of doctrinal orthodoxy that followed in the wake of the Black Death.  It is a vision for those charged with policing that orthodoxy (the Dominicans even look like Church Police).  I doubt tribunals of the Inquisition ever took place here, but it would be a perfect setting for such.  The Dominicans were responsible for inquiries into heretical beliefs and teaching, and for rooting them out.

As an inhabitant of a much more cosmopolitan world than the one that produced this fresco cycle, I applaud the artist and feel a shudder of revulsion.  Unlike the angry cranks who probably look at this fresco cycle and pine longingly for a lost world of certainty (if it was all so certain, then why were Dominicans around to police it?), I like living in this strange new world where peoples who once never heard of each other, now live next to each other.  I like this world where people talk freely across sectarian, national, tribal, and ideological boundaries that were once rigidly separated and policed.  I think the unstoppable conversation between religions and with secularism is ultimately for the good of all humanity, despite its painful hardships.  I'm not interested in any one world culture, still less any one world religion.  But, that a world full of local distinctions now converses and interacts, breeding all sorts of hybrids I think makes for a richer fuller life for us all, and for a more peaceful world.

If that fresco cycle is what Christianity is all about, then I want no part of it.

Why I Will Always Have Second Thoughts About Being a Christian

Exemplum Gratia:

But if a uniate church is denied them, this will quite obviously be done to 'satisfy' the Arch-Druid Rowan Williams and his pro-sodomite friends in America, such as that Robinson creature and the Schorri Hag.

Don't you people get it? Mainstream Anglicanism is splitting in two, the conservative GAFCON people creating alternate jurisdictions in far-left areas, such as Canada and the U.S.A. They are headed for division because you can't reconcilie buggery with Christianity.

Madpriest posted this yesterday as his Homophobe of the Day.
If this is supposed to be Christianity, then I want no part of it. No wonder Dawkins and Hitchens are selling so many books these days. As institutional Christianity shrinks in the West, it appears to be more and more dominated by bitter freaks and fanatics like the one quoted above. Their growing domination insures further shrinkage in the churches as relatively healthy and decent people who don't carry such bitter grudges against the world or wear such big chips on their shoulders are driven out. I don't see how Madpriest or Father Harris do it, perusing all those toxic sites brimming with malice. I can't bear to visit those websites, and can hardly bear to read quotes from them.

And since some angry freak loudly demanding a return to Bronze Age law and morals will always make better teevee and sell more commercial air time than any Benedictine prayer group, or hospital visitors, or food bank workers, then the above quoted is the face of Christianity to most people these days. It makes me feel ashamed and embarassed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Little Present From Michael

Is it me, or is Annie Lennox just amazing?

Michael is convinced that this is wicked satire.  He may be right.

Michael is a huge fan right down to the platinum blond hair.  He thinks that she is spoofing herself as much as anything.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Fitful Progress in Cascadia.

Washington State is about to pass a gay marriage (sorta) bill.  It grants same sex couples and unmarried couples all the legal rights of marriage except the term "marriage."  

If I had my way, "marriage" would be a term confined to churches and religious rites.  Couples could get a blessing from their priest (or pastor, minister, rabbi, imam, shaman, whatever), but they'd have to go to the courthouse to sign a license and a contract and make it legal.  A contractual obligation with legal privileges and responsibilities by any other name smells just as sweet.  Civil unions for everybody.

*Just to be clear, until clergy get out of the notary-public business (when pigs fly), then it should be marriage for everybody.   And I mean every couple willing to make that pledge to each other to stay faithful to one another and to the family they make together no matter what and unto death.
The pending legislation in Washington is something I'm willing to settle for (for the time being); nine tenths of a loaf is better than nothing.  Since it's still short of a clear unequivocal declaration of equality, I have a hard time mustering a lot of enthusiasm for it.

Gay or Straight, Politicians are Politicians.

The openly gay mayor of Portland Oregon admits lying about an affair with a much younger man (18) to get elected.  There's more about the story here.   It's not the sex that bothers me (though the wide age difference makes me uncomfortable even if the young man was technically an adult), it's the lying about it.  What is it about politicians and their zippers?

I say he should resign.  What do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Donatello's Old Lady Magdalene

This wooden sculpture was originally housed in the Florence Baptistery. It is a creation of Donatello's old age. She was originally brightly painted with gilded hair. Though smaller than life, this statue fills the room.

Donatello's Great Pumpkin

Lest we think Renaissance art in Florence is all Fra Angelico angels and pretty boys, here's a figure by Donatello of a prophet, known for centuries by the nickname "Zuccone" or Great Pumpkin. I presume it's because of his large bald head. For reasons I can't fathom, some scholars identify him as Habakkuk. The original is now in the Museo del'Opera del Duomo next to the cathedral. He was one of a group of prophets carved by Donatello and others occupying niches high over the piazza on the campanile of the cathedral. During Lent, the city built a pulpit for Dominican and Franciscan preachers just under these prophets in front of the bell tower.

This figure has something of the ferocity and other-worldly zeal of those Lenten preachers. I've always found this figure to be stirring, and very frightening, even more so now that he's been restored.
Remember this is the same Donatello who made that nude pretty boy bronze David. That Donatello could make something like the David and this prophet, both with conviction, is a measure of his greatness. If it wasn't for Michelangelo, Donatello would get my vote for greatest of all Renaissance sculptors.

And here it is, full force expressionism centuries before anyone ever thought of that term.

Here is the Campanile next to the Cathedral with the row of prophets, including Zuccone, just under that modern netting. They are all replicas now.

Here is a replica of the Zuccone in its original place.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Florence, USA

The Grand Minerva Hotel with Santa Maria Novella, Florence

More Americans live in Florence than any other Italian city including Rome and Milan. This has been true for a long time. There is a long list of American writers going back to the early 19th century who resided for some time in the city. Henry James lived in the Minerva Hotel pictured above. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived just 2 doors down.
Barbara Crafton, Q, and Gian Luigi often speculated about the special attraction this city has for Americans.
I think it's because Americans find so much in this city's history that is familiar to them. Florence, unique among European cities in the late Middle Ages, was a boom town. At the beginning of the 13th century, people discovered that the waters of the Arno at the little town of Florence were perfect for washing and bleaching wool. In addition, there was an endless supply of skilled and non-skilled labor in the area for a huge textile industry. Florence's rapidly expanding textile industry, like all large scale manufacturing, depended heavily on credit, thus the rise of Florentine banking. By the end of the 13th century, the little backwater town of Florence was one of the largest cities in Europe.
The history of late Medieval and Early Renaissance Florence reads like the history of 19th century Chicago; sudden wealth, rapid expansion, and all the stresses that come with them. Everything is there including crime and labor uprisings. The rise of the great banking families, the Peruzzi, the Bardi, the Strozzi, the Albizzi, the Ruccelai, the Portinari (whose palazzo now houses a major bank), their stories would be familiar to Americans. And American history is full of political bosses and fixers controlling power from behind the scenes just like Cosimo de Medici and his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Certainly religious demagogues like Savonarola and Bernardin of Siena are familiar types to Yanks. The dark pragmatism of Macchiavelli is definitely familiar to Americans ascending and descending corporate hierarchies. The idea of Florence as a divinely chosen champion of civic liberty (created by Coluccio Salutati, Lionardo Bruni, and other early leaders of the republic) resonates still with a lot of Americans (the Florentine Republic may have seen itself as little David, but America is definitely Goliath these days).
Florence in many ways was the first modern city.
And yet, I don't want to make too much of this comparison. There certainly are major differences. Florence was in no way ever a frontier town, unlike Chicago (or even New York for that matter). At the same time that modernity emerged in Florence, the culture of the Middle Ages was quite strong and vigorous. It is the clash between the two cultures, old and emerging, that makes the city so fascinating.
It is that conflict that may explain the disproportionate influence of this city upon the rest of the world. Within a period of about 250 years, the city produced so much that is of lasting influence in science, technology, commerce, art, literature, and politics.
And that legacy continues to draw lots of Americans.

I'm Still Smiling About This

Let's begin with some fanfare:

Washington ceremonial music is usually lame stuff magnificently performed by the Marine Band, but I think that this fanfare tune was wonderful. Anyone recognize it? If you do, tell me what it is because I've been looking all over for and can't find it.

That thoughtful, sober inauguration speech is worth listening to again, a sweeping rejection of the previous 8 years with a clear declaration of basic principles for going forward. It's so refreshing to be spoken to as an adult again.

Here's the rest of it:

Obama made clear from the very beginning that he plans to govern from the center and by as much consensus as possible. Progressives like myself will inevitably be disappointed that some of his policies do not go far enough, and others go astray. There is also a certain ruthlessness behind his calm cerebral demeanor. He didn't get to where he is now by being a marshmallow. No one succeeds in politics by being a Sunday school teacher; it's a rough and very worldly business.

However, I couldn't be happier. The long dark night of the Bush administration is finally over; the lies, the corruption, the stupidity, and the power grabs. Obama's election is a dramatic sea change in our politics. Vietnam and the 60s are finally finished as political issues. The Culture War played anything but a decisive role in this election and may be coming to an end. A campaign that made brilliant use of technology to connect with constituents and voters promises a whole new way of governing, and of government accountability. For the first time since the days of JFK, the young are stampeding to government and public service. Washington is swamped with resumes from the under 40 folk. We now have a brilliant, thoughtful, and conscientious man in the White House better prepared than any president in memory to steer the country to a new and more promising direction. After the worst presidency ever, things can only get better.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Savonarola, A Man for Our Time

Girolamo Savonarola as St. Peter Martyr, a portrait by his follower and fellow Dominican monk, Fra Bartolomeo.

The same Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence that produced Fra Angelico and his luminous paintings (where the tone is always contemplative and hopeful) also produced Savonarola. The monastery is now a museum primarily devoted to the art of Fra Angelico, but Savonarola's quarters are there to see along with his carefully preserved habit and other personal effects.
The name Savonarola is synonymous with fire-breathing moralistic preaching and fanaticism. But it was no less a humanist than Pico della Mirandola who brought him to Florence from Bologna. He was a learned man earning the respect of scholars such as Erasmus.

What to do with Savonarola? He was born into a noble family in Ferrara, yet gave voice to the disenfranchised multitudes whose labor produced Florence's wealth through textile manufacturing. When Piero de Medici fled after a revolution in 1494, Savonarola played a decisive role in the creation of the Great Council of the Florentine Republic, the closest thing anywhere in the world at that time to a democratic representative assembly. Savonarola was a very harsh critic of corruption in the court of Pope Alexander VI, the infamous Borgia Pope, and questioned papal authority boldly -- and ultimately fatally.

Then there is this from a sermon preached December 14, 1494 to the assembled Florentine government:
The Signoria must make a law against that cursed vice of sodomy, for which Florence is defamed throughout all of Italy, as you know. Perhaps you have this disgraceful reputation because you talk and chatter so much about this vice; maybe it's not so widespead in fact as it's said. I say, make a law that is without mercy, that such persons be stoned and burned.

Savonarola was hardly the first such preacher in Florence. There were earlier preachers such as Bernardin of Siena and Antoninus (later Archbishop of Florence) who railed and preached doom against the city for its vices, most especially for its famous toleration of "sodomy," meaning primarily sexual relations between men.  Some of that preaching, especially from Bernardin, could be downright bloodthirsty in its violence.  The laws on the books condemning this "vice" were always very harsh, but enforcement was usually lax and reluctant.  The offender usually was let off with a fine.  The accuser, usually anonymous, got a share of the fine as a reward.  It was well known that a sodomy accusation was a great way to get rid of political rivals and settle scores. The Medici, among others, made extensive use of such anonymous accusations. Because of such cynical uses, authorities were usually skeptical of such charges. The full measure of the law as a capital offense was very rarely carried out, and usually only in cases of rape and violence, especially against minors.
There were times, usually at the instigation of the preachers and in the wake of some civic misfortune or catastrophe, when the city would make an example out of someone to terrorize others into compliance. A notorious example from 1365 (about 17 years after the first appearance of the plague in the Black Death) is the execution of Giovanni di Giovanni, a 15 year old boy who was publicly mutilated and executed for sodomy.  
Under Savonarola's rule, punishments became much harsher for sodomy:  a 500 Florin fine  (remember a Florin is a gold coin, a lot of money) and exclusion from all public office, and sometimes a public flogging with 25 strokes of the lash, for a first offence; second offense was public humiliation and branding or exile; third offense was death by fire.  Prosecutions and punishments became much more frequent.  Savonarola set up parallel enforcement agencies to get around the reluctance of the official criminal courts to prosecute and punish to the fullest extent.

Savonarola was little different from the earlier preachers except in his ability to exploit a particular set of political and religious circumstances. The overthrow of the Medici left Florentine politics very unsettled and faction-ridden. There was growing class conflict between the extravagant ruling oligarchy of the city, and an increasingly resentful artisan and shop-keeper class. There were economic hardships. There was growing resistance to church corruption. Above all, there was a pervading millenialist dread as the year 1500 approached. After the 1494 revolution, Savonarola ruled Florence from his cell in San Marco. Like the Medici he so detested, he ruled from behind the scenes, never assuming any official position in the government. Also like the Medici, he brilliantly exploited public opinion (especially Florentine patriotism and popular resentment against the established oligarchy) to get his way. He was a famously effective and popular orator. Michelangelo said in his old age that he could still hear the Frate's voice ringing in his ear, from sermons he heard as a boy. The crowds listening were spellbound with many erupting into shouts and tears of repentance. Those same crowds were so large that Savonarola frequently preached in the cathedral. There was no other church or piazza in Florence big enough to accommodate the multitudes.
Savonarola frequently scolded the city authorities for their reluctance to prosecute vice, especially sodomy. Anticipating many a later modern political and religious leader, Savonarola formed his own vigilante force answerable only to him to enforce, violently if necessary, the new harsh laws against vice. They were usually teenaged boys between 12 and 18 who cut their hair short, wore sober clothing, and staged spectacular religious processions. They also flogged prostitutes and trashed taverns, beating up their owners and patrons. What the Frate could not accomplish through persuasive oratory, he accomplished through intimidation.
Savonarola wanted to turn Florence, a city made great through industry and commerce, into a holy city, the Jerusalem of Europe. He wanted Florence to be the center of a religious awakening throughout Europe.

While it was teenaged boys who gave Savonarola his muscle, it would be teenaged boys who would bring him down. The victims of the anti-sodomy campaigns were overwhelmingly young men and boys. The beginning of the end came in late 1497 when these same juveniles disrupted Savonarola's sermon and began rioting in the cathedral. The rioting spilled out into the streets, and the Frate's forces could not control it. Resistance to his rule became open and defiant. In 1498, an angry mob besieged San Marco, and finally broke in and seized Savonarola and 2 of his closest disciples. Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola. He was severely tortured and then publicly hanged and burned in the Piazza Signoria for heresy and sedition. According to one diarist, a young man heckled the dying Savonarola as he hung on the gallows, then grabbed a torch from the executioner and lit the fire shouting, "He who wanted to burn me is now himself put to the flames!"

Savonarola's execution in 1498 by an anonymous artist. This picture is misleading showing a sparsely populated piazza with most people ignoring the execution. In fact, the piazza was packed with people watching the spectacle, some cheering, others weeping. The executioners burned brushwood with the pieces of the remains to make sure nothing remained that could be venerated by followers as relics. Savonarola's ashes were thrown into the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio.

After his death, it was frequently remarked that governing a monastery is one thing and governing a city is quite another. It was the experience of Savonarola that caused the Chancelor of the Florentine Republic, Niccolo Macchiavelli, to call for a seperation between religion and politics; the first to do so. Savonarola was a divisive figure at a time when the republic faced mortal peril from the Pope and from exiled Medici conspiring with foreign princes; a time when the city needed to be united. Macchiavelli, that dark pragamatist and Florentine patriot, concluded that the interference of the unworldly into the very worldly business of politics could only lead to disaster.
In our age where religious doctrine now plays the role that political ideology did in the 20th century, Savonarola is a very familiar type.   He was the charismatic religious leader, ruthless ideologue, and cunning politician all in one.  He exploited popular resentments against corrupt rulers.  He told his followers that they were really saints of God no matter what their enemies said about them.  He told his followers that God would avenge the wrongs they suffered.  He created solidarity by a sense of constant threat.  He controlled the official government apparatus from outside through intimidation.  He maintained his own private force. He urged people to spy and report on each other.  He maintained a clear distinction between who was Holy and who was not, and kept it thoroughly policed.  He presented a glorious post-Apocalyptic vision of a clean and orderly world in contrast to the confusion and squalor of the present.  He persuaded people to give up their own dreams to pursue his. 

Renaissance Florence Made Me Gay

Italy is not, and never was, a puritanical country. And those who've tried to make it such (see Savonarola) all came to bad ends. While contemplating the role of luminosity in the works of Masaccio and Fra Angelico, and Donatello's amazing capacity for transforming ideas into gripping drama, I was struck by how much sex there is all over the walls and monuments of Florence, even in the churches. And a lot of it is male same sexuality, most of it very passionate. Below is but a tiny sample. None of these works were for private enjoyment. They were all public.







This is probably a portrait of some young Florentine nobleman posing as St. Sebastian, Role playing as a saint or a classical deity was usually an excuse to pose partially (or completely)  nude.

Hell scenes are perpetually popular for the same reasons horror movies will always be popular; that dark instinctual thrill of eros meeting thanatos. The torments in most Medieval and Renaissance hell scenes are sexual, but these in this picture are strikingly so. They are all male sexual torments too. Imagine this in your church. And where is this? In the dome over the high altar of Florence cathedral.  


In Renaissance Italy, visions of salvation are also frequently sexualized. Even Our Lord has a very sensual physicality in many paintings and sculptures.  This sensuality becomes an article of sacramental faith in later artists like Titian and Rubens.
While it has never produced anything like the temples of Khajuraho swarming with copulating multitudes, Christian imagery is hardly sexless.
It never fails to amaze me how much the imagery of Christianity is banalized and bowdlerized to accommodate conventional modern tastes.

Why is it that major formative centers of Western Civilization like Renaissance Florence or Classical Athens are so full of homoerotic imagery?

Makes ya think!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That Little Inauguration Thing I Missed Yesterday

I leave for a week, and y'all get a new President.

I got to watch a repeat of the ceremony on C-SPAN when I got back.  The heck with "America's Pastor," how about that slammin' great benediction from Joseph E. Lowery?
Dubya looked miserable through the whole thing, a huge rejection of his presidency and everything it stood for.
I was struck by the austerity of Obama's inauguration speech, a call to national renewal and common purpose, rather than a list of promises and lofty rhetoric.
I've never seen that kind of adulation before for an incoming President. In fact, I've not seen that kind of adulation since the Beatles last performed in Shea Stadium. A lot of the commentary is about heightened and impossible expectations, but I think that popularity could be a powerful tool for Obama to get his way with stubborn Republicans, and Democrats.

There were a lot of parties in Florence planned for that day by both Americans and Italians.  Gian Luigi, the aspiring Italian Episcopal seminarian that I met in Florence, spent an afternoon in the rectory trying to find +Gene Robinson's invocation at the Lincoln Memorial ceremony on international cable.  No success.

Could this be America's "Velvet Revolution," our "People Power" moment?   We shall have to see, and time will tell.

La Chiesa Americana; St. James Episcopal Church in Florence

I went to Florence at the invitation of the Reverend Barbara Crafton who is currently the interim rector at St. James Episcopal Church. The current church building and rectory were built in 1908 to serve a large community of wealthy expatriate Americans living in Florence (the congregation is much older and I'm told used to meet in a designated chapel in Sta. Maria del Carmine). There are still wealthy expatriate Americans in Florence, but none of them are Episcopalian. The community of English-as-first-language speakers in Florence is probably much larger now than when the church was built. I heard an estimate of 55,000 such living in a city of less than a million; a high percentage, so high that the current mayor of Florence speaks English and actively campaigns for the votes of English speakers.
When I first visited Florence in 1988, I was a regular at the church on Sundays (I lived in Florence for a month). The congregation then was small, and made up of only a handful of Americans, mostly students and professional people. The rest of the congregation was Africans, Koreans, and English unhappy with very high church and conservative St. Mark's Anglican Church (La Chiesa Inglese, "The English Church" as it's known to the locals). While the Italian residents were generally friendly to the church, none attended there. My memories of the place 20 years ago are all fond ones. I met a lot of very fine and wonderful people at the church then.
The church now has a much bigger congregation, and it's predominantly American. There is still an African and English contingent, though the Koreans have been replaced by other Christians from South Asia. There are now a lot of Italians who attend the church regularly, usually the spouses of Americans; so many now that the service has do be done at least partially in Italian. The Americans are still largely students and professional people, but also a lot of business people and academics. There are now enough regular worshippers for 2 Sunday services, and enough children for a Sunday school class.  Most of the pastoral services there primarily serve unemployed Italians, with Africans, Asians, and others employed by the city's very large hospitality industry.
There are now, I believe, 3 ordained Italian Episcopal priests in Italy, and I met an Italian eager to study for holy orders in the Episcopal Church. Apparently there is enough interest to begin talk of creating an Italian language Episcopal seminary, perhaps in Rome. Whatever is going on, it's enough to attract the attention of the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Schori, who will spend Easter at St. James with Barbara Crafton this year.
Barbara Crafton and Q (Dr. Richard Quaintance) are tremmendously popular in Florence with Americans and Italians alike. I suspect that a lot of the church's expanded membership is her work. She continues the tradition of friendly and cooperative relations between the Episcopal Church and local aid agencies, and the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese (she was an invited guest clergy person representing the Episcopal Church to the installation of the new Archbishop).   Though the local English church is very conservative anglo-catholic opposed to women clergy, Mother Crafton has keeps very friendly relations with their rector and the congregation. I went with her to a Vesper service there at the invitation of the English rector.  Miss Honeychurch and her chaperone (A Room With A View) would have felt quite at home there.

Barbara and Q were excellent hosts. My room in the rectory was a huge palace chamber. This New Yorker, used to cramped quarters, was very impressed. Unlike most hotels, the rectory had cat service. I got to know Ben and Santi made famous to many of you through Barbara Crafton's daily "e-mos" from The Geranium Farm. She now has thousands of readers in 36 countries.  I've known Barbara Crafton for a long time.  I was her regular assistant for Monday night Eucharists at St. John's in the Village for about 5 years.  She also has a substantial collection of my work.

I finally had Bisteca Fiorentina with Barbara and Q in a little restaurant near the church.  It was delicious, but so massive I could not finish it.  Mother Crafton took some home.  Both of us committed a bruta figura in the eyes of the Italians; not finishing the thing.  Florence is not a very friendly city for vegetarians.  I ate in another restaurant beneath a ceiling full of hanging prosciutti.

The current Pope is not very popular in Italy, so I'm told.  I'm not surprised.  The history of German-Italian relations over the last century has not been happy.  The Pope's recent decision to ignore Italian law within the confines of the Vatican is not popular with the locals.  I'm told that in Rome, he is known as La Tedescha, the "German Lady."

My Florentine Travels

Biglietti d'Ingresso (Admissions Tickets) from my trip. As you can see, I was busy.

I decided not to take a camera on this trip. I already have lots of pictures of these things by much better photographers than me.

How has Florence changed since I was there 20 years ago? It was cleaner and a lot less scaffolded since I was there in 1988. The Piazza Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio were completely scaffold-free this time. In 1988, the Loggia dei Lanzi with all it's sculptures was completely covered in scaffold. Half of the Palazzo Vecchio was in scaffold. The Piazza was dug up with an archaeological dig. There was none of that this time. I was able to ogle Cellini's sexy Perseus in the Loggia, and to stand on the very spot where Savonarola was turned into a chandelier (hanged and burned).
The weather was a little better than I expected, temperatures in the 40s and 50s with a few rainy days, but no rat-drowners. Mostly the rain would clear up by afternoon, and there was at least one sunny cloudless (and cold) day.
There were tourists and crowds, but nothing like the summer season. I found it a little unnerving to see the interior of the cathedral so empty of people. It was like Grand Central Station at rush hour when I was there in 1988.
The Duomo wasn't nearly as scaffold-clad as I expected. There was some on the southeast side, but that was all. In 1988, the interior of the dome was entirely covered in scaffold and netting as they were restoring the big Vasari fresco. This year, I had a completely unobstructed view of the dome's interior.
Yes, I climbed to the top of the dome. I wasn't quite as winded as I expected. What was harder this time was my acrophobia (fear of heights). There are 2 passages where visitors pass along a narrow cornice in the dome's interior that are about 200 feet above the floor. I was perfectly safe with a heavy stone balustrade and an additional 8 foot high pane of tempered glass between me and a fall; but, I was so panicked at one point that I almost turned back. Fortunately, there was a small group of people behind me pressing me forward. Once I got back into the space between the dome layers and I could no longer see down, I was fine. I went on up to the marble lantern and enjoyed the magnificent view of the city and surrounding countryside. The peaks of the Appenines were concealed in cloud. When the clouds lifted, I could see that the mountain tops were covered in snow.
My triumphant climb to the top of the dome for the second time was completely outclassed by Q (Dr. Richard Quaintance, Barbara Crafton's husband). He's 80 years old, and still quite healthy. He climbed to the top of the campanile (bell tower) the day before I arrived, and to the top of the dome 2 days later than I did. He's visited Florence many times, but had never climbed to the top of the cathedral dome before. He does not share my acrophobia, and enjoyed the close up look at Vasari's dome frescoes.
I saw a lot of art, visited a lot of big magnificent old churches (which were all very cold inside this time of year, colder than outside), spent a lot of time in museums. For some reason I can't explain, everything seemed bigger than I remember. Twenty years ago, the churches were all free of charge and I thought how the Florentines could make so much money if they charged admission to them. Well, they were way ahead of me. Now, all the major churches except the cathedral charge admission. We are definitely living in the age of terrorism. Most of the major museums had security checks complete with scanners and manned by Carabinieri. Michelangelo must be getting threats. Everyplace that had major works by Michelangelo, including the Medici chapels at San Lorenzo, had security check points. I had to empty my pockets and take off my belt to see Big Dave at the Academia. There are now security cameras in the Duomo, though very discretely placed. I suspect there may have been cameras in other venues.
Donatello's bronze David ("Little Dave" as Q calls him) went back on display after restoration just 2 weeks before I arrived.  They found extensive traces of gilding on it during restoration.  They made an exact size bronze replica, and gilded it in the places indicated by the restoration research.  If that's what Little Dave originally looked like, then it's downright shocking.  Not only was it disturbingly  homoerotic  (as it has always been and is still), but it was campy, like something Liberace would have put on his rococo piano.  A lot of Donatello's bronze work was gilded.
Speaking of camp, I loved Donatello's marble cantoria for the Duomo, now in the cathedral museum.  It's covered with reflective mosaic pieces that sparkle like glitter when you see it in the original.  Like the splendid della Robbia cantoria across from it, it was intended to express the musical joy in the 150th Pslam.
One of the pleasures of visiting Florence is the opportunity to see major works of art in their original context. That is beginning to change. The panels on Ghiberti's Doors of Paradise are now all replicas. Six of the ten original panels are now in the Museo del Opera del Duomo. The remaining 4 are in restoration and destined for the museum. Most of the other sculptures on the Baptistery are now replaced by replicas. I know that there are replicas on the Orsanmichele exterior. I don't know, but I suspect that all the statues on the exterior are now replicas. I have very mixed feelings about this. All of these artworks now must bear strains that their creators could never have anticipated. More people visit Florence every summer than the total number of visitors in the 18th and 19th centuries combined.  These are stresses far beyond the passage of time. In addition to pollution and the constant vibrations of traffic, the touch and breath of thousands upon thousands of visitors every year, there is the constant threat of terrorism. All of these monuments are sitting ducks for a lunatic with a bomb. I'm happy to see these things maintained and protected for future generations. However, the (perhaps necessary) removal of the originals from their intended settings can only be seen as a loss.
Botticelli's Venus seemed to my eye to have noticeably darkened over the last 20 years.  All of the Botticellis in the Uffizi were under deliberately dimmed light.  In 1988, they were under bright lights in a sunny room.  The gilding in the Venus is still there, rather more of it than I remember in her hair.  Still, seeing it darkened, and faded I'm afraid to say, was very disturbing.  Works of art are mortal like their makers.   But we hope that they would be at least a little less mortal than ourselves and outlast us.

My visit with the Craftons, and to St. James Episcopal Church (La Chiesa Americana) in Florence was wonderful and very interesting. More about that in a future post.

Oh, and there was that little inauguration thing. I was in a KLM jetliner high above the North Atlantic between Greenland and Labrador when Obama took the oath. I saw him walking with Michelle down Pennsylvania Avenue on CNN as I was waiting in the customs line at JFK. Thank God for C-Span! I was able to watch a reboadcast of the whole inauguration ceremony without the background chatter of news-models, talking heads, and gasbags. There was a lot of interest in the inauguration in Florence with parties planned for the ceremony by Americans and Italians there. More about that in another future post.

I'm Back

...and very tired and jetlagged.
I got to know the Amsterdam airport better than anyone should know it. I had an 8 hour layover there on the way to Florence; 8 hours of "_________on flight __________to ______________, you are delaying the flight. Please board immediately. We will offload your luggage." I heard that announcement more frequently than any other. The Dutch don't mess around.
Did I really save that much money by not flying direct to Pisa?
Other than that, the flights going and coming back were blessedly smooth and uneventful. I hate flying.

I had a great time in Florence, and I had a wonderful time with Barbara Crafton and Q. More about that later.
I need a cup of tea.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our Goddess

Since I will be traveling, I won't be posting for awhile. So, here's something that Michael sent me for you all to enjoy in my absence.

The Great Dome of Florence

The city of Florence came late to the business of building cathedrals. Neighboring cities like Siena, Pisa, and Lucca already had great cathedral churches by the time the Florentines decided to build themselves a new one in the 1290s. For most of its life before the 13th century, Florence was a small backwater on the Arno river barely worth mentioning next to a major port city and sea power like Pisa. At the beginning of the 13th century, it was a small town built on the remains of a Roman military settlement in the mosquito infested Arno river valley. By the end of the 13th century, Florence was one of the major cities of Europe, rivaling Paris and London in size and importance. What accounted for the city's sudden greatness? Business; Florence was history's first great boom town, built on industry and commerce, the textile industry and banking, instead of the usual trade and conquest. And with it came all the familiar stresses of sudden wealth and expansion, including one of history's first major labor uprisings, the Ciompi rebellion. The workers in the city's booming and vital textile industry rose up and briefly seized power in the city in the late 13th century.

Florence Baptistery.

For almost 3 centuries, Florence's revered 11th century Baptistery served as the city's cathedral church. A lot of local lore surrounds the church. Tradition says that Charlemagne built the church on his return from his coronation in Rome (not true, Charlemagne was dead 2 centuries before this was built). Another tradition says that the Baptistery stands on the site of a temple to Mars built by Julius Caesar (there may be some truth to this; recent excavations in the floor revealed what may be the remains of a Roman temple). A number of local saints are associated with the building.  St. Zenobius worked miracles here, and local martyr St. Reparata was buried near here.

Dome of the Florence Baptistery.

Inside the Baptistery is a great octagonal dome with a major masterwork of Italo-Byzantine art, the dome mosaic of the Last Judgment, with scenes from Genesis, the story of Joseph, and the life of John the Baptist, the city's patron saint. Italy was under Byzantine rule only briefly, but the Byzantine style, the Maniera Greca, in art remained dominant in Italy for centuries.

By the end of the 13th century, the Baptistery became too small to serve as the cathedral of a major city. The city decided to build a new one just east of the Baptistery where the church of Santa Reparata stood. That church was torn down and a large tract of land was cleared to the east to make room for a huge new cathedral.

The Florentines decided to make a big cathedral, the biggest in Europe. What is more, they wanted the dominant feature of the new cathedral to be something very distinct, announcing the Roman origins of their city. Instead of a great tower or spire, the Florentines decided to top their cathedral with a dome, the largest dome built since the completion of the Pantheon in Rome, and preferrably bigger.

The proposed Cathedral of Florence, detail from the 14th century fresco "The Church Militant and Triumphant" by Andrea di Firenze.

Construction proceeded very quickly and successfully on the cathedral. Its size began to stir feelings of envy and rivalry among some of the older surrounding cities. Siena decided to more than double the size of its cathedral transforming the present cathedral into transepts for a huge new church.

Interior of the nave of Florence Cathedral.

The sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio was probably responsible for the design of the nave of the new cathedral with its long ribbed vaults, the longest in Europe. The painter Giotto designed the new campanile or bell tower.
The catastrophe of the Black Death did nothing to stop or even slow down the construction of the cathedral. Florence lost half its population in the summer of 1348, and yet the pace of construction only accelerated. The plan was altered to make the proposed dome even bigger. Florence survived and recovered from the Black Death. Siena did not. Work stopped on its cathedral expansion, and the unfinished remains of the nave of the proposed cathedral stand next to the present Cathedral of Siena.
Work continued on the cathedral even through 2 potentially lethal wars with the Duke of Milan. During the second, the Duke laid siege to the city and all seemed lost. Then plague broke out in the Milanese encampment killing off much of the Milanese army and the Duke himself. The Florentines considered this a sign from God that He favored their city and its stubborn opposition to efforts to unify Italy under a single ruler. By the beginning of the 15th century, there was a kind of Florentine patriotism and ideology. Florence saw itself as a divinely favored champion of republican liberty against the monarchs of Europe; David standing against Goliath.

Apse and dome of the Cathedral of Florence from the nave.

Toward the end of the 14th century, construction on the cathedral stopped. It stopped not because of any catastrophe, or any shortage of money or will, but because no one knew how to build the dome. No one could figure out a safe and economically viable way to build the dome. And so for decades, the great yawning space over the high altar remained open to the wind and rain until someone could figure out how to build it.

Centering used to build the arch of a stone bridge in the 19th century.

Since Roman times, centering -- a wooden framework -- was used to build arches, vaults, and domes. The Romans invented structural concrete, which could be poured into molds and dry hard and strong, to span vast interior spaces with vaults. Concrete was very strong and relatively lightweight. Builders forgot the process for making concrete in the Dark Ages. It would not be reinvented until the 16th century for the construction of St. Peter's in Rome. The dome of the Cathedral of Florence would be built of much heavier brick and stone. Adding to the difficulty, the proposed dome vault was not spherical, but octagonal like the dome of the Baptistery. To build the dome using conventional centering would require the deforestation of central Italy. In addition, there were no trees in Italy, or in much of the rest of Europe, tall enough to reach up to the 200 foot height where the dome would begin, or to reach across its vast span.

Filippo Brunelleschi

In about 1410, the Opera del Duomo (the Works of the Cathedral) held a competition to see who could come up with a viable plan for finishing the dome of the cathedral. Among the entrants was a very unlikely candidate, a middle-aged, short, balding, bad tempered, man with a very weak resume. Filippo Brunelleschi was a silver-smith, sculptor, clock-maker, and surveyor with expertise in mathematics and optics. He had no building experience. He was humiliated 10 years earlier in the competition to see who would make bronze doors for the Baptistery. He barely lost out to Lorenzo Ghiberti. After losing the competition, he left Florence for self-imposed exile in Rome vowing never to return.
And now this difficult tempermental man was back with his proposal to finish the dome. He said that he could build the dome with a minimal amount of scaffolding and without the use of traditional centering. The Opera was very impressed with his plans and models, with the whole proposal. It was daring, but much more credible than any of the other proposals they had. They gave Brunelleschi the job, but because of his weak curriculum vitae, they made his old arch-enemy Lorenzo Ghiberti (now the most successful sculptor in Italy) a partner in the whole enterprise.

Section plan of the Cathedral of Florence, 17th century engraving.

Brunelleschi proposed that the dome be self-supporting as it rose on its 14th century base. Scaffolding would rise as the dome rose. To move large amounts of stone and brick up to the 200 foot height to build the dome, Brunelleschi built an enormous wooden construction boom -- the first of its kind and the direct ancestor of the modern construction boom -- in the center of the cathedral's dome space.
In terms of both engineering and design, the dome Brunelleschi built is a hybrid. It is a classical Roman form built with medieval methods and modified by medieval design and usage. He designed a double-shell dome of brick with a large space between the two shells. This lightened the load on the rest of the cathedral, and made the structure flexible as the building settled. Between those shells is a system of brick ribs and struts that carry most of the building's structural stresses, very much like the ribs and buttresses of a Gothic cathedral, or even like the struts and ribs in the wing of an old biplane.

Passage between the 2 shells of the dome of the Florence Cathedral.

Part of the complex brick pattern designed by Brunelleschi. The bricks are laid in a complex spiraling herring bone pattern so that they support each other by their own weight.

Florence Cathedral dome from the east.

The design as well as the structure of the dome is a hybrid of Gothic on a Roman building form. Instead of the Roman hemispherical shell, the dome of the cathedral is a pointed ribbed octagon. Its steep profile against the sky inspired many centuries' worth of imitations and adaptations, most famously Michelangelo's design for the dome of St. Peter's in Rome.
The tiny structure at the top is called a lantern. So far as I know, this is the first one on any dome.

Interior of the dome with paintings added over a century after completion.

Oculus of the dome. Brunelleschi spent his ten years in exile studying Roman construction techniques and Roman monuments, especially the Pantheon. Like that building, Brunelleschi's dome culminates in an opening to the sky. Unlike its Roman prototype, Brunelleschi built a structure above the oculus to let in the sunlight and keep out the rain and pigeons, the lantern.

This is a structure that magnificently and concisely summarizes the whole history of the city of Florence: its Roman foundations, its religious heritage embodied in the revered Baptistery, and its late medieval greatness. It proclaims the religious and political ideology of the Florentine Republic to the world and to history.

The dome was completed in 1436. All the great and mighty of Italy, including Pope Eugene IV, arrived for a magnificent consecration ceremony. In the midst of that gathering of the powerful, Brunellechi met and made close friendship with one minor secretary in the large retinue of an attending cardinal, a low level clerk named Leon Battista Alberti.
Alberti dedicated his book On Painting to Brunelleschi and included this tribute in the introduction:
Who is so stubborn or so envious that he would not praise Pippo [Filippo] the architect, when he sees such a big building here, set aloft above the heavens, ample to cover all the peoples of Tuscany with its shade, made without any aid from scaffolding or quantity of timber? -- a skillful construction which, if my opinion is right, as in our times it was unbelievable that it could be done, so among the ancients it was perhaps not known or known about.

The Bells of Florence Cathedral.

Twenty years ago, I left a rose at Brunelleschi's tomb in the Cathedral of Florence. I plan to leave another one with him next week when I visit Barbara Crafton in Florence and see the old town for the first time in 20 years.
When I return, I will begin a semester as a new full time art and art history teacher at Bronx Community College.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Monster Dome

Hitler hated Berlin. He hated its cosmopolitanism, its freewheeling bohemianism, its messy vitality, its insolence. It was the only major city that the Nazis failed to win in the 1932 elections. It was long a center of left-wing support. That's why all the big party rallies were in Nuremberg, and not in Berlin.
Hitler planned his revenge on Berlin as obsessively as he plotted his revenge on everything else in his long list of hatreds.

Hitler wanted to effectively destroy Berlin, or at least a very large part of it, and rebuild it as "Germania," the capital of his global empire after his war of conquest was complete.

Albert Speer's model for the rebuilding of Berlin as "Germania."

Hitler wanted to change the historic east-west axis of Berlin into a north-south axis of broad avenues, massive public buildings, huge triumphal arches, and public housing. His rebuilding would have destroyed half the historic city center and displaced over a quarter million people.

Albert Speer's model of the Volkshalle, photographed about 1936

The Volkshalle was to be the centerpiece of the new global capital. Volkshalle translates very badly into English as "People's Hall." However, the word volk in German carries associations of race and tribe that are untranslatable into English. This was to be a lasting monument to the Herrenvolk, the "lordly people," the master race.

The Volkshalle model showing the old Reichstag to the right front of the dome, and the Brandenburg Gate near the bottom.

The dimensions of this monument would have been huge. It would have been one of the largest buildings ever built, towering over the city and the surrounding countryside. It's dimensions would have made the grandest monuments of ancient Rome look insignificant. Kaiser Wilhem II's most grandiose monuments in his project to rebuild Berlin as the capital of a new German Empire look modest in comparison to this.

Section plan of the Volkshalle.

Photomontage from about 1936 showing the interior of Speer's Volkshalle model.

Albert Speer wrote about this monument that it would have been so huge that human breath would have condensed into clouds and rain around the top of the dome. He also wrote that the sheer scale of the place would have been self-defeating. Hitler, the very man for whom this was to be built, would have been lost in all the grandeur. Speer made a more revealing comment writing about the experience of the spectator in another proposed monument:
It was not my aim that [the spectator] should feel anything. I only wanted to impose the grandeur of the building on the people in it. I read in Goethe's Travels in Italy that, when he saw the Roman amphitheater in Verona, he said to himself,: if people with different minds were all pressed together in such a place, they will be unified in one mind. That was the aim of the Stadium; it has nothing to do with what the small man might think.

In other words, coercion through architecture. Indeed, the Romans thought of architecture as an instrument of state policy directing vast masses of people. But, the Romans left their subjects to their own private thoughts and feelings. For Hitler, that was not enough. He was out to conquer souls as well as bodies.

Lantern on top of Speer's Volkshalle model.

Detail of Speer's model showing Arno Brecker's proposed sculptures, including one of 2 colossi of Atlas holding up the Cosmos and Tellus holding up the Earth.

As far as I'm concerned, this building says a lot about Hitler's intentions. As I understand, there is an unresolved argument among historians over Hitler's ultimate ambitions, whether or not he really intended global conquest. The cosmocratic symbolism in this building, personally selected by Hitler, makes it clear, at least to me, that he did indeed have global conquest in mind. The dome was to be topped, not by the swastika, but by the globe of the world held firmly in the talons of a Roman eagle. Arno Brecker worked on models for sculptural colossi of Atlas and Tellus with sculptural groups of the chariots of the sun and moon ordered by Hitler. It is no accident that this building calls to mind temple architecture. Hitler had every intention of this dome serving as an enduring shrine to his cult.

Albert Speer and Hitler with the model for the German pavilion for the World's Fair in Paris in 1936.

Speer is often credited, or blamed, for the Volkshalle, but the design is really Hitler's. Speer was more an expert consultant. This was a project near and dear to Hitler's heart. He began making sketches for the project as early as 1922. He made a private visit to the Roman Pantheon for inspiration while on a state visit to Italy. He visited the Dome des Invalides and the Pantheon in newly conquered Paris in 1940 certainly with the Volkshalle in mind.

Mercifully, this dome was never built. The word that best describes its design is "monstrous" in the fullest sense. It is a grotesque parody of classical architecture. All of those fundamental principles of classical design from symmetria (number and proportion that satisfies us) to decorum (appropriateness, rightness) are ruthlessly discarded in the interest of an overwhelming effect intended to press us into a unanimity of thought. The massive pillars on the portico of the Volkshalle look like match-sticks in the midst of the inflated bulk of the building. Brecker's colossi are themselves dwarfed into insignificance. Overwhelming size and bulk, together with infinite repetition coerce us into accepting as inevitable this end of history.

Hitler and Stalin together killed off classical art. They did so by making it an accomplice to crime on a metaphysical scale. They used art and design as major parts of their efforts to criminalize entire nations. But for them, city halls and courthouses would still be using columns while modern form would remain confined to commercial and domestic architecture where it began. Both tyrants effectively poisoned the classical well, making it unavailable to us, at least in anything beyond the private uses of individual artists.

The recently completed Holocaust Memorial in the center of Berlin viewed from the air.

Another view of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Of course, Hitler murdered whole populations as well as classical architecture. The new memorial to all those murdered people in the center of Berlin -- right next to the site of Hitler's Reichs Chancellery and within sight of the proposed location of the Volkshalle -- is a major example of the success of Minimalism in public monuments. I've discussed this before in another post on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. The ability to transform abstract ideas into narratives and dramas was once a major strength of classical form. In this age of no consensus on anything, that former strength is now a great liability, imposing narratives and meanings where there is no longer any agreement. The surprising strength of Minimalism for public monuments is that it provides for catharsis without imposing any kind of interpretation on events remembered. This memorial is a perfect example; a centerless, and seemingly endless, field of stone blocks whose rectangular shapes can suggest anything from sarcophagi to rows of anonymous corpses. As the size of the Volkshalle was intended to impress upon us the inevitability of the end of history as Hitler saw it, so the vast size of this monument suggests the magnitude of Nazi crime.