This is the second of four posts. You can find the first post here
Apollo as Christ
Apollo is not a Christian. He presides over success in this world. He is not interested in any reward in the hereafter. His worshipers were interested in glory and distinction now in this life, among fellow men (and it was definitely men in ancient Greece).
Apollo at best was a very awkward fit into the otherworldly spiritual culture created around the Christian religion after the end of ancient Classical culture. He earned his keep as an actor, lending his youthful good looks to portray Christ, a figure he found to be very alien. The early Church clothed Apollo's nudity in imperial purple and called him Christos Pantocrator, Christ Ruler of the Universe. Apollo was never interested in ruling the Universe, only those aspects of it for which he was responsible, and only over the people who created him and prayed to him. Only Christ loves all of humankind. Apollo loved his fellow Greeks, and later his Roman worshipers.
After a thousand years, Apollo became himself again, a god of light and inspiration, he even shed his clothes again; but, as a baptized Christian in the service of the Christian faith and Christian institutions.
Apollo/ Helios revolutionized religious imagery at the beginning of the Current Era in ways that he never intended.
Apollo survived the demise of Classical culture in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and so did the Roman Empire (for awhile anyway in the West). A religious culture that Apollo and his devotees would have found very alien recruited him to play the unlikely role of a transcendent universal saving God.
At about the same time that Apollo found himself recruited for the role of Christ in art, he may have been moonlighting as Buddha.
Standing Buddha from Gandhara, 2nd to 3rd centuries CE in the British Museum
There is a very intriguing and controversial hypothesis that Apollo/Helios may be the common ancestor of the traditional images of both Christ and the Buddha. That notion is based on statues like the one above of Buddha from the 2nd to 3rd centuries CE from the Takht-i-Bahi monastery in the Kingdom of Gandhara in what is now Pakistan.
Buddhism has been around since the 5th century BCE, but the image of Buddha familiar to us does not appear until the 1st century CE. The first recognizable images of the Buddha come from two separate places in the Kushan Empire about the same time; Gandhara in the west and Mathura to the east in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh in India.
Beginning in the 19th century, archaeologists excavating the ruins of Buddhist monasteries such as Takht-i-Bahi
in what is now Pakistan began finding statues of the Buddha such as the magnificent example above in the British Museum. Buddha appears as a very young and beautiful man wearing a robe that looks a lot like the draperies of Classical Greece and Rome. In this example, the body underneath the draperies looks very Western with hints of pectoral muscles and the legs arranged in something like a contrapposto pose. The kingdom of Gandhara descended directly from the Greek kingdoms established by Alexander the Great's Indian conquests. Large populations of Greeks settled here and became Indian subjects after conquest by Chandragupta of the Mauryan Empire. These Greek inhabitants enthusiastically embraced Buddhism propagated by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Based on this history and discoveries such as Takht-i-Bahi, Western scholars (especially Alfred Foucher) concluded that the Greek descended inhabitants of Gandhara invented the image of Buddha by modifying the image of Apollo. Like the image of Christ derived from Apollo, so Buddha derived from Apollo in Gandhara was supposed to be the common ancestor of all later Buddha images.
Standing Buddha from Mathura from the 5th century in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Indian scholars such as Ananda Coomaraswamy sharply dissented from this Western origin story. They argued for the primacy and superiority of the Buddha images created at the same time in the city of Mathura. These Buddhas are much more firmly rooted in native Indian figurative traditions that go back to the early Yakshas
of the Mauryan Empire. Revealing drapery clings to the figures of Mathuran Buddha images, their folds rendered as beautifully rhythmic lines moving across well proportioned and very non-Western bodies. Coomaraswamy argued that the Classicizing Gandharan Buddhas were but hybrid Hellenized variations on the Mathuran Buddha image.
The Indian art historian Vidya Dehejia points out that both the Western origin story and the Mathuran origin story are very unfair to the artists who produced the images in both areas, and to the worshipers who demanded them, reducing these sculptures to nothing more than contested evidence in nationalist versus imperialist struggles. Both types appeared at about the same time. There was extensive travel and trade between both of these places. Both were under the rule of the Kushan emperors in the 1st century. It is likely that both schools of sculpture influenced each other, but it is impossible to say which came up with the image first. The image of Buddha like the image of Christ came out of the needs of worshipers of the day for an object to direct their prayers, a physical manifestation of their beliefs.
Japanese Raigo painting from the 14th century in the Metropolitan Museum, New York
Still, the idea that the traditional images of Buddha and Christ might have a common ancestor in Apollo is very intriguing, and made even more so by so many similarities between Buddhist and Christian religious imagery, It is even more remarkable still that Apollo, a divine paragon of the Classical ideal of worldly success, could play the role of both a personification of transcendent liberation and the image of a self-sacrificial deity.
Apollo as the ancestor of the traditional image of Buddha remains an intriguing conjecture. What is not conjectural is Apollo drafted into the service of the Christian religion to be an actor who plays the role of Christ.
The first recognizable Christian art does not appear until the 3rd century CE when large numbers of prosperous and educated Romans begin converting to the new and illegal religion in the midst of the turmoil of the Third Century Crisis
. Before that time, Christianity was a small beleaguered spiritual movement scapegoated by the Emperor Nero for the great fire that destroyed much of the city of Rome in 64 CE. It was seen by the Romans as a seditious and sacrilegious Jewish heresy appealing primarily to people on the bottom or on the edges of Roman society; slaves, freedmen, the poor, and women. The first generations of Christians had little interest in or resources for art. The old Jewish prohibition on imagery was still potent. An apocalyptic religion that proclaimed the imminent end of the world has little place for anything durable such as art.
Christian art began to appear when educated Romans converted to the faith in large numbers bringing with them a Classical culture accustomed to thinking in images and personifications. They also brought with them Roman burial customs including the family tomb. It is in just such family tombs that Apollo makes his debut playing the role of Christ in the earliest Christian art.
Beneath the floor of Saint Peter's in the Vatican are the remains of a 2nd century cemetery for the prosperous if not quite the great, a cemetery of family tombs that was originally above ground. Some of those tombs were for Christian families, and among them was the tomb of the Julii family. Inside their tomb is a ceiling mosaic that is the earliest surviving Christian mosaic. In the center of that ceiling is a curious muddle of imagery. Apollo/Helios rides his four horse chariot across the sky in a tomb. Neither Apollo or Helios were associated with death and funerals. That was usually for Bacchus who was a god who was killed and brought back to life. Grape vine associated with Bacchus fills the ceiling, but does not belong with Apollo. His totem is the laurel. Apollo/Helios here has all the attributes; the chariot, the globe of the world in the left hand, and the radiant solar nimbus. But his presence in a tomb and with grape vine suggests to many scholars that this is not Apollo, but Christ. The association with a tomb and a grapevine would make no sense if this was Apollo, but it would make a lot of sense if this was Christ; a god who died and rose again, and who used the grapevine as a metaphor in his preaching for the community of the Church and for his own sacrificial blood.
This may be the earliest surviving image of Christ in art, but he's hardly the figure we would recognize. Modern Christian imagery tries to reconstruct the historical Jesus of Nazareth and his world, despite the fact that none of the earliest texts describe his appearance. What mattered to the earliest generations of Christians was not the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but the Christ of the Second Coming out of the sky in glory at the end of the world. The closest such image available of 'out of the sky in glory' was Apollo/Helios. I think it is likely that the artist who made this was not a Christian himself, and adapted a familiar image to a new religious use and a new context.
Christ/Apollo appears unambiguously front and center in the very expensive marble sarcophagus made for a high Roman official named Junius Bassus long after the Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion and gave it state sponsorship. By this time, Christianity's days as an underground spiritual movement were over, and it was now reshaped into a state religion to meet the needs of the Roman Empire.
We are certainly not looking at any carpenter's son here. A very young Apollo puts on a robe and sits enthroned like an Emperor flanked by Saints Peter and Paul like attending imperial ministers. Roman converts to Christianity brought very Classical habits of mind to the religion; among them, thinking in terms of imagery as well as text. The very syncretic nature of Constantinian art still disturbs doctrinal purists. Here Apollonian Christ rest his feet upon a Roman sky god as small Cupids cavort among Bacchic grape vines on the flanking columns. The forms of the figures on this sarcophagus have the dwarfish doughy quality of late Roman art after the conclusion of the Third Century Crisis. The conviction necessary to sustain Classical form was gone, gradually replaced by more abstract and spiritualized form long before the Roman Empire was Christianized.
The Good Shepherd appears most frequently in Early Christian art both before and after Constantine as a kind of symbolic stand-in for Christ. The image comes from Christian sources; Christ declared himself to be The Good Shepherd of the Sheep in the Gospel of John. However, this figure is once again an adaptation of Apollo in his role as protector of flocks.
This sculpted Good Shepherd in the Vatican Museums may be based no only on Apollo, but statues of the Emperor Hadrian's deified boyfriend Antinous.
Probably the most splendid of all the images of Christ/Apollo the Good Shepherd is this mosaic from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna. A young beardless Christ sits regally among the sheep in a landscape setting. Late Roman post-Classical form emerges beautifully as nascent Byzantine liturgical form.
Here is an Arian/Christian version of Christ Apollo from Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. Christ enthroned in imperial purple flanked by two angels separates the sheep from the goats.
The last and greatest of all the Christ/Apollo figures comes from the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, from the apse mosaic made during the reign of the Emperor Justinian for his church built to commemorate the return of Roman rule and Orthodox Christianity to Italy. Christ as a beardless youth wears the imperial purple and sits enthroned upon the globe of the cosmos as Christ Pantocrator, the ruler of the universe. Byzantine liturgical form appears fully formed in one of its most magnificent surviving manifestations from before the Iconoclastic Controversy.
Apollo the youthful athlete appears now completely subsumed into a new role acting the part of a self-sacrificial transcendent Pantocrator, a role alien to the original god of Delphi.
Apollo proved to be too young and callow a figure to play Christ for most people. By the 6th century when this magnificent icon from Sinai was painted, Apollo began borrowing Zeus' beard. The figure we would recognize as the traditional image of Christ now appears fully formed.
Apollo Lost and Found
From the Echternach Gospels, the opening page of the Gospel of Matthew
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the waves of invasions and migrations that followed, Apollo almost disappeared along with the rest of Classical culture. Between the religious culture of triumphant Christianity and the nomadic warrior cultures of Atlantic Europe, there was no place for the god of light and civilized life. The Classical ideal of the sound mind in a sound body expressed in the nude figure vanished entirely. Now, at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in the Echternach Gospels, "Imago Hominis" must be written to remind us that the collection of patterns and interlaces before us is indeed a man. In 8th century Europe there was every reason to believe that the Classical culture of the image would be replaced by a culture of pattern and calligraphy not unlike Islam.
As the traditional image of Christ appeared fully formed at the beginning of the Middle Ages, so Apollo lost his form. If he survived at all in the Middle Ages, it was as a name in copies of Classical texts, and as an astrological symbol.
This drawing from the pattern book of Villard d'Honnecourt shows that the High Middle Ages of the Gothic cathedrals had no idea what to make of those old broken statues of naked men. The problem was not that they were "pagan." The leaf-man on the right is every bit as "pagan" as a Classical nude. But the leaf man made it into Gothic church art and the Classical nude did not. We can see Villard trying to make sense not only out of Classical figurative form, but the whole point of the enterprise. To the Middle Ages, nude meant naked and naked meant vulnerable and shameful. Nude athletic Apollo had disappeared from Western art for about a thousand years.
Apollo returns to art at the beginning of the 15th century in a form we would barely recognize. Apollo/Helios driving the four horse chariot of the sun across the sky becomes an older man riding a wagon in calendar and astrological illustrations above and below from the famous Tres Riches Heures painted by the Limbourg brothers for the Duke of Berry.
The Italian Renaissance revived and restored the literature of the ancient Classical past including the tales of Apollo. While the literature was restored, the images based on that literature remain rooted in late medieval romance. This painting by Antonio del Pollaiuolo of the story of Apollo and Daphne looks like it comes out of the tales of Boccaccio instead of the poetry of Ovid. Apollo and Daphne look like a pair of kids from the Florentine banking and business gentry, whose fashions in turn aped the nobility of northern Europe.
While the literature of Apollo returned stripped of all the medieval typos and moralizing glosses, his image remained to be recovered.
Apollo's image began to return starting with a mysterious and scandalous statue by Donatello. This is not Apollo, but David. This statue is the first unsupported bronze statue, and the first free-standing nude since ancient times. Donatello was the first artist in over a thousand years to fully understand and use contrapposto, that bending of the knee and shifting of the weight pioneered by the early 5th century BCE Greek sculptors to suggest motion and vitality.
Donatello shows David fully nude except for a hat and a pair of boots. He stands triumphantly over the head of Goliath holding the giant's sword in his right hand and the stone that killed him in his left. David stands on a wreath of laurel (an Apollonian attribute), and wears another laurel wreath of victory on his head.
Donatello based this statue on ancient sculptures of warrior athletes. But this David is certainly no athlete. I don't believe for a moment that this David could possibly pick up that sword, let alone behead Goliath with it.
I think Donatello is deliberately spoofing the ancient Classical prototype of the warrior athlete. He does so for pious reasons. David wins his unlikely victory not because of any superior strength or cunning, but because of God's favor. So, Donatello shows the Biblical hero as an effeminate unathletic boy.
But why nude? There is a passage in the story where David refuses armor offered him by the Israelite army which some scholars say Donatello used as a pretext for the nudity. But that doesn't quite explain what we are looking at. There is a very unsettling and seemingly inappropriate sensuality in this statue. I've seen it in the original twice, in the Bargello Museum that has housed the statue since the mid-19th century. There is usually a guard posted nearby to keep people from touching the statue. Donatello gave it a beautiful velvety black patina that makes some people want to touch it.
That hat and the boots only emphasize the nudity instead of mitigating it. The contrapposto pose is hardly that of a victorious warrior-athlete. It's more like David is on conspicuous display.
The statue unsettles us even more when we see its back. From the reverse we see David standing on his right leg on a wing of Goliath's helmet. Another longer wing on that helmet strokes the inside of his right thigh with the feathers reaching almost to his genitals. His pose from the back makes his posterior even more conspicuous, and we presume more available.
Here is the head of Goliath at David's feet.
David smiles with a strange self-absorbed expression that doesn't exactly look victorious. Some scholars argue that Donatello derived David's head from ancient sculptures of Emperor Hadrian's boyfriend Antinous. Maybe, but this head is much younger and even more androgynous than any sculpture of Antinous that I can think of.
What on earth is going on here?
Some scholars since 1939 suggest that this is not David at all, but a sculpture of Mercury triumphant over the slain Argus. That would be plausible except for the stone in the left hand, and the fact that all the surviving records going back to the 15th century identify this statue as David.
In fact, there aren't many surviving contemporary records about this statue at all. There are no documents about its commission and execution. Scholars place the date of its creation anywhere from the 1420s to the 1460s (Donatello died in 1466). The current consensus is a date somewhere in the 1440s. David first appears in the records and accounts of the Medici family. The statue stood on a short column designed by Desiderio da Settignano in the courtyard of the then new (and still unfinished) Medici Palazzo designed by Michelozzo still standing in Florence today. It is not known if the Medici were the original patrons of the sculpture. The City of Florence took possession of the statue during the Revolution of 1494 that drove out the Medici. The new republican government installed it in an inner courtyard of the Palazzo Publico, and not along the facade or in the Loggia di Lanzi facing the Piazza. There were complaints about the statue at the time, including one that singles out that unsettling right leg.
The subject of same-sexuality inevitably comes up around this statue. Does this reflect the patron's tendencies or Donatello's? The answer is probably both. Wikipedia and the textbooks point out that homosexual activity was illegal in Florence at the time, as it was all over Europe. But, Florence was famously tolerant of such activity, and a lot of the Medici men indulged in it (including Lorenzo Il Magnifico who wrote homoerotic love sonnets and satires). In true Mediterranean fashion, the most common (but not the only) homosexual activity was pederasty. Male prostitution, especially among working class boys, thrived in Renaissance Florence. I think it's likely that Donatello shared those passions. I think those passions certainly shaped this statue. The notoriously temperamental Donatello quarreled and fought with his apprentices frequently, and tried to kill one of them. I think a lot of these incidents were the result of what we would now consider sexual harassment. Others read like lovers' quarrels. Taking sexual advantage of apprentices was commonplace at that time, but Donatello seems to have been particularly notorious.
Restorers a dozen years ago discovered that Donatello's David was gilded much more extensively than anyone thought. They made a replica of the statue, together with a reconstruction of Desiderio da Settignano's original column base that stands next to the original in the Bargello museum.
If this full size replica with the reconstructed gilding does indeed depict the statue in something like its original state, then it looks even more scandalous, and by our tastes these days, a little vulgar (though Donatello used partial or total gilding in a lot of his work).
The nudity and homoeroticism associated with Apollo's manifestations came back long before they were returned to Apollo's likeness.
Among the earliest versions of a nude Apollo in Italian Renaissance art is this painting made by Perugino in 1483 for Lorenzo de Medici (The Magnificent). Scholars argue over what exactly is portrayed here. Most agree that the figure on the right is Apollo with his lyre behind him and his bow. The figure on the left is identified by some as Marsyas, though this figure does not appear to be a satyr. Others identify him as Daphnis the shepherd born under a laurel tree, and supposedly died of love for Apollo according to one source. All the stories of Daphnis' untimely death are wildly different from one another, and which one was current among the Neo-Platonists in the Medici circle I have no idea. Two spindly figures quote earlier Classical sculpture while remaining awkwardly embedded in the late medieval world.
Perhaps the best part of the painting is the lush twilit landscape in the back with its flocks of birds and castle in the distance.
Apollo in the Renaissance becomes an allegorical symbol. The romances and stories that gave him life become allegorized in a manner similar to the way medieval scholars moralized the ancient myths. The stories could never be allowed to stand on their own, even though their romance and eroticism awakened feelings in their readers at this time. We can see indications of both the complex moralizing and passionate homoeroticism that prevailed in the circles of the Medici court and the Florentine Neo-Platonists in Perugino's painting.
Apollo's original Classical form very slowly starts to come back in fits and starts.
Mantegna shoved Apollo off to the left edge of the painting and reduced his role to that of musician playing for the dancing muses in this complex allegory painted for the demanding Isabella d'Este.
Though there is no surviving portrayal of Apollo by Piero della Francesca, no other artist of the Renaissance was more true to the god's spirit. Piero's Saint Michael above (a panel from a now scattered altarpiece) has the sense of measure, proportion, and internal harmony of the best Greek images of Apollo. He is heroic, healthy in mind and body, and self possessed as much as the Tiber Apollo or the Piraeus Apollo. What is new is the contribution of Christianity. This figure has none of the arrogance of Classical Apollo (compare this to the Olympian Apollo)
. Instead we see humility and conscientiousness, all of those Classical virtues of health in mind and body are subordinated to a higher cause, to something selfless.
Piero's St. Michael stands in a credible if not quite perfect contrapposto pose above the beheaded reptile that stands for Satan. Piero tempers the full-out sensuality of Donatello's David. St. Michael is beautiful, but he's hardly on display here. He is dressed in military garb. Also, Piero simplifies the forms of his body without quite going abstract like a Greek kouros. Piero bases St. Michael's body in a simple geometry of cylinders, spheres, and ovals. These are not patterns used as a template for handling complex or amorphous forms as in ancient art. Still less does Piero really simplify here as do his imitators (especially his modern ones). Piero was not a reductivist. The geometric architecture serves as an organizing structure around which figures in all their corporeal and psychological fullness are composed.
Piero most remarkably and eloquently expresses that health and harmony that we call Apollonian in women. There is nothing quite like the heroic women of Piero della Francesca anywhere else in art that I am aware of. Everything I wrote about Piero's Saint Michael could be said about this magnificent figure of Mary Magdalene (1460) from the cathedral in Arezzo. She is selflessly heroic. In some respects, she shows us even more of that statuesque grandeur that we look for in ancient Classical art than does the Saint Michael, impressive as he is.
Heroic women dominate the painted world of Piero della Francesca, a world of light and order that 15th century Italy certainly was not. Here the Queen of Sheba and her equally noble ladies in waiting pray before a beam from the Tree of Life that would be later used for the Cross of Christ according to the Legend of the Cross.
Piero dell Francesca, The Brera Altarpiece, 1472
The brilliant clarifying light of Apollo fills the work of Piero della Francesca and would never be painted quite so well again until the 17th century Dutch painters, especially Jan Vermeer. Not since the Parthenon did so noble and heroic a group of figures gather as in Piero's Brera Altarpiece. Even the famously ugly and mutilated Duke Frederigo da Montefeltro (he lost his right eye and part of his nose in a jousting accident) belongs in this exalted company. The brilliant sparkling light of the early afternoon fills this painting from an unseen source, sharpening and clarifying all the forms in this painting. The suspended egg, a resurrection symbol, shows the underlying solid geometry that gives a monumental architectural form to all the figures and the whole painting.
Piero was not a reductivist. His work isn't about simplifying or reducing anything. Piero constructs an underlying structure of solid form to articulate paintings like this one that are as full of detail and anecdote as any other Quattrocento altarpiece in Italy or Flanders.
Filippo Brunelleschi pioneered the revival of the Classical architectural vocabulary of arches, vaults, columns, and entablatures successfully for the first time in over a thousand years. More importantly, Brunelleschi restored a Classical sense of measure, proportion, and clarity in his designs. For the first time since the Fall of Rome, Brunelleschi designed buildings having those Apollonian qualities of health, clarity, and harmony.
One of Brunelleschi's last and finest buildings is the Pazzi Chapel attached to the Church of Santa Croce, the Franciscan church in Florence. This was originally built by the Pazzi family to be a chapter house for the friars who lived here.
The textbooks always say that Brunelleschi used geometry and proportion in his designs, but so did every architect who has ever lived. It's the way Brunelleschi used them that is new.
The builders of the Gothic cathedrals used geometry extensively, frequently borrowing from Islamic patterns, especially the arabesque where an ever more complex pattern unfolds from a central point. The geometry and proportion of a Gothic cathedral expresses the Presence that dwells within it; both one and infinite, and above all other-worldly. We walk into a Gothic cathedral and instantly feel small, a deliberate effect. Every part of the cathedral large and small reminds us of the vast and mysterious God who dwells there.
Compared to the spectacular Gothic cathedrals, the Pazzi Chapel at first seems a little disappointing. Brunelleschi goes out of his way to create an opposite effect. The Chapel feels small compared to those vast and mysterious places. It also seems very simple and uncomplicated, and indeed it is, but not unsophisticated. Geometry and proportion for Brunelleschi meant clarity and comprehensibility.
Cross vaults in the facade.
The beautiful small dome in the porch of the facade with tile work by Luca della Robbia.
The Pazzi Chapel remains rooted in medieval design and construction. It is built out of units as a Gothic or Romanesque church is built out of multiple bays. Except that the units in this chapel are a single unit subdivided instead of multiplied. Brunelleschi designed the floor plan of the chapel using a 1 to 4 ratio. The central square directly beneath the chapel dome forms the basic unit. That unit divides into quarters. Two more quarters are added at each end turning the square into a rectangle. Arched vaults extend the ceiling on two sides. The small apse holding the altar is half the measure of the central unit, etc. In Gothic fashion, Brunelleschi designed and built the chapel in a frame and fill technique. Blue pietra serena stone locally quarried forms all the major structural parts on the interior; columns, entablatures, string courses, etc. The rest is stone fill covered with white plaster.
Brunelleschi provides us with rule lines in marble in the floor to figure our the ratios of the floor
plan. The elevation both inside and out used a 1 to 3 ratio.
The ribbed dome is a Roman building form rendered in Gothic style. The dome of the chapel is the most medieval and abstract part of the whole design, probably deliberately since it's the part closest to Heaven.
Among the most ambitious efforts to restore to Apollo something like his original form took place outside of Italy, in Germany.
This is an engraving of Apollo with his sister Diana by Jacopo dei Barbari, a Venetian artist who would eventually travel to Germany, perhaps to Nuremberg, to meet and collaborate with another artist, Albrecht Dürer. Little is known of Jacopo's life, but he was probably elderly by the time he traveled to Germany, and apparently died soon after arriving.
This engraving attempts to restore Apollo's original form as an athletic young man who appears nude. We see Diana from the back with a deer, her role as protector of wild animals and the wilderness. They both stride on the cosmic globe. Apollo wears the nimbus of the sun. This engraving remains rooted in the medieval world seeing the two gods primarily as allegorical representations of the sun and moon.
Albrecht Dürer made his own version of this print discarding the cosmic symbolism and turning Diana around to face us. Dürer works very hard in this print to understand Classical form centered on the human figure. He tries hard to understand just what it is that makes naked into nude. To a certain extant, he succeeds. In both figures, the anatomy and proportions are well done, if not exactly Greco-Roman. Dürer composed this print beautifully with both figures turned and positioned to take us from Apollo's right arm around to Diana, and finally to her pet deer.
Even so, this classicizing print remains rooted in the vivid story telling art of Dürer's native Nuremberg, the work of artists like Adam Kraft and Veit Stoss. Dürer grew up in that local tradition of vivid storytelling and felt deep loyalty to it. He wanted to import into that tradition something of the monumentality, clarity, and concentration of Classical art.
Above is an unfinished drawing of Apollo and Diana, perhaps another variation of Jacopo dei Barbari's work. Now, Dürer wants to return something of dei Barbari's cosmic imagery with Apollo holding a solar disk with his name on it. The name is written backwards on the drawing since this was intended for an engraving that was never made.
The Classical figure and Classical form were a foreign language for Dürer. Italians artists considered that form to be part of their national heritage; as something that they drank in with their mother's milk. Dürer and many other northern European artists found Classical form to be very alien and uncomfortable. Not the least discomfiting part of that tradition was its centerpiece, the nude figure.
Nudity meant nakedness in Nuremberg. The naked figures who appeared in art were the innocent and fallen Adam and Eve, or Christ and the martyrs dying in torment. The idea of a naked person embodying harmony. equilibrium, and health in the broadest sense struck northern artists of the day as incomprehensible. But Dürer worked hard to understand and to master the Classical figure breaking out dividers and compasses to do so.
Here is Dürer's drawing for the figure of Adam in one of his most famous prints covered in ruled lines and compass drawn circles trying so hard to get it right.
And here is Dürer's famous print of Adam and Eve. For all of its careful Classicizing, this is an unmistakably German print. First, the subject matter; Apollo and Diana are recast as the First Parents, as Adam and Eve in the last moments of their innocence. Dürer returns to the pious story-telling traditions of his native city. The ideal forms of both Adam and Eve become religiously appropriate. It is fitting that they should be shown as physically beautiful before the Fall. The setting is certainly not the Classical landscape. It is the dark tangled wilds of the German forest. Something of Apollo's medieval cosmic symbolism survives in the ideal bodies, and in the medieval references to the bodily humors in the forest creatures ( the cat symbolizes yellow bile thought to produce anger and aggression, the elk in the background for black bile that causes melancholy, the ox for phlegm responsible for sloth and apathy, and the rabbit for blood that produced alertness).
The rebirth of Apollo's form becomes complete with the discovery of the Apollo Belvedere
and its public exhibition by the della Rovere family. Now artists and public alike had what they considered to be a clear and ancient image of the god Apollo that more or less fit with the ancient literature.
Copies and imitations of the Apollo Belvedere show up all over Italian art of the early 16th century.
Here is Antico's version. All of these copyists and imitators would struggle with Leochares' very subtle pose, striding and turning to shoot an arrow.
Marcantonio Raimondi makes the Apollo Belvedere much more muscular in his engraving, though he too struggles with the pose.
The sculptor Jacopo Sansovino discards Leochares' original pose for the Apollo Belvedere entirely,
and perhaps wisely. Sansovino gives Apollo an original pose of sections of the body turning slowly in a gradual spiral around an axis, what has come to be known as forma serpentina
Classical Apollo returns fully formed and acting in a customary capacity presiding over music and poetry, though he is no longer quite what he was in the ancient world.
Raphael places Apollo in the center of his fresco of Parnassus in the Vatican, part of a cycle he painted for what was once the personal library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura. Apollo no longer plays the role of hired musician for the dancing muses. He reigns here as the center and the genesis of all of the activity on Parnassus, a god of inspiration.
Raphael and his admirers believed, with some justice, that they had revived the lost glories of ancient Classical painting. In the best sense of the Classical tradition, this painting focuses first and last on human beings in action, and how their acting reveals meaning. This painting is no longer a late medieval assembly of collected parts and incidents, but becomes a totality as complete as a Greek temple, as the human body itself. Raphael learned from Leonardo's Last Supper to compose a figure group as the group first and the individuals making up that group last. As in Leonardo's painting, Raphael arranges individual poets and muses in small groups joined by action and form. Those groups together form the larger assembly of Parnassus.
This is not simply a painting about bringing back a lost Classical past, about reviving lost Classical painting. Apollo himself in the painting gives us our first sign that Raphael had larger ambitions. Apollo plays not an ancient lyre or cithara, but a contemporary 16th century Lira da Braccio, an ancestor of the modern viola and violin.
Raphael's Apollo is an original creation not dependent on the Apollo Belvedere. Raphael the great synthesizing genius fashioned this Apollo out of numerous surviving statues and gave him the stamp of his own imagination. Raphael fully restores to Apollo his ancient form and prepares him for a new role in a completely new world. Raphael baptized the newly recreated Apollo into the Christian faith. Unlike the arrogant Apollo of Zeus' temple at Olympia, this Apollo looks toward something beyond himself. Raphael's not-at-all-arrogant Apollo looks heavenward for his inspiration.
In addition to the traditional nine Muses, there are the traditional greats of ancient Classical poetry such as blind Homer seen here in this detail, and Virgil to the right. Virgil looks not at Homer, but toward another poet who is not ancient, but "modern" in the 16th century sense of the word, Dante whose profile in this painting is unmistakable.
A Muse usually identified as Erato turns her back to look at a couple of other poets from outside the ancient Classical Canon, Ariosto and Bocaccio.
Raphael included nine renowned "modern" poets of Italian literature with the canonical nine of the ancient world. The Classical achievement revived in the Renaissance becomes an ongoing project down through time, bequeathed by the past to be picked up and expanded by later generations.
Apollo is present if not exactly dominating Raphael's most famous picture from the Stanza della Segnatura, the School of Athens. "School of Athens" is an apocryphal title given by later generations to a painting of philosophy. This painting modeled closely on Leonardo's Last Supper focuses on two men arguing in the center. The rest of the painting demonstrates the nature of their argument. On the left is Plato carrying a copy of his Timaeus and pointing toward heaven with his right hand. On his side of the painting are all of those philosophers who speculate about the fundamental nature of the world from Pythagoras to Avicenna to Democritus, etc. On the right in the center is Aristotle holding a copy of his Ethics holding out his right hand toward us. On Aristotle's side of the painting are all of those scholars and scientists who applied rational thought to understanding the world; Ptolemy, Euclid, Anaximander, etc.
Two enormous fictional statues dominate each side of the painting. On Aristotle's side is Minerva/Athena, goddess of practical and applied wisdom. On Plato's side is Apollo seen here. In his indirect presence, he presides over prophecy and inspiration; Apollo as Pythagoras understood him, shining light into the dark mysteries of the world.
Here is Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving of the Apollo in Raphael's painting, an exaggerated version of the extreme contrapposto of Praxiteles
On the ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura, Raphael painted one of Apollo's cruelest acts, the punishment of the satyr Marsyas for daring to challenge him in a musical contest. Apollo had him skinned alive for his temerity. As usual with these ancient stories, there are as many versions of it as there are poets telling it. In some versions, Marsyas, a master of the aulos, a kind of double reed pipe, challenged Apollo to a musical contest. The winner could do what he wanted with the loser. Marsyas performed beautifully and moved all of his listeners to dance. Apollo also performed beautifully and moved the same audience to tears of rapture. In some versions, it is a jury of the Muses who decides the contest. In those stories, Apollo wins the contest by either by playing the same song on his lyre held upside down, or by singing. When Marsyas objects to the singing, Apollo responds with a lawyer's argument that the voice and the aulos are both wind instruments, and so technically he wins. In another version, the judge of the contest is King Midas, In this version, Marsyas sings lewd songs about the illicit loves of gods and mortals while Apollo sings hymns of praise to the gods. Midas the old fool calls the contest a draw and can't decide. Outraged, Apollo gives Midas donkey's ears and skins Marsyas.
Raphael went to great lengths to tone down the violence and brutality of this story. Since it appears on the ceiling of the Pope's private library among frescoes about Theology, Poetry, Philosophy, and Virtue, it must have some allegorical intent. This panel appears on the ceiling between Poetry and Theology. I would guess that this picture might be about the right uses of poetry and music and their power together with an implicit attack on heresy.
Raphael's Apollo embodies a fleeting moment of supreme confidence that two irreconcilable things dear to the hearts of clerics and scholars could now be reconciled. The worldly humanist culture of ancient Classical culture now served the other-worldly apocalyptic Christian faith. Christian Apollo could still be fully himself. He could be baptized into the religion without having to give up his identity and lend his form to Christ. Raphael, the great synthesizer and harmonizer, was the perfect artist for this fleeting perfect moment.
For awhile, Michelangelo's enthusiasm for reconciling Classical culture with the Christian faith was no less than Raphael's. But Michelangelo's embrace of this reconciliation was much more complicated and conflicted than Raphael's easy and satisfying harmonies.
Michelangelo not only restores to Apollo his grandeur, but gives him a new, vivid, and restless life that is far different from the monumental repose of ancient art. We can see this in what must be in part a life drawing by Michelangelo now in the Louvre. It's a magnificent figure, and nowhere does Michelangelo allow us any rest as we inspect tensed and knotted muscles everywhere. Deep shadows and vigorous hatching that perhaps recalls the movement of his chisel across marble fill this figure with a tension and energy far beyond what the straightforward contrapposto pose requires.
Most unusually, Michelangelo begins this figure and most of his figures with the torso, with that turn and twist between the upper mass of the ribs and the lower mass of the pelvis. Arms, legs, and head appear to grow out of that turning twisting mass of the torso. Michelangelo's attention is selective. The focus of the drama is that twist of the torso. One pectoral muscle and the stand leg seem sufficient. The other pectoral and the other leg are just sketched in. The head is almost an afterthought.
Michelangelo will restore Apollo's life and power, and even his beauty and sensuality, but at the price of his ancient serenity.
Michelangelo in his famous David created a figure much larger, grander, and more beautiful than the Olympian Apollo, but also so sharply different in spirit. Michelangelo's David has neither monumental calm nor serene repose. He is restless and defiant.
Michelangelo's David is every bit as sensually homoerotic as Donatello's bronze David. Michelangelo put an almost loving skill in the shaping of all the parts of David's body, a very erotic passion that still comes through very powerfully centuries later. Michelangelo subsumes that sensuality into a larger unifying purpose that in no way distracts from the narrative, but adds to it an element of boldness.
The central paradox of Michelangelo's work is that passionate sensuality indicates passionate spirituality. The Neo-Platonists of the Careggi Academy in Florence spoke to a deep conflict in Michelangelo's character between his strong sensuality and his intense spiritual longing. Their dubious idea was that physical beauty was a sign of closeness to God, and that ugliness and variety were consequences of the Fall corrupting a divine prototype. Michelangelo took this facile concept and turned it into an unlikely and powerful combination of erotic passion and seriousness of purpose.
Michelangelo combined in David the beauty and grace of Apollo with the strength of Hercules, and gave to both a seriousness and singleness of purpose unknown to ancient Classicism.
Even the right hand of David holding the rock he will use to slay Goliath has the same tense restless energy that we see in the whole body.
From the back we can see more clearly David taking the sling from his shoulder anticipating the fight with the unseen Goliath. We can see the rock in his right hand.
David's head is nothing like ancient Classical art. Apollo, the gods, and heroes regarded the world with a self-possessed repose. David is restless, tense with the anticipation of battle. The singleness of purpose and seriousness in his beautiful oversized head with its lion's mane of hair carries down through every bone and muscle of his body.
Michelangelo carved his famous David out of a single 14 foot high block of marble. David is a giant, the embodiment of the force of popular will that was the strength of the Florentine Republic as Michelangelo understood it. This statue embodied civic liberty for the Florentines who saw it unveiled in 1504. He was their Statue of Liberty placed in Piazza Signoria facing south toward Rome where the Medici and the Republic's enemies plotted its demise. David was the Republic itself; beautiful, beloved, favored by God, ready to defend its civil liberties against all the tyrants consolidating nation states across Europe.
Michelangelo's David combined strength and grace, a combination that remains unique among colossal statues. Baccio Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus installed just feet away from David's original location in the Piazza Signoria in Florence by the victorious Medici in 1534 after the final destruction of the Republic anticipates the future. It is a static and brutal muscle-man anticipating the mindless over-muscled athletes made by Bruno Thorak and Arno Breker for Adolph Hitler.
The nude young men, the Ignudi,
on the Sistine Chapel ceiling are
Michelangelo's most personal creations in that vast project. He
originally intended them to be decorative figures holding up bronze
medallions with Old Testament episodes upon them. But, the Ignudi
became bigger, more complex, more vigorous, and eventually eclipsed the
medallions that they were supposed to support.
The two figures above, part of a quartet of figures surrounding the painting of the Sacrifice of Noah, are among the earliest figures Michelangelo painted on the ceiling. They are almost mirror images of each other. Though they twist and move their legs restlessly, they remain support figures for the faux bronze medallion in the center.
This pair of figures next to the scene of God separating the waters was painted about four years later than the Noah figures. Michelangelo made these figures much larger to the point where they now eclipse the bronze medallion that they were supposed to support. Instead of being mirror images, they now appear to be contrasts between rest and action.
These young men are as magnificent as anything produced by the ancient world. They are beautiful athletic young men in the prime of life, the Greek ideal of happiness and glory.
However, even this one who plays the calm foil to the restless energy of his companion, has a kind of nervous wariness about him. We know that his repose is only temporary, a calm before the storm.
He is among the most beautiful figures on the ceiling and one of the few who might actually be believable in life. Michelangelo made this drawing for the same figure at least in part from life. As always, he begins with the mighty turning of the upper torso, the ribs, upon the pelvis. The muscled torso looks less like seated repose than a looming thundercloud. Michelangelo exaggerates the musculature of the torso making it full of latent energy. The drama of the turning parts of the torso is so great that it reduces legs and head to barely sketched in supporting roles. They are there only to give context to the torso. The same is true in the finished painting. The head is beautiful, but it fades in significance compared to the muscular torso.
His companion on the right exists exclusively in the realm of art. That we believe in him at all is a triumph of Michelangelo's persuasive powers as an artist. Michelangelo distorts this figure into almost an expressionistic abstraction of energy. The right leg is missing. The lumbar region of the back is far too short, and the upper torso and shoulders far too broad. In real life, he would be a crippled one legged monster. And yet, Michelangelo makes him entirely convincing; a lighting bolt of energy that travels up the too long upper left arm, then down in sharp curve of the spine, back out to the left through the thigh, and then suddenly doubles back on the lower leg ending in the all important left big toe sustaining the weight of the whole figure. He's a preposterous figure by the standards of ancient classicism.
Michelangelo makes this young man into a mighty force of nature; or even more profound, of spiritual conflict.
Here is the drawing for that same figure, again it may be at least in part from life.
Michelangelo makes this figure fight with all his might. A look of panic appears in his face looking over those mountainous shoulders. Fighting in terror with what? There is no visible monster or enemy. He is nowhere visibly constrained. He is not doomed Laocoon fighting the serpents. He is not triumphant Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion. These Sistine Chapel nudes, rooted in the Classical past, proclaim the arrival of something very new and original.
We can appreciate that originality when we look at their ancient prototype, a fragment that Michelangelo very much admired, the Torso Belvedere. "Apollonios Son of Nestor" says the artist's inscription on the work, an artist nowhere mentioned in any surviving ancient literature. A very muscular man sits upon an animal skin. Some identify the fragment as Hercules seated upon the skin of the Nemean Lion. Others see it as the torso of a satyr seated upon the skin of a panther.
This fragment shows the part of any figure that mattered most to Michelangelo, the torso with its two great masses turning against each other, as they do so splendidly here. Almost all of the seated nudes on the Sistine ceiling are variations on this famous ancient sculpture.
The ancient sculpture shows the male torso as a metaphor for natural power and energy. Michelangelo took this same idea and turned it into an unnamed spiritual struggle.
Michelangelo tried to accomplish something much more ambitious and complex in order to reconcile the worldly culture of Classicism with the transcendence of Christianity. He wanted to make something more than Raphael's modest obedient Apollo the good Christian. He want to do something far more than early Christianity recruiting handsome radiant Apollo to be an actor playing the role of Christ. Indeed, Michelangelo wanted to somehow merge the two opposing deities into a single character. For Michelangelo, radiantly beautiful Apollo in all of his athletic vigor became the suitable vessel to contain and express the nature of the Christian self-sacrificial God-man. Christ-Apollo's beauty became his halo, the sign of his holiness and divine power. Never did Michelangelo express that remarkable idea more beautifully than in a series of exhilarating drawings for a never executed fresco of the Resurrection of Christ intended for the New Sacristy, the Medici Chapel attached to the Medici parish church of San Lorenzo in Florence.
Michelangelo revived an older idea of the Resurrection as liberation as much as a triumph. A gloriously nude athletic Christ-Apollo in full vigor of restored life and eternal youth bursts out of the tomb. The shackles of death are forever broken for Him.
Michelangelo departed from the traditional image of the Risen Christ rising out of his tomb
majestically like the sun dawning over the horizon. Instead of a liturgically centered composition, he cleaves the figure grouping as though with an axe. Christ bursts suddenly out of his tomb moving forward and up to the left, startling the sleeping soldiers around him. The soldier on the right turns suddenly away from the center echoing Christ's rising on the left.
This version of the story exists only in the realm of art. In literal terms, the nudity is absurd, and Christ is almost twice as large as any other figure in the scene. Within the realm of art, this image moves us. Christ/Apollo bursts upward like a rocket shedding burial shroud and sarcophagus in a great image of sudden liberation; the Resurrection as a break out. This drawing expresses all those anxious efforts to reconcile the spiritual and the sensual central to Michelangelo's imagination. What moves us is the anxious uncertainty of this drama of an attempted union of two irreconcilable things. And yet, precisely this uniting of mortal and spiritual is what the Christian story of the Resurrection is all about; Love makes what is perishable immortal. The large magnificent body of Christ/Apollo becomes the only suitable vessel for containing all these contending forces bursting back into life. The focus of the whole drawing is not on Christ's face, but upon his torso. All that power and energy focuses in the the upward twist of the mighty and glorious body. This drawing speaks to us in a way that no literal minded rendition could possibly do.
We already see in the Resurrection drawing the torso of Michelangelo's Christ/Apollo begin to thicken in ways that certainly aren't Classical, and eventually won't be natural.
Michelangelo's Christ/Apollo dominates the very turbulent, chaotic, and anti-Classical Last Judgement that fills the east wall of the Sistine Chapel, a painting completed in 1541, twenty nine years after he finished work on the ceiling. In those intervening years, the unity of Western Christianity shattered. The Sack of Rome took place in 1527. The brief reconciliation of Classical culture and the Christian religion ended in failure. The center of this vast painting focuses again not on Christ's face, but on his massive torso. That torso is far too large and the beardless youthful head is far too small. Those Classical harmonies that Apollo stood for lie abandoned. This huge torso rises and turns not to burst any bonds, but to cast thunderbolts of damnation at Christ's enemies. Christ's mother turns away in resigned sorrow. Apollo finds his image hijacked and distorted into something grotesque and fanatically apocalyptic.
Toward the end of his life, Michelangelo tried to recover something of that original Classical monumentality, and adapt it to new more urgent and personal religious needs focused by life's approaching end. But Apollo has abandoned him. That once clear link between concept and form begins to elude Michelangelo. The perfect realization of his idea into form remains just outside his grasp. That's what makes these drawing of the Crucifixion from his last years so great and so tragic.
The focus and most finished part of both of these drawings remains the torso. The context around the torso becomes ever more elusive with Michelangelo rubbing out and redrawing everything repeatedly, never coming to any final realization. That perfect vision of a suffering and dying God drifts out beyond his grasp.
Michelangelo did in fact carve a statue of Apollo, and here it is during a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum as part of its Michelangelo Drawings show. Its permanent home is the Bargello Museum in Florence. These are my photographs.
The sculpture is almost but not quite finished. It lacks the finishing polish and the head, back, and feet remain unfinished. Michelangelo intended this to be a freestanding statue, though the original intended context remains unclear.
Vasari says that Michelangelo carved this for Baccio Valori, the hated
military governor of Florence in the days immediately after the final
destruction of the Florentine Republic. It's possible that Michelangelo
was already working on this before the siege of Florence and decided to make it
into a peace offering (Michelangelo served as a military engineer for the
Republic and feared for his life). The statue is smaller than life. Michelangelo wanted to show Apollo reaching back into his quiver for an arrow. Valori did not stay in Florence long enough to receive the gift, and Michelangelo had to abandon the statue and go into hiding with the arrival of the vindictive Alessandro de Medici to rule the newly conquered Florence as Grand Duke of Tuscany.
This is a beautiful graceful statue of a very sensual round limbed young man. A lot of writers talk about this small statue as a beginning of Mannerism with its turning pose. I agree with Howard Hibbard when he pointed out that the pose remains entirely natural and credible. It has none of the self conscious artifice of later Mannerist sculpture.
Michelangelo's one image of Apollo stands gracefully with a gratifying sensuality, though with none of the grandeur and power of his other incarnations of the god as David or as Christ.
The Venetian architect Andrea Palladio magnificently expressed that High Renaissance idea of a triumphant harmony between the Christian faith and Classical culture, of a unity of purpose between the two in the Church of the Redentore in Venice. As in so much Venetian magnificence, the specter of the plague haunts this church. The Venetian Senate commissioned Palladio to design a church out on the Giudecca dedicated to Christ the Redeemer in thanksgiving for deliverance from a horrific outbreak of the plague from 1575 to 1576 that killed almost a third of the city's population (including the artist Titian). In addition to the church, the Venetian Senate created a special devotion to be observed every third Sunday in July, a solemn procession by the Doge, the Patriarch of Venice, the Senate, and various other groups across a temporary pontoon bridge to the Redentore Church. Though the Most Serene Republic is no more, the votive procession still takes place every July.
Palladio designed this church with this annual rite in mind, to be a processional destination.
Palladio made one of the most satisfying solutions to a problem that bedeviled Renaissance architects from Brunelleschi to Alberti to Bramante; how to reconcile the Classical building vocabulary with the demands of Christian worship. The Redentore is the happy result of Palladio uniting the Roman Pantheon with the traditional Christian basilican church format.
The brilliant facade built of white Istrian stone refines an idea first seen in Alberti's facade for the pilgrimage church of Sant' Andrea in Mantua
; uniting two different Roman buildings to satisfy that Christian idea (traditional since the 12th century) that the liturgical west entrance of the church welcomes the triumphant return of Christ at the end of time. Alberti's solution united a Roman temple portico with a Roman triumphal arch. Palladio's solution is much more complex and involves the whole building. Palladio joins three Roman temple facades into a single triumphal monument to terminate a long procession through the city across a long pontoon bridge. The first and and most prominent temple joins a triangular pediment to a rectangular block like the facade of the Roman Pantheon. Behind that temple is a lower broader temple that joins the side chapels to the nave. Behind that is a third temple incorporating the buttresses that hold up the ceiling vault. The last and most original touch, Palladio uses the end of the leaden nave roof to complete the pediment of that third and last temple. But, there is more. The facade rises to half the height of the building. The dome with its statue of Christ the Redeemer on top completes the remaining half.
The annual pontoon bridge for the Festa del Redentore today showing how well the facade of the church works as a destination.
Behind the facade of the Redentore extends a more traditional basilican church of red brick with a crossing topped by a leaden dome designed to recall the five lead domes of San Marco. A choir for a small monastery of Capuchin monks extends to the right from the crossing.
The red brick apse of the church with the dome and the two small bell towers that may reflect the influence of Ottoman Turkish architecture. Venice did a lot of trade with the Islamic world for many centuries.
The light filled interior of the Redentore. Palladio kept architectural ornament to a minimum discouraging any big elaborate fresco cycles, mosaics, carved stucco, or gilding on his church ceilings. They stayed bare and white to reflect the sunlight and brighten the interior. Imagery remained confined to altarpieces and a few sculptures.
The bright bare interior of the dome of the Redentore, a light source as well as a heavenly metaphor.
The light in the Redentore is the brilliant sunlight in so many of Piero della Francesca's paintings, Apollo's light that illumines and clarifies. It is the light of reason and experience, not the mystic's unearthly glow, and certainly not the blinding fire of the fanatic. Since this church functions as a memorial for plague dead, that light may well be intended to console more than to instruct. Those who came through the darkness of a terrible death rest comfortably in the light of eternal rest.
The nave narrows as it approaches the crossing and the high altar. Another light source appears behind the altar through a screen of tall Corinthian columns that are the same height as the engaged columns holding up an entablature of grey stone that ties the whole interior together. That light comes from the monks' choir. Light and music pour in from behind the altar.
Palladio's four columns behind the high altar viewed from the monks' choir.
I've always thought of Palladio's Redentore as the West's answer to the Taj Mahal, a beautifully perfect building whose light and harmony foretold the paradise of the faithful. However, even as the Redentore was built, the ancient unity of Western Christianity came undone in religious warfare. That harmony of faith and humanism proclaimed so happily in this great church and so grandly in Rome came undone even as it was being created. Apollo retreated in the face of warring fanatics, and took some shots himself.
The Apollonian ideal came under a lot of scrutiny and was rejected at the end of the 16th century and into the 17th century. Part of that rejection came out of Reformation contempt for Classical humanism and Counter Reformation puritanical piety. Part of it too came out of exhaustion and skepticism over the whole idea of creating health and harmony where there is none. The High Renaissance distilled a monumental grandeur for the ages out of a world where such greatness is almost never apparent, that the grand rhetoric of the Maniera Magnifica,
the Grand Manner
falsified as it ennobled.
Titian toward the end of his long life painted this strikingly brutal version of Apollo's punishment of Marsyas. The satyr hangs upside down like a carcass in a butcher's shop in the center of the painting. It is possible that Apollo appears twice in the painting on the left, playing a lira da braccio and singing at the top, or wearing his laurels and helping to skin Marsyas on the lower left. A befuddled Midas appears on the right, possibly a self-portrait by the elderly Titian. This version of the story is as horrifically brutal as Raphael's above is allegorized. A small dog laps up a pool of blood at the bottom. Another satyr brings a bucket to collect blood while Apollo and an assistant work like butchers on a hog. It appears to me that Titian's sympathies are with ill fated and bold Marsyas, and not with cruel Apollo. Titian spent a life's work reviving the lost glories of ancient Classical painting as enthusiastically as any other artist of the High Renaissance. Now toward the end of his life, he has his doubts about the whole Apollonian ideal. That Marsyas hangs in the very center of the painting and so dominates it puts us in mind of the crucified Christ. Titian feels sympathy for Marsyas suffering such a cruel fate, and then casts himself in a self portrait as foolish old King Midas for having such doubts. The cruelty implied in the arrogance of the magnificent Apollo
from the west pediment of Zeus' temple at Olympia becomes revealed in this painting.
Another artist who cast doubt on the whole Apollonian enterprise was Caravaggio.
In this painting tentatively titled John the Baptist in later collectors' inventories, Caravaggio's young apprentice and willing bed mate Francesco ("Cecco") Bonieri displays himself to us with a vaguely mocking expression as if to ask sarcastically if we like what we see. Caravaggio poses him in a deliberate parody of Michelangelo's Ignudi on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Caravaggio uses the most subtle lighting effects to make him alluring, the light softly caressing Cecco's adolescent body. Caravaggio, like Cecco Bonieri, came up from the 17th century Roman street, a world of petty crime and prostitution among young men. Caravaggio himself in his youth survived by petty crime and rose through the social hierarchy not only through the brilliance of his talent, but also by making himself sexually available to his patrons.
Art history textbooks point to paintings like this as evidence of Caravaggio's anti-Classicism, and they have a point. Caravaggio clearly shows skepticism at the Maniera Magnifica
, at the whole Apollonian enterprise of grand subject matter enacted by grand people grandly painted. But is he really opposing it, or just reminding us of its true origins? I pointed out at the beginning of these posts that there is a strong element of homoerotic desire around Apollo that was always there from the beginning of his worship. Perhaps Caravaggio reminds us in paintings like this of the very real and concrete desire where all such lofty ideal constructions begin, "where all of our ladders start, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart" wrote W.B. Yeats.