Tuesday, November 30, 2021

La Baker Enters the Pantheon


Josephine Baker was symbolically reburied in the Pantheon in Paris today.  At the request of her family, she will remain buried in Monaco.  A coffin filled with earth from all the places that she lived from Missouri to Monaco was buried in the Pantheon in her place.

President Macron with her symbolic coffin earlier today.

The Pantheon in Paris

Josephine Baker wearing some silk bananas and not much else for her famous/notorious Banana Dance.  This number for the Folies Bergeres in 1927 was a sensation and a scandal.  Josephine Baker was one of the first great international sex symbols and celebrities.  Her brazen performances crossing all kinds of forbidden frontiers of race and sexuality shocked many and thrilled many many more.

Josephine wears one of many spectacular and sometimes revealing costumes 

With her pet cheetah that she walked on a leash through the streets of Paris

Josephine was not the least bit shy before cameras, nor was she particularly shy or remorseful about her eventful love life with men and women.  She was among the very first sex symbols.

Alexander Calder, Josephine Baker, 1927, a wire sculpture.

Josephine Baker inspired many of the most noted artists of the day, and legions of others not quite so noted.

Henri Matisse, Creole Dancer, paper collage, 1950

A very young Josephine Baker in 1908 in St. Louis.  She was born into dire poverty in St. Louis to a mother from Arkansas who was a former slave.

Josephine Baker in uniform.  When the Germans invaded France in 1940, she joined the French Underground.  She was a major conduit of documents and information between the French resistance forces in occupied France and the French government in exile in London.  She used her connections in Africa and the Middle East to help French Jews escape the Nazis and their French collaborators in the Vichy government.  She accomplished all this by hiding in plain sight.  There were many occasions when she crossed German checkpoints in her Rolls Royce limo stopping for photos and autographs with star-struck German soldiers.  Meanwhile, she kept a trunk full of resistance documents and communications in the car.  Had the sequins fallen from those German eyes, she would have been shot immediately.
After the War, the French government inducted her into the Legion of Honor and awarded her the Croix de Guerre.  They knew her from then on as "The Good Mata Hari." 

Wearing her medals for her service and her French military uniform, Josephine Baker addressed the crowds at the 1963 March on Washington.  She remained actively involved in civil rights causes in the USA and in France.

After World War II, Josephine Baker began adopting children.  She ended up adopting a dozen, ten boys and two girls.  She called them her Rainbow Tribe adopting children of all races and from every continent.  Some of those children were present at the ceremony today in Paris.

Josephine Baker at her estate, the Chateau des Milandes in 1961

Her funeral in Paris in April, 1975

Like a lot of gay men, I love Josephine Baker for so many reasons, and I'm delighted to see her get this honor from France, a country she loved and served so well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


 Thanksgiving in the Bowery Mission, New York, 1938

Dear David Wojnarowicz ...


Dear David Wojnarowicz 

Someone complained to Facebook about a painting of yours that I posted weeks ago. Because of your painting, Facebook banned me for 3 days. So, I’d just like to say to you, 
AWRIGHT!!! You’ve been dead for 29 years and you’re still pissin’ people off!! 
Congratulations man!! Fearless in life and still gotta sting in death!!

And here is the offending image:

David Wojnarowicz, Fuck You Faggot Fucker!, 1984

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

The entrance to Santa Cecilia on the Piazza Santa Cecilia
The entrance to Santa Cecilia on the Piazza Santa Cecilia

The entrance to the church from the cortile within the piazza entrance.
The entrance to the church from the cortile within the piazza entrance

Yesterday November 22nd was the feast day of Saint Cecilia to whom tradition assigns the role of patron saint of music.  Pious legend says that she invented the pipe organ.  This church in Rome is the final resting place of the actual saint and her sainted husband Valerian on the site of their home (according to tradition) in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.  

Tradition says that Cecilia was a young woman from a noble Roman family.  She converted to Christianity when very young and took a vow of chastity.  Her parents insisted that she marry a young man by the name of Valerian.  During the wedding, she sang a hymn of praise to God so well and so loudly that she drowned out the wedding music thus making her the patron saint of music.  She told Valerian that she could not consummate the marriage because an angel guarded her chastity.  When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia told him to go to Pope Urban I to be baptized and he would see the angel.  Valerian took his brother Tiburtius and a soldier Maximus to do as she told him.  All were baptized and all returned and saw the angel holding a garland of roses and lilies over her head.  The three young men were all arrested and executed by Roman authorities under the reign of Alexander Severus.  Cecilia herself was later arrested and beheaded.  Legend says that her head refused to separate from her body after three blows from a sword.  She died after three days.  Her martyrdom took place around 230 during the Third Century Crisis when a lot of affluent educated Romans began converting to Christianity.  Most scholars agree that she and her three companions in martyrdom are historical persons, though much of the pious legend surrounding them is indeed legend.  All three rest together in the crypt of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is an ancient church in continuous use for over a thousand years.  The present church was built in the 5th century.  Like all public buildings continuously used over many centuries, the church acquired many additions and underwent many changes.  None more dramatic and extensive as those ordered in 1724 - 1725 by Cardinal Francesco Acquaviva and carried out by the architect Ferdinando Fuga.  Cardinal Acquaviva and Fuga substantially rebuilt the church, its two entrances and its interior transforming it into something like a late Baroque/early Rococo church.  The 12th century bell tower and the 9th century apse mosaic are all that is left exposed from the original medieval church.

Interior of Santa Cecilia 
Interior of Santa Cecilia

Interior of Santa Cecilia
Interior of Santa Cecilia

Apse of Santa Cecilia with the apse mosaic, the ciborium over the altar and Maderno's sculpture.
Apse of Santa Cecilia with the apse mosaic, the ciborium over the altar, and Maderno's sculpture

The Apse Mosaic

The apse mosaic
The apse mosaic

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome and has been built and rebuilt many times over.  The mosaic in the apse survives from a Carolingian era rebuilding by Pope Pascal I (817 - 824).  It is an interpretation of earlier mosaics still to be seen in Rome such as from Sts. Cosmas and Damian and Santa Pudenziana, both of those mosaics are 3 and 4 centuries older respectively, and were already revered by the time this mosaic was made.  

The drawing is a little shaky compared to mosaic prototypes in Rome from 4 centuries earlier, but still very fine.

The apse mosaic:  Pope Pascal I, St. Cecilia, and St. Paul.
The apse mosaic:  Pope Pascal I, St. Cecilia, and St. Paul

St. Cecilia presents Pope Paschal I who presents the church to the enthroned Christ flanked by Peter and Paul the patron saints of the city of Rome.  The square halo indicates that Pope Pascal was still alive when the mosaic was made.

The apse mosaic:  St. Peter, St. Valerian, St. Agatha and one of two flanking date palms
The apse mosaic: St. Peter, St. Valerian, St. Agatha and one of two flanking date palms

Date palm leaves and fruits were the prizes awarded to athletes in ancient Greece and Rome.  Here they are the symbolic prizes of Christian martyrdom.  St. Valerian and St. Agatha hold crowns of martydom.

The Lamb of God with sheep standing for the Apostles
The Lamb of God with sheep standing for Apostles

Arnolfo di Cambio's 13th century ciborium
Arnolfo di Cambio's 13th century ciborium

Arnolfo di Cambio, the Florentine sculptor and architect designed and built this ciborium in 1293, among his last works in Rome before he returned to Florence the following year.  This is one of two ciboria he designed and built for Roman churches.  The other is over the high altar and tomb of St. Paul in San Paolo Fuori della Mura.

On the floor before Stefano Maderno's striking sculpture of the martyred Cecilia is an inscription describing the macabre origins of Maderno's sculptural conception.
It records the exhumation of St. Cecilia's remains during a renovation of the church in 1599 ordered by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati.  It states that Maderno was present at the exhumation and that his sculpture is faithful to what was found on the "uncorrupted" remains of the saint.

Stefano Maderno, St. Cecilia, 1599 - 1600
Stefano Maderno, St. Cecilia, 1599 - 1600

An early masterpiece of Baroque sculpture that is still striking and even disturbing in its drama, as though Saint Cecilia just fell before us stricken by the sword.  

Stefano Maderno, St. Cecilia, detail

Even more disturbing, blood just begins to flow from the fatal wound in her neck.

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is home to a community of Benedictine nuns since the early 16th century.  When Ferdinando Fuga redesigned and rebuilt the church in the 18th century, he built a choir for the nuns above the main entrance of the church.  In that nuns' choir are the remains of the greatest work of art in the church left from a 13th century rebuilding, plastered over in the 18th century rebuilding, and rediscovered in 1900.

Pietro Cavallini's Last Judgement Fresco

Pietro Cavallini's Last Judgement once covered all the entrance wall of the church.  Today only fragments of the center portion survive in the nun's choir, uncovered in 1900.  
What survives is a major masterpiece of Roman medieval painting that revives the splendors of the earliest church art in Rome combining that monumentality with the naturalism that pervaded late medieval art.  Cavallini's art looks back to ancient Roman painting and forward to the work of Giotto and the Renaissance.

The whole surviving portion of the Last Judgement fresco
The whole surviving portion of the Last Judgement fresco

Enthroned Christ the Judge
Enthroned Christ the Judge

Christ the Judge
Christ the Judge

The Virgin Mary with angels
The Virgin Mary with Angels

John the Baptist with angels
John the Baptist with Angels

Seraphim and archangels
Seraphim and Archangels

Head of a seraph
Head of a Seraph

An Apostle, possibly Paul
An Apostle, possibly Paul

Saints and Apostles
Saints and Apostles

Two Apostles
Two Apostles

Head of an Apostle
Head of an Apostle

Santa Cecilia Underground

The crypt chapel
The crypt chapel

The splendid chapel in the crypt looks ancient, but is quite modern (by Roman standards).  It was all built in 1899.

Mosaic of St. Cecilia
19th century Mosaic of St. Agnes

The tombs of St. Cecilia, her husband Valerian, her brother in law Tiburtius, and his companion Maximus.
The tombs of St. Cecilia, her husband Valerian, her brother-in-law Tiburtius, and his companion Maximus.

Remains of Roman housing underneath the church.
Remains of Roman housing underneath the church

Next to the crypt chapel are the remains of an ancient Roman house and a tannery.

Sebastiano Conca's Apotheosis of St. Cecilia

Sebastiano Conca's painting on the ceiling of the Nave
Sebastiano Conca's painting on the ceiling of the nave

St. Cecilia Received by the Holy Trinity in Paradise
St. Cecilia received into Heaven by the Holy Trinity

I presume the sainted pope in this painting is Urban I who baptized Cecilia's husband and his companions.

This fine late Baroque fresco almost makes me forgive Cardinal Acquaviva and Ferdinando Fuga's drastic alteration of this ancient church...almost.