Friday, September 21, 2012

Float Point

So, it's my birthday soon.*

This is a visual aid, just in case anyone is lost for gift inspiration. And has a spare £1,000 lying around.

I promise to feign the appropriate surprise and say "oh you shouldn't have," even though you absolutely should.

* Lies. It's still months away.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seven Devils

One of the best things I discovered in the Vatican Museums is the ceiling of the chapel in the house of Saint Pius V (1566-1572). Painted by blog favourite Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zucarri, this dome depicts a raging battle between angels and demons, heaven and hell.

The no holds barred brutality of these pairs struck me right away. The angels rip the hair of their opponents while stamping on their groins, bearing down upon them from above. For all their fluttering wings and soft pastel hues, these are muscular warriors mercilessly dominating lesser beings. Each is poised seconds before delivering the killing blow. For their part, the demons are frozen in their last desperate moments, alternately struggling and giving way; their part human, part animal bodies no match for the glorious power of the angelic army.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the demons who attract my greater interest here. But I like to think it isn't just me, and that these figures invite some empathy and connection with viewers. Their struggle and painful fall seems, to me at least, in many ways more 'human' than the righteous violence of the angels.

Blasphemy. I know.

Anyway, without further ado, here they are.

[Obviously these pics don't do justice to the brilliant colours of the real painting, but you get the idea.]

And my favourite:

This painting really stuck with me, partly because it feels so contemporary. Ideas of good and evil - who deserves to kill versus who deserves to be killed, who is more or less human - are as charged today as they were in the sixteenth century. More so, now that we possess the technologies to annihilate each other en masse.

This continuing relevance was brought home to me two days ago when, all tangled up in a ladies fitting room, I first heard this song.

 The lyrics are just perfect. It's as though she wrote them looking up at the dome.

Holy water cannot help you now
A thousand armies couldn't keep me out
I don't want your money
I don't want your crown
See I've come to burn Your kingdom down

Holy water cannot help you now
See I've come to burn your kingdom down
And no rivers and no lakes, can put the fire out
I'm gonna raise the stakes; I'm gonna smoke you out

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in my house
See they were there when I woke up this morning
I'll be dead before the day is done

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in your house
See I was dead when I woke up this morning,
And I'll be dead before the day is done
Before the day is done

And now all your love will be exorcised
And we will find your sayings to be paradox
And it's an even sum
It's a melody
It's a battle cry
It's a symphony

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in my house
See, they were there when I woke up this morning
And I'll be dead before the day is done

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in your house
See I was dead when I woke up this morning,
And I'll be dead before the day is done
Before the day is done
Before the day is done
Before the day is done

They can keep me alive
'Til I tear the walls
'Til I slave your hearts
And they take your souls
And what have we done?
Can it be undone?
In the evil's heart
In the evil's soul

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in your house
See I was dead when I woke up this morning
I'll be dead before the day is done
Before the day is done

I think Florence + The Machine sound how Renaissance paintings look, if that makes sense. To use an exhausted term: they are epic.

 Very similar themes at work, also.

I recommend more viewing/listening on ye olde YouTube.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Unbreak My Domus

One of my main goals in visiting Rome was to see the ruins of the Domus Aurea - Emperor Nero's 'Golden House' - where, the story goes, the word "grotesque" was first coined.

It would certainly be wonderful to see inside. Photographs taken by previous visitors show that many of the ancient frescoes are (or were) still visible.






Pretty good condition, considering they were painted in 64-68AD.

This video gives you a rough idea of how Nero's 'House' (which actually encompassed many buildings, a lake, and wide tracts of land) is positioned beneath the Rome of today.

Unfortunately, the parts of the palace that have been excavated are no longer open to the public. Plagued by structural problems and cave-ins, the site is now out of bounds for safety reasons.

As this tourist website explains:

"Having finally been reopened to visitors in 1999, the Domus Aurea closed again in 2005 because of water damage, to reopen once more in January, 2006 and then close again in December of the same year. It became a building site and this was briefly open to visitors in 2009, only to close again as a result of collapses on the 30th March 2010. Nobody is even talking about when Nero’s ‘Golden Palace’ may reopen, but it will be years, for sure. There is no way to visit and we are unable to take bookings."

This video shows some of the damage from the 2010 collapse.

Not good.

Of course, I knew all this before traveling to Rome. Ultimately, I decided to go anyway, because I figured just being there would be special. And it was.

The area around and over the Domus Aurea excavation has been turned into a shady park with lots of trees, seats, and drinking fountains. Many go there to escape the midday heat, lying around and even bathing. [No, I didn't take any pictures of that. For your own protection, people.]


In some places around the tunnels it does look like a building site.

You can look, but you can't touch.

The entrances are all blocked off. Very sad.

The grotesques... can't you hear them calling?

Maybe it's just me.

This is where tourists would enter when the site was open.

So very jealous. One of these lucky individuals took a video, so we can see a little of what they saw.

This statue, the Seated Muse, is visible in the above video...

...and I did get to see the lady herself in the Colosseum, where a small exhibit has been set up in honour of the Domus Aurea.

This exhibit also includes some images of the interior, an artist's impression of the Domus Aurea, and a brief write-up on Nero's aesthetic.

"Artifice and an attempt to control nature are two of the main inspirations of Neronian architecture applied to the emperor's most famous project, the Domus Aurea. This was the residence that Nero intended to be a suitable backdrop for his regal majesty and divinity... Tacitus relates that the work was entrusted to two brilliant architects, Severus and Celer... [who attempted to] reshape the natural character of places to recreate the mythological and idyllic landscapes typical of the Horti, also found in paintings of the period. In the enourmous space available, man-made structures appeared between the woods, gardens and ponds, creating breathtaking new panoramas, enchanting views of artificial lakes, and bucolic scenes, probably peopled by statues."

Of the inside:
"One of the most important features of Neronian architecture was the luxury of its interior decoration (the floors, marble wall revetments, stucco and frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, and so on), which were intended to overwhelm the viewer. The splendour of the Domus Aurea must have been exceptional, even though little of it remains today, not even in the surviving pavilion on the Oppian Hill which has been robbed systematically of its marbles... The rooms of the pavilion permit a partial reconstruction of the appearence of the painted decoration, which Pliny the Elder (XXXV, 120) attributed to the painter Fabullus (or Famulus), praising the attention given to the colour tones and the preference given to mythological themes. The surviving frescoes are evidence of the influence that the emperor's tastes had on the choice of themes."

There are other remains to visit nearby, including Trajan's Baths, which were built on top of the Domus Aurea when it was destroyed.

Segments of the original mosaic are still visible on some pieces of flooring.

Overall the site is, I think, still worth visiting if you have an interest in the grotesque and its history, although most won't bother. Hopefully the tunnels can be restored enough to permit visitors again, as this is what will keep the place alive.

In the meantime we will have to make do with pictures and other virtual explorations.