Revisions in Renaissance

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

Christ Supported by Two Angels by Giovanni

I spent a wonderful day with 3 of my kids at the National Gallery of Art last week. I grew up enjoying Washington’s many museums and galleries, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is to analyze the paintings for their style and content, as well as the hidden historical and mystical references. Not fast-paced like an action movie, but riveting in its own way.

There was great beauty expressed in many of the paintings we saw. The Italian and other European artwork created during the period between the 14th to the 17th century, displays technical brilliance but also an attempt to deal with emotionally challenging parts of human history. I tried to draw the childrens’ attention to pictures that said one thing about an event which we know occurred in a different way. The crucifixion of Jesus is a perfect example.

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

The Crucifixion by Benvenuto di Giovanni

In this post-Passion of the Christ era, the Italian Renaissance paintings depicting clean, beautiful, pious saints caught up in the rapturous process of Jesus’ crucifixion and death were oddly disquieting for me. The enormity of the lie therein was just too much. This big lie has become a pivotal element of Western Culture. Presenting a gory scene with pristine cleanliness is only valuable symbolism when the underlying truth of the matter is confronted honestly. If not, it’s just a collective hallucination.

How dare European painters make the act of nailing a man to a wooden armature anything other than horrific? The mockery of a trial and the ritual formalities involved in the sentencing are not the issue. Think about the nerves and the skin and the tendons and the bones that were shattered and separated. There would also have been enormous amounts of blood.

From the movie Passion of the Christ b yMel Gibson

From the movie Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

Without reaching the issue of Christs’ political status among Hebrew men of his time, or his skin color and ethnicity (although that is a big one) or perhaps even his cosmic intervention into humanity’s downward spiral….just think about the blood and the pain and the sacrifice.

I take issue with the way the story is mangled time and again. Titian, Bellini, Francesca. ..the neat, clean presentation of what had to be a monstrously violent, barbaric act. I have read the prophecies of Isaiah and I know of Christ’s experience in the Garden in which he becomes reconciled to his fate. I get it…the martyrdom thing.

Just don’t lie about how bad it really was.

4mac

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Saturday…in the Dark

umass-at-night_14

University of Massachusetts Amherst at Night

Perhaps pain is a catalyst for growth.  If that is so, going to UMASS made me a giant.

Julianne Robertson

Washington, Adams, Coolidge, Kennedy.  Anyone who attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, commonly known as UMASS, recognizes these names as Presidents, yes, but also as the high-rise dorms in the Southwest residential section of campus.  Low rise dorms were also named after notable Americans:  Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and others, but the names of each dorm had dual meanings.  The UMASS residence hall system, like those in other universities, groups students according to class, race, career interests, and other demographic considerations.  Accordingly, each dorm had its own flavor and unique atmosphere.  Pierpont, with it’s beautifully rendered psychedelic murals was the Pioneer Valley’s drug haven.  Coolidge and Adams, the high rise women’s dorms, were relatively proper, clean and quiet.  Kennedy was 21 stories of chaotic, rabble rousing madness.

Then there was Washington dorm.  As a 17 year old from Washington, D.C., I enjoyed meeting people from New York and Boston.  The men in Washington were invariably stylish, confident and very attractive.  Two in particular, I will call them P and M, were each bright, handsome, charismatic and intriguing because they’d been friends before they arrived on campus.  In September 1978, they were a wonderful addition to the small Black community in the midst of UMASS’ 25,000 student body.

Racial tension existed in Amherst in the aftermath of the the Boston Public School desegregation riots.  Many students in that era had attended recently desegregated schools, and horrific stories about South Boston were heart breaking.  On the other hand, Amherst is a bucolic college town setting with picture-perfect scenery and a post 60’s peace and love atmosphere.  In theory, every student could learn and grow in a safe university setting without ever experiencing the harsh realities of the outside world.

Theory and practice diverged wildly one Saturday night.

30 years ago, one of my African-American classmates was attacked by a group and badly roughed up while we were gathering for a party.  The instant he walked in a massive group of men left with him to confront the attacker.  I will never know exactly what happened, but eye contact with a returning member told volumes about the sorrow of brutality.  We all tried to comfort one another and get through the evening.

In the morning, Jose was dead.  1_soilingJose was an African American of Puerto Rican descent, but had not been at the party, and he took no part in the attack or subsequent events of that horrible night.  On Sunday morning, my dear friend Ike Bradshaw found Jose leaning against the wall of his dorm room, apparently strangled.  No police investigation ensued, no forensic evidence was collected.  Nothing.  In late November, the University had to prepare for finals and UMASS’ month long wintersession.  A community meeting was held in which we were all advised to stay calm and avoid commenting on the events until further notice.

No grief counselling, no funeral, no justice.  We were a community under seige, and only our youth and resilience allowed us to manage the confusion and anger.  Really, the experience plunged me into what I now recognize as a dangerous depression.  I got away from campus, weathered the storm, and returned to finish  the remaining 3 years there.  But I never forgot Jose.

I will never forget Jose.