Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Amadeus: Confutadis Maledictus


Milos Forman’s 1984 hit Amadeus bases its narrative format on the Gospel account of the Prodigal Son, with the talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) cast as the worldly and foolish prodigal and F. Murray Abraham’s Antonio Salieri as the unnamed second son who, seemingly obedient and faithful to his father, is eaten with jealousy at the love lavished upon the sinful prodigal.
It's easy to get caught up in the tension of the dueling musicians and overlook the most interesting character in the film:  God.  
God is what the film is about since it's called Amadeus which means "God's love."  The film is constructed to show how God loves, and, importantly, how God does not love.  
Joseph Lange's unfinished portrait of his brother-in-law, Mozart.
Mozart, dying in his bed, hums out the phrase, “Confutatis, Maledictus,” (“Confounded are the ways of the wicked”) and Mozart looks at Salieri and says, “Do you believe it, fire and brimstone?” and Salieri says, “Oh yes, let’s begin.” 
This is Mozart’s deathbed prophecy: “The curse you have tried to bring upon me will come upon you instead and you will be the one who fades into obscurity,” and that is exactly what happens, hence, God's Justice is an act of God's love.
Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), the mediocre wife of Mozart, is the pivotal character:  she’s not pretty, intelligent, witty or accomplished in anything. And this is what Salieri and Constanze have in common, their mediocrity, but she overcomes it while Salieri sinks into it like quicksand. 
Constanze Weber Mozart as depicted by her brother-in-law, Joseph Lange.
Consider the beginning and end of the film: in the beginning, she and Mozart are rolling around on the floor and there’s the Pig Latin scene about “kiss my ass,” and it’s because of her that Mozart misses his queue.  At the end, Constanze holds Mozart, and in true Christian humility, she’s not “kissing his ass,” she’s washing his feet, she is being the help mate to him that their marriage vows bound her to be by helping him to get to heaven:  she forgives him and recognizes that she, too, needs to be forgiven.  Mozart dies with his eyes open and gazing up towards the sky, a symbolic gesture of Grace in final perseverance and, that this time, he didn’t miss his queue.
Constanze’s achievement is the greatest in the film: she forgives, amidst the pages of the greatest music ever written, God shows His greatest work, a soul in the state of Grace. We the viewers, however, are so taken up with the genius of the music, that we fail to notice God’s means of using Constanze as His instrument of Love and that, like Constanze, we too, are called to be God's instrument regardless of our lack of talents or our abounding talents.  The name "Constanze" means "firm of purpose" and her purpose was to be the wife of Mozart, and she was, to God's Glory as the Composer of the Symphony of Life, and we, his humble instruments
A facsimile sheet from the Requiem Mass 
in D Minor in Mozart's own handwriting.
It is located at the Mozarthaus in Vienna.
But Mozart, too, achieves a state of Grace when he confesses to Salieri, “I thought you did not care for me or my work” and asks Salieri to forgive him.  Salieri, however, fails to respond to God's Grace by "missing his queue":  Mozart doesn't need validation about the greatness of his work (but that's how Salieri responds because that's what Salieri wants from Mozart).  Mozart is looking for friendship and fellowship as his death creeps closer to him.  God's Justice exhibits itself even in this:  since Salieri failed Mozart in not providing him with friendship in this moment of Mozart's need, Salieri's valet (Vincent Schiavelli) at the very beginning of the film pounds on the door as Salieri is cutting his throat within the room, and the man says, "I won't come and visit you anymore!" and that a great court composer is reduced to relying on this rather uncouth man for companionship is a sign that no one comes to visit the once great composer and that he has essentially been abandoned.
Antonio Salieri by the painter Joseph W. Mahler.
Now, how God does not love.  God has answered all of Salieri's prayers, but it's not enough for Salieri:  he wants God to answer the prayers that he has not prayed (to make Salieri a better musician than Mozart, but Salieri never makes this prayer) and that is a way that God does not love.  The name "Antonio" means, "Praise God" and Salieri doesn't, he curses God and praises himself, even if the only praise he can give himself is that he's so mediocre, he should be their patron saint.
We know that Salieri is a wretch because the wheelchair he's rolled out in symbolizes his paralysis (think of all the paralytics mentioned in the Gospels); that his throat is slit and bandaged signals the paralysis of the vocal chords (he can't raise his voice to God in penance and prayer) and, lastly, he wears the medal awarded to him by an earthly king over his heart; his heart should be given to his Heavenly King, but isn't.
Salieri judges Mozart to be unworthy of the greatness of talent God has blessed him with, but the immaturity and even perversion of Constanze and Mozart at the beginning of the film is righted by the end; however, Salieri's bitterness and pride devours him as he himself devours sweets.
There is a great deal more that can be written of this incredible film... but this is only a blogspot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

3 Davids, 3 Theologies: Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini

One of the best known art works in the world:
Michelangelo's David, completed in 1504, Florence. 
You can click on any of the images to enlarge them.
(N.B.: this post was significantly updated February 28, 2015). The three statues of David by Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini, historically represent the beginning, height and end of the Italian Renaissance, as well as three very different views on man’s interaction with God. Whenever artists interpret a subject that has received artistic interpretation previously, such as the young David from the Old Testament account, it's simultaneously a homage to the artists who have done the artistic interpretation before, as well as an updated cultural account on how things have changed since the last time the subject matter was utilized; comparing the radically different presentations of David by these three artists illuminates otherwise un-documented shifts in thought and attitude each artist incorporates into their depiction of David and, consequently, the heroic battle against Goliath.
Donatello worked on the David between 1430 and 1432; it currently resides at the Bargello Palace and Museum in Florence, Italy. Although it's a simple story, each of the works discussed herein depict a different point, a different moment in the story of David slaying Goliath with Donatello's being that in the moment of victory as he stands on the head of his slain enemy. The victory being achieved, we almost have a feeling of sadness for David's future knowing he will go against God later in his sin with Bathsheba, and this is perhaps the reason why Donatello chose this moment, because we the viewer know the glory and victory won't last because of David's doings, not God's. Because David was traditionally a symbol of Florence, and the powerful Medici family was trying to take over Florence, we could see the numerous spiritual-worldly "conflicts" in David's story (following God vs seducing Bathsheba) as a warning to them: the Medicis, like David, were in good standing with Florence when the statue was made, however, Donatello could see their fall and exile, just as David would later sin against God and bring plague upon Israel as the Medicis would bring war and corruption to Florence. In this presentation, Donatello interprets Florence--and the power behind Florence in the Medici family--as youthful and "transparent," innocent of worldly affairs and ambition. We might even go so far as to read that Donatello presents a naive David whose spirituality is advanced, but will nonetheless be "ruined" by the laurels decorating his head in victory at this moment.
If you were in Ren Art Hist 101, the standard interpretation you would get for Donatello's David, is that it’s a homo-erotic work: young David is pubescent and the long curling feather from Goliath's helmet (at David's feet) goes up the back of his right leg in an erotic gesture… and that would pretty much be it. But I would like to suggest, that Donatello chose a young David to emphasize that David was too young to have accomplished this “miracle” on his own (this is even more evident in the comparisons below), rather it was the Holy Spirit inspiring David to take the challenge and slay the giant Goliath. Using the shepherd boy as a passive vessel and not an active participant in Goliath’s downfall, the feather symbolizes the Holy Spirit "supporting" David as it goes up his leg, not tempting him to a sexual encounter with the dead enemy (feathers are a way to symbolize the Holy Spirit because of Matthew 3:16, at the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, so the feathers invoke the Spirit as a dove). To support this reading, we can add, the disproportionately large sword in his hand represents the Sword of Truth from Revelations and serves as a reminder of how David foreshadows the coming of the Christ.
The back side of Donatello's David, where the large feather of Goliath's helmet brushes up against the naked, inner-thigh of the young David. An obvious question non-Art Historians ask Art Historians is, why is David wearing leg armor but is naked otherwise? Isn't that odd? And the proper Art Historian would respond, "Not at all, David is being presented in the 'heroic nude," so Donatello can display his skills at sculpting the human body, which was the hallmark trade of a great artist; the armor David wears reveals the intricate skill Donatello possesses in carrying out detail in this medium,...." Now, some people might be satisfied with this response, but I certainly never was, and I believe there is far more substantial reasoning for Donatello's decisions about details rather than the stock explanation of the "heroic nude." For example, if we compare this work of David to Donatello's statue of the prophet Habacuc, we note how Habacuc is robed and therein lies the reasoning for David's nudity: Habacuc is "clothed with the glory of God," he is a prophet and a holy man who has spiritually advanced, David has not yet achieved that, rather, in Donatello's interpretation, David is still a boy, even though he has begun to clothe himself in the truth of the Lord, which is the reason for David wearing the armor on his legs: our legs/feet symbolize the will, because our feet take us to where we want to go in life just as our will makes decisions that our the vehicle for where we want to go in life; that David has his will clothed in armor, meaning that his will is united to the Will of God and that is why David stepped forth as the champion to slay Goliath, but that single act doesn't make David a prophet, not yet, and it's the nudity which conveys this to us (long hair was also a sign of a prophet, as we learn in the story of Samson, and David's uncut hair emphasizes the life of a prophet he has been destined for): David is still flesh and susceptible to sins of the flesh (as we know he will commit adultery with Bathsheba) but he has started to follow (uniting his will power to) God. (Another way to look at this, and this is perhaps more pertinent, is that the armor covers only David's legs, which symbolizes our standing in society, our reputation; God has begun to "build up" David in the eyes of Israel with the defeat of Goliath so David can replace Saul as King, and that's why there is the armor on his legs). So, what about that enormous feather? Florence, for some reason, was a hotbed of sodomy as is modern Art History in its constant queer interpretations of the history of art, however, the interpretation CAN BE made that this is homo-erotic (one Art Historian has argued that Donatello was open about his homosexuality, but has not supported his claims), but, why use a feather, and why use the feather on the head of the Philistine enemy? Why juxtapose the feather with the sword in such an obvious, dramatic way if it's supposed to be homo-erotic (and we have no evidence that David was ever a sodomite)? My observation is, the feather has far more to do with the armor, rather than eroticism. One of the well-known manifestations taken by the Holy Spirit is the form of a bird (as when Christ was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a Dove) and so we can see that this victory over Goliath for David "unites" David to the Holy Spirit (the feather reaching up his leg) and begins clothing him with the Spirit of Righteousness that will aid David in overtaking King Saul; in other words, the feather, like the armor, shows that David is being "wrapped" in the Holy Spirit so he will become a prophet (please see below on discussion with Bernini for additional substantiation of this line of analysis). We know it was the tradition among Biblical patriarchs (Abraham and Isaac) to have a vow/oath taken on the inside of their thigh, next to their manhood, because their "seed" was being united to whatever vow or covenant they entered into; interpreting the feather as a mystical symbol of the Holy Spirit being upon David at this moment (and we know the Spirit of God was upon David at certain times, just as the Spirit of God left Saul) that, not only will David beget Solomon who will build the Temple, but Jesus Himself will be born of the line of David and Jesus is The Temple. So the Holy Spirit vows to David that David's "seed" (Jesus) will also slay the giant enemy of mankind, Satan (symbolized by Goliath).
But, an excellent argument would be, the feather is on the head of the enemy Goliath, not on David, so this can't be right because it would suggest that the Holy Spirit had been, and still is, with Goliath, by virtue of being on his helmet, rather than David. If, however, we look to John 9: 1-3, we find the answer Jesus provides about the man born blind: "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." Donatello placing the feather on the helmet of Goliath demonstrates that Donatello recognizes that God blessed Goliath with his great stature, strength and ability with weapons so David, with neither stature nor strength, could be used by the Holy Spirit as a weapon to destroy Goliath who sought to destroy Israel. The feather, then, from Goliath's helmet to David's leg, shows a "transference" of the power of the Spirit, from the enemy of God's people to their future king and leader. But it is also the sign of a covenant.
The legs symbolize our "standing" in society, our reputation and our status amongst others. The feather as a sign of the Holy Spirit, is the oath and power of God being bestowed upon David; did David not have the power of God upon him prior to slaying Goliath? Of course he did, Donatello makes it explicit that this wisp of a youth could not possibly have done the deed by his own hand, but what God had spoken to David privately, and in David's heart, has now been manifested tangibly by the victory over the enemy of Israel. David's standing, then, increases dramatically in the eyes of King Saul and all the people, David going from a servant to heroic warrior. God has told Samuel, His prophet, that David is a man "after My own Heart" and in David's slaying of Goliath, God demonstrates that. God then rewards David for following God's promptings, which come from the Holy Spirit, in trusting God to deliver the giant Goliath into his hand. As David continues following God's will, David will continue to grow in wisdom and riches, spirituality and power. 
The place on David's thigh where the feather reaches up is intended to emphasize the genitals, not because of a homo-erotic overtone (which is a contemporary grafting of political agendas onto the art by irresponsible scholars), rather, the swearing of an oath we see in both Genesis 24: 9 with Abraham, and again with Jacob in Genesis 47: 29. The placing of the hand on the thigh emphasized the genitals because it was through circumcision that the male gave himself to God, and God bound Himself to the people of Israel. Because David is of the circumcised of Israel, in other words, God both "creates the covenant and guarantees the oath." God called David to do God's work (become the shepherd of Israel, as Jesus will become the Good Shepherd), so God will insure that David has the means to do the work God sends him to do, and protect the flock.  
There is wonderfully complex symbols at work in this detail of the statue. The head, in this case, of Goliath, symbolizes the governing function: the head rules over the rest of our body. Goliath's face has wrinkles (around his right eye, and the left side of the nose, also the "bagging" feature under his left eye) and a mass of hair from his full beard. Facial hair reveals the "uncivilized man," a man who lives by his animal appetites and passions, rather than his intellect; Goliath, then, according to Donatello's vision, was "governed" by his appetites for life; David, on the other hand, being "clean-shaven," shows he is civilized and is guided by the Spirit rather than his appetites (that will change later with Bathsheba, but it's true at this point in David's career). David's left foot is atop Goliath's head, while his right foot is underneath it; why? Feet symbolize the will, so David's will in the future will be to rest in the Lord and remember what the Lord has done for him (the right foot with the head of Goliath resting on top of it) but David was able to do this because David had "overcome" the temptations of the flesh and worldly desires (the left foot resting on the beard and face). The two feet, in different positions, present a unified spiritual strategy for David's future and for the viewer as well. Lastly, we don't see the stone stuck in Goliath's head where it supposedly struck, in the forehead, because David is himself "the stone."
The large feather of Goliath's helmet is, we can say, materially the exact opposite of the large sword David holds: the sword is made of iron or steel (it's Goliath's sword David uses to cut Goliath's head off his body), whereas the feather, of course, comes from an animal, natural, not man-made like the sword. Why is this important? Because two such obviously large formal elements are meant to be interpreted together. Realistically, the sword is far too large for David to be able to handle: the story of David slaying Goliath foreshadows what Jesus told Peter, that Peter (Petra) was the rock, and when he called Peter by this new name, Jesus was identifying Peter as THE rock used by David to kill Goliath with the slingshot (Jesus, then is symbolized by David and Peter, by the rock David took up and Goliath is the world/the devil). The sword depicted above, the "Sword Of Truth" is what destroys the devil's hold on us: the head symbolizes the governing function, so to behead Goliath means that David--on a spiritual plane--successfully destroyed Satan's hold on him (which Satan got control of when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden Of Eden, hence, the devil's sword), and foreshadowed how Jesus would use his Vicar Peter to destroy Satan's hold on the world because the "Father Of Lies" that Satan is can only be destroyed with the Sword Of Truth.
Michelangelo was originally commissioned to make the sculpture, hewn from one solid piece of marble, for the Cathedral, but when the city of Florence, who identified themselves with David because they overcame the great giant city-states of Italy and into their own as a city of art, culture and finance, saw how perfect the sculpture was, they moved it to the public square which was the seat of the city's government. The sculpture was positioned to be viewed from below (it was going to be high up on the cathedral).  Another interesting element that never gets discussed is the rock upon which David stands. It does resemble the stylized rocks commonly seen in illuminated manuscripts, but Jesus compared Himself to the "cornerstone" that was rejected, and David himself would be rejected by Saul numerous times; further, even though David stands on rock, the "stump" (detailed below) grows from that rock, just as Jesus said "I am the Vine and you are the Branches," because the rock upon which David stand is the "living stone" Jesus called His followers to be: solid as a rock in their beliefs, but ever-growing, and always being converted anew on a deeper level without ever growing weary.
By comparison, Michelangelo's David is in his mid to late twenties, fully developed in his masculinity and poised just before the throwing of the stone. If you were still in that same Ren Art Hist 101 class, the standard interpretation would be that David is symbolically depicting the Italian city state of Florence—Michelangelo’s birthplace—who defeated her Goliath enemies; while I don’t doubt this historical interpretation, I do think we can add another layer of experience to this masterpiece. 
Again, the enlarged hand of David does not mean that Michelangelo didn't believe in God by submitting that Goliath fell by the hand of David; rather, the issue of free will is being presented, both as an issue for David, and Jesus. To say, "It was David's destiny to slay Goliath," might erroneously communicate to some that David was acting as an automaton of sorts, being compelled to do God's will, whether David wanted to or not. Destiny is a person's capacity for virtue, so to "fulfill your destiny" means you have completely accomplished whatever goals God set for you in terms of the virtues; once you have accomplished patience, for example, you are then able to be used as God's instrument in the world for His plan. (this is evident with the Virgin Mary: the angel said to her, "Hail, full of grace," meaning, she was completely filled with the Grace of God, so there was no trace of sin to be found in her, and because of that, she was ready to do what God intended, allow her to choose or not to become the mother of the messiah, the handmaid of the Lord). Once again, art historians would write off David as being without garments because of their intellectual short-cut "heroic nude" position; in 1 Samuel 13:14, God says to Samuel that David is "a man after my own heart." That's an incomprehensible utterance of God about a mortal man and yet, this mere shepherd is given that highest of compliments. This is why Donatello and Michelangelo depict David in the nude: first, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, these artists interpret David has having no shame before God; secondly, as being after God's own heart, the physical perfections and beauty of the body are meant to communicate the strength and dignity of David and why the Lord would say David was "after His own heart." When we are fully in control of and properly exercising our free will, we want to do God's will because God is perfection, so we have the ability to unite ourselves to divine perfection when we have overcome sin within ourselves and fulfilled our destiny (capacity for virtue).   
The body is not perfectly proportioned, especially the right hand which is slightly anatomically larger than the rest of the body symbolizing that—for Michelangelo—Goliath falls by the hand of David, not the Sword of Truth, or the Holy Spirit, as in Donatello’s statue. The moment that Michelangelo has chosen to depict differs with Donatello’s moment of triumph and victory; Michelangelo wants to present David in all his youthful strength, confident that there will be victory, although that victory has not yet been obtained. This isn't to say that Michelangelo didn't believe in God--the exact opposite is true--but it appears he believed that God endowed David (and even Michelangelo himself) with all the gifts David would need to fulfill his destiny, and that's why the victory is such a great one: David didn't slay Goliath for himself, but for God, even though David could have mis-used his gifts and abused his talents to glorify himself rather than God (this was getting to be a problem during Michelangelo's time, of philosophers and artists celebrating their self rather than using their abilities to worship).
The back view of David where it now resides. The slingshot draped across David's shoulder and back again ties David to Christ in the future. Please remember that, when Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, and Isaac had to carry the wood of the fire that would consume him, but there was a ram there to be offered instead, and this foreshadows Christ, so Michelangelo, with the draping of the long slingshot, reminds us of Christ carrying His Cross on His back and how the Cross was the weapon that slayed Satan just as David slays Goliath with the slingshot. The positioning on the shoulders and back is the only time I have seen this artistic device utilized, however, it's an important part of the piece because it supports our interpretation of the stump at David's right leg. Another impressive element of the piece is the contrapposto, the tension of the right is posed against the relaxation on the left. We could interpret this to be "two sides" of David: the right side (usually identified with our strength) is aligned with his past, present and future with the stump and the over sized right-hand; the left side is limp and holds the sling, because David is an instrument of God as the sling shot is an instrument for David (and Peter would be for Jesus). Although it's "two sides" to David, they are perfectly balanced in a unified whole. On another note, having been raised in the House of the Medici, Michelangelo was a scholar and philosopher, a humanist, but he was also deeply religiously, whereas many of his contemporaries were giving into fashionable atheism that was spreading at this time, so we can see a bit of Michelangelo's own "torn" situation in the piece: called to be of the world and create great art with his advanced learning, but also called to follow Christ with a heart of faith.
The veins running through the hand of David emphasizes his humanity, his flesh and blood. Just as Donatello's nude David shows us David's immaturity, Michelangelo's mature David verifies that God chose David to slay Goliath because David could and could do it for the right reasons (God's glory, not David's, nor to win favor from King Saul). Michelangelo's David is probably nude for another reason: to remind us that David was REAL, a genuine human being who lived and was a man, just like ourselves, who was subjected to the same temptations (like Bathsheba) that we are, but David (mostly) overcame them to serve God rather than himself. This is important because of why Michelangelo painted Christ nude in The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel (Jesus was covered with a cloth by another artist later on). Jesus was, Michelangelo reminds us, True God and True Man, not just God who didn't have temptations like us, and the exposed penis of Jesus in The Last Judgment reminds us that Jesus has the right to judge us because He didn't ask us to do anything He didn't first do Himself; likewise, with David and his exposed penis, he, too, was fully man who sunk to committing adultery, but also rose up to give God great glory and we are bound to do the same. 
David with the Head Of Goliath by Caravaggio, 1609-10. What is so unique about this famous image is that the head of Goliath is the artist's self-portrait, because of his many crimes, the talented by troublesome Caravaggio had a price on his own head for the crime of murder, and had this painting presented to Cardinal Borghese as a plea for mercy on his own behalf ("See, I have presented my own head, may I have the reward?" yet it goes further. Again, we see the head, like Donatello's, with masses of hair, suggesting the appetites, which is echoed in the gaping, open mouth with separated, rotting teeth--clearly the sign of an indulgent life given over to appetites of all kinds. Yet even in this grisly moment, there is a beam of hope: Goliath's eyes are open, saying that "I, Caravaggio, have opened my eyes in this exile, that has been like death to me, and I recognize that I have been wrong and lived as an enemy of God. If you re-instate me, I will become as David was" and in this way, we could say that Caravaggio presents a "double self-portrait" of himself, as he is with Goliath, but the promise of his future self as David; painters, such as Egon Shiele, often associate their painter's brush as a phallic symbol, and so the knife can be taken as a promise of future paintings the artist promises to give "birth" to, and which can be substantiated by the number of devotional works he had completed during his exile). David is depicted in an exceedingly different way than those above: his white shirt and brown pants are the clothing of a simple shepherd, not an instrument of God. White, as we know, means faith, purity and innocence; brown means humility (because one humbles their self to the earth from which they came to which they shall return). The accuracy of this reading is mirrored in the inscription written on the knife/sword David holds: the Latin letters H-AS OS ("humility kills pride"). Again, art historians today take the phallic symbol of the knife and turn it into eroticism because art historians have no imagination and, most of them are intentionally promoting their personal agendas of homosexuality and feminism everywhere and upon everyone. Nearly all Renaissance art was biblical, but contemporary art historians are the last people in the world who have read the Bible or have a working knowledge of the Bible, so instead of looking at these statues and paintings as interpretations of the Bible, they look at them as empty vessels to fill with their own ideas and be vehicles of their will (the exact opposite of the Holy Spirit and David). Okay, I am done with my rant. Having said all that, there is evidence suggesting Caravaggio had engaged in illicit sexual behavior, and the "threatening" position of the blade against David's groin might have been a message to the Cardinal that, if you pardon me, I promise to control my loins as if a sword were against it; this, then, would be mirrored by the "limp" white, gathered fabric of David's shirt, mirroring a limp penis. Like the feather against the leg of David in the Donatello, and the stump against the leg of Michelangelo's David, or the pile of armor against David's legs in the Bernini depiction below, the emphasis on the leg probably refers to the tradition of swearing an oath by the inside of your thigh, because your seed would carry the curse of you not fulfilling your end of the deal, or your seed would benefit from you fulfilling your end of the vow. Again, Solomon and Jesus both descend from David, so David following God's will to go against Goliath single-handedly, without armor, is rewarded by God. On the other hand, Caravaggio knows he has gone against God. The head of Goliath/Caravaggio, is being consumed by the darkness (the darkness of hell) whereas David is being revealed by the light of God's Truth and Favor. In this moment of glory, David is still humble even though he did what no other Israelite could do: defeat Goliath, but still he is, by Caravaggio's inscription on the sword, humble, not proud about it. Caravaggio, on the other hand, made himself a Goliath in the art world, and his pride made him a giant mirrored by Goliath's own giant stature, swollen up with pride over his accomplishments, artistically and socially (Caravaggio's first name is "Michelangelo"). He has now been brought lower than the lowly (David was nothing but a servant in Saul's camp at this time, still basically a shepherd boy). The noticeable differences of Goliath in Caravaggio's (besides the self-portrait) is the spewing blood, a red gash mark on the forehead where David's rock hit its target and David looking upon the severed head and holding it away from himself, like it's the head of deadly Medusa. We could say that Goliath/Caravaggio realizes he has "cut himself off" from humanity the same way the price on his head cut off Caravaggio from Rome and his former life. We could then see the Cardinal--to whom Caravaggio was sending the painting--as David and Caravaggio questioning the Cardinal if he really wanted to bring the end of Caravaggio as David did to Goliath. In this vein of analysis, the blood spewing from the severed head could be the "paint" Caravaggio was spilling in creating art works to appease the Cardinal and get back in his good graces because creating art was Caravaggio's "life's blood." However compelling the interpretation may be, Caravaggio was a great artist because we can ALL understand this situation: all of us, at one point in time, are in Goliath's position, with God holding our fate in the balance, just as God sent the prophet Nathan to condemn David after his affair with Bathsheba. The unsettling aspect of the painting, then, becomes a subtle, psychological play on our own spirituality: do we immediately identify with the condemned sinner, Goliath, or with the hero and saved, David?
Yet there is an additional facet to this sculpture: the small stump on David’s right. Art historians have never commented on this beyond a sign of Classical influences that Michelangelo was imitating, but Michelangelo was too good to imitate anyone. This stump simultaneously represents the tree in Eden, destroyed with Original Sin, the shoot from the stem of Jesse, the line of descendants who would eventually bear Jesus Christ who would restore humanity as well as the wood of the stump foreshadowing Christ’s Cross; in other words, this stump symbolizes that David slays Goliath because it is his destiny (in God's economy of salvation) for David to do so. We could say that the slaying of Goliath is David's "parting of the Red Sea" and the moment of tension, the moment that David has stepped out onto the battlefield and has made that act of faith in God, has been realized, but God's part has not. Like Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac before the angel of God stops him, so the stage has been set for God's entrance, and all await how a singular moment in history will also reflect what countless generations will take for granted in knowing about God and how He works.
I do apologize for this and hope it doesn't offend anyone, however, the uncircumcised Davids are a point of contention, even though I think there is a readily available answer (please click on the image to view for more detail). On the left is Donatello's David, in the center is Michelangelo's and on the right is Bernini's. God make a covenant with Abraham and his descendants that the males would all be circumcised, in a prescribed way on the eighth day (Genesis 21:4), as a mark of their devotion to Him, and God's devotion to Israel. Why then, does Donatello and Michelangelo show David as being uncircumcised? This is tantamount to sin (Genesis 17:14), unless there is a reason for it (if you do not know what a circumcision looks like, please click here). Both artists are most likely referencing St. Paul who, in Romans 2: 25-9, writes that "circumcision is a matter of heart," it does no good to be circumcised in the foreskin if you are not circumcised in the heart. In Jeremiah 9: 25-6, God Himself promises to bring destruction upon all those who are circumcised because they have not been "circumcised in their heart," meaning, they have fulfilled the Law of Moses but have no faith in their heart; the young boy David going to face the giant Goliath alone on the battlefield is the perfect illustration for someone who needs to have a little faith in their heart rather than relying upon their own strength and wits (i.e., that which they have done to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law). The uncircumcised penis, then, does not detract attention away from David, rather, it projects attention towards Jesus, who would both fulfill the Law of Moses--being circumcised in both His flesh and heart--and give us a new law and a new life, and we can see that Michelangelo did this in another work of his, the Doni Tondo,  with the Holy Family being separated from "those who have no identity" because they are enslaved to the law. Those who came before Christ, even the great John the Baptist, are separated from God because of the new law which Christ brings with him and those who came before, will have to accept it. Which is where Bernini's great stroke of genius comes into play. In medieval religious art, a curtain acted as a metaphor for knowledge, either being revealed or concealed; Bernini's David being draped across his loins isn't an act of modesty, rather humility, and the drape acting as a curtain would in earlier illuminated manuscripts: the fruit that would come from the loins of David in the person of Jesus Christ, could not be fathomed by David, even though God would promise this to his servant later. Choosing the moment of David's faith, when he is publicly championed by God before all Israel, Bernini illustrates for the viewer how David couldn't possibly know the "fruit" that would come from his act (only that he was immediately saving Israel from the Philistine threat) in foreshadowing Jesus in word, deed and bloodline (because no one then understood how God was still working to fulfill His promise to Abraham). Why, then, would this be a concern for the artists to "debate" with their respective art works? One answer could be regarding the conversion of the Jews. One argument rabbis put forth as to not accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited messiah is that the world "didn't change" after Jesus, but God promised that the world would change after the messiah came. As stated, showing David uncircumcised was suggesting that David wasn't part of the covenant with God, and Jews in the audience would have immediately been made aware of what the Christian artists were suggesting: if you don't accept that Jesus is the Christ that David foreshadowed, and celebrate David rather than Jesus, you are, just as God said you were in Deuteronomy 10:16, stubborn in your heart because you have only your foreskin to show your act of faith in Him.
When we think of David, we generally first think of him as the slayer of the giant Philistine Goliath, so this moment that is about to occur is before David has committed the deed for which he will always be remembered, he is still nothing but a shepherd boy at this exact moment; likewise, that stump provides us with David's total identity: his past as a fallen human because of Original Sin of eating from the Tree of Good and Evil (the stump, then is the stump of that tree from Eden); David's biological reality as the son of Jesse (the "root" of Jesse, as the Bible puts it) AND part of the prophecies that  would come of the Messiah being born of David's line and, finally (Jesus's own ancestral roots in David), David as being one of the redeemed Children Of God because of the price Jesus would pay for David's salvation. Michelangelo's David is a great work of art because it's a great work of theology and philosophy set in stone.
Bernini's 1623 marble statue of David resides in Rome. Most art historians will say that Bernini's David is a typical work of the Baroque, which suggests that the period caused the art to be created, and this is an important mistake which leads to the over-looking of Bernini's choice of composition: the art work created the period, for a reason, the traits of the Baroque expanded the visual vocabulary of artists at a time when they wanted to expand their discussion in art mediums. David twisting and placing the good-sized rock in the sling, preparing to turn and put his whole body behind his action demonstrates that Bernini's David understands and agrees to do what must be done in the moment. In his twisting and motion, David is stirring the air around him, as he leans back, and, even more so, about to release the rock at its target; the "air" is a portrait of the Holy Spirit: as Donatello used the feather to communicate the power transmitted to David, so Bernini uses the air itself (the "wind" which is one of the guises God takes to interact with us) to demonstrate the moment of unity between David and God, man and the divine acting in perfect unison with one another.
Incorporating Michelangelo’s youthfulness into his own David, Bernini also critiques Donatello’s use of David as an empty vessel for the Holy Spirit. Bernini’s David (click here for a link to view the sculpture in 3-D, scroll down) is responding to the Holy Spirit and with his will united to God’s will and as God’s instrument: David slays Goliath by the power of the Holy Spirit symbolized by the wind enrapturing David (evidenced by his flowing clothes) in God’s power (not in the Protestant sense of “rapture,” rather, like the foreshadowing of Bernini's The Ecstasy of Teresa pictured below). 
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa in the Cornaro Chapel demonstrates God's
messenger,  the Angel with the arrow, overwhelming the Saint with God's Grace.
It’s not that Bernini’s, David is only wearing half his clothes, or that the artist shied away from displaying the Old Testament hero in the “heroic nude” (as some art historians say) as Donatello and Michelangelo, rather, it’s more like Joseph and his coat of many colors: David is clothed in righteousness, and by showing that David removed his armor shows his closeness to the Spirit of God. The harp at his feet—usually associated with David, the writer of many Psalms—symbolizes a heart that cries out to God, for to “make music on the ten stringed lyre and harp” means to sing praises to God and worship Him. So, for Bernini, David overcomes Goliath not as an empty vessel, nor because it is his destiny, but because he has responded to God’s call and in preparing him to meet his adversary, God has clothed David in His Own Spirit. Bernini's David works with the Holy Spirit to fulfill what both God and David want to accomplish.
How do we know that?
Two ways.
The head of Donatello's David on the left, Michelangelo's in the center and Bernini's on the right. Donatello's is the only one with the long hair, as we noted, because prophets didn't have their hair cut in biblical times. Michelangelo's David's hair is so bushy and voluminous, it nearly resembles the laurel hat Donatello's wears. Hair illustrates for us the intangible thoughts of a character. Donatello's David's hat draped in laurels combines the holy aspect (the long hair) and the earthly, worldly glory David has been awarded, which isn't to say that the two can't be combined for David's holiness (David will be successful as long as he stays close to God) but again, it could also be a reminder to Florence not to gloat over present triumphs and lose future battles. Michelangelo's David's hair is thick and covers his head: a lot is going on inside his mind (echoed by the eyebrows drawn in together to express concern and concentration); Michelangelo's David thinks rather than invests faith, which is it's own spiritual path. There are times when God demands of us blind faith, and other times that God wants us to think our way though situations, so both of our faculties will become developed and grow, but both will grow towards and in God, not separate from God. Bernini's David's hair is "divided" into three parts: a part on the left, a part in the center and a part on the right, why? It reflects the presence of mind on the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. Even though the Trinity isn't revealed in Scriptures of the Old Testament, and David (technically) couldn't have known of the Father, Son and Spirit, The harp at the feet of Bernini's David, however, reminds us that this is not just the warrior David, but David the poet, the author of the Psalms, full of mystical knowledge of God and His ways. We also notice that, unlike the other two artists, Bernini's David has his mouth tightly shut, in a gesture of concentration. I would like to add that there might be another facet to this, and that is the fast. "Fasting" isn't just from food and drink, it can also be from consolation and blessing: Bernini appears to be recognizing the "fast" which David has undergone, from the time that God had Samuel anoint David as king of Israel, to this moment, when that private ritual will begin to manifest real, political consequences, in spite of the years that David will have to continue "fasting" before actually being crowned king.
Please note David's hair. The three parts of David's hair Bernini creates, as opposed to the mass of hair Michelangelo gave his David, or the simple, close cut of Caravaggio's David, suggests that Bernini's David contemplates the Holy Trinity, and how mysteriously the Trinity are separate, but unified, just like David's own being in this moment. We know this by how David uses BOTH hands to ready his weapon to slay Goliath: the right holds the stone in place while he prepares to aim with the left. Using both his hands relates that David is unified in this moment: it's his will to be here (instead of, I don't want to kill Goliath but I will because Saul is too big a coward to) and he knows what he intends to do, kill Goliath.  
At David's feat is the armor he took off and his harp. Why? The armor has scales on it, rather like what is seen on a snake, and could denote the Serpent in the Garden Of Eden, that to dress in "earthly armor" would have hampered David's ability to win this real, but also spiritual, battle against Goliath. The harp seems to remind us of who David was: a shepherd boy, tending sheep in a pasture and how God lifted David up, just as He had lifted up the nation of Israel. Further, it deals a powerful commentary: David praises God, and because David has been so devoted to God all his life, God is devoted to David and rewards His servant. The heart that can sing praises to God is the pure heart, unfettered by worries, sins or worldly ambitions, the one drawn to God is the one who is God-like, and because David has united himself to God all his life, David can now completely focus and concentrate all his being on ending Goliath.
The second aspect is the narrative element no other artist chose to depict, David's removal of the armor before meeting Goliath. Through the inclusion of this element, Bernini demonstrates that David has total faith in God, making himself utterly vulnerable and giving the Holy Spirit total reign over--not only David--but the entire situation, which also gives God the complete glory for this victory because David didn't slay Goliath, David was humble to the Spirit of God, which are two very different things. 
The first version of David (1408–1409) Donatello did in marble and is considered to be his first important commission. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. It was intended for the buttresses of a church along with other statues of prophets; art historians have dismissed the work as unoriginal and, therefore, not important. "Originality" as a barometer of importance is a dangerous tool because it can cause us to overlook important patterns and subtle messages. I would like to suggest that the comparatively mediocre statue does have value: if we see the David above as being a symbol of Florence and Florence "arriving" at their destiny as a great city state, we can see this first David as Donatello's symbol for himself, that he, as an artist, has "arrived" on the art scene with this important commission, and he's posturing himself for future success, his eyes scanning the horizon for where his next commission will come from. His hand gestures in this work are certainly interesting: they are in the position that a priest uses for a blessing (image of Christ Pantocrator, for example, show Christ blessing the viewer with this gesture); Donatello, however, seems to have David blessing himself! The head of Goliath, at David's feet, seem to act as a "stumbling block," suggesting that, if David tries to go forward, he'll stumble over the head, spiritually, that David's accomplishment is going to cause him to make mistakes, such as the sin of pride, in the future (Bathsheba, and thinking that David is above the Law of Moses). There are at least two other interesting features of the head of Goliath: first, the huge rock lodged in the forehead: the incredible size, and slingshot resting on top of the head, indicates that it's the rock that killed Goliath, not God, not even really David throwing the rock, but that Goliath's huge head acted as a kind of magnet for the stone. Last, but not least, is the item that Donatello will carry over to his more famous bronze statue discussed above: David's foot in the beard of Goliath. Again, facial hair depicts the uncivilized man who gives into his animal appetites, so David's foot (a symbol of David's will) is tangled in the appetites which made Goliath the enemy of Israel to begin with (and, consequently, Donatello himself falling to worldly appetites and ambitions, if we take this as a form of self-portrait).
If you enjoy art history, I can highly suggest you watch Simon Schama's The Power Of Art, a five (?) disc series on various artists, two of whom are Caravaggio and Bernini, discussed in this post (the discs are available through Netflix). As always, there are many valid interpretations possible, so please don't think I think I have a monopoly on "This is what it means and it doesn't mean anything else." There are interpretations that are better than others, namely, interpretations that can account for the most elements in a work of art, probably has a better understanding than a reading that focuses on one or two aspects of a work. If you have questions, comments and interpretations, please email me (thefineartdiner@gmail.com) and I will respond as quickly as possible!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner 

Monday, June 13, 2011

A VINTAGE YEAR: 1971 and the Year of the Law

Besides being up for Best Picture in the same year, what could "A Clockwork Orange" and “"Fiddler on the Roof" possibly have in common? What could a New York cop have in common with the last Czars of Russia? They all center around the law: “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the Mosaic Law, and what happens to the Jewish community when they abandon it; “A Clockwork Orange” shows what happens to a society willing to break the laws of sane and humane punishment to “rehabilitate” even its most disgusting delinquents while "Nicholas and Alexandra" discover the laws of labor, starvation and justice apply even to the most absolute rulers and, like Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in "The French Connection" laws apply to the law keepers as well as the law breakers.
Topol as a milkman in Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof of 1971.
The irony of “If I Were A Rich Man,” one of the most famous songs to ever come out of a musical is that HE IS a rich man by the standards of the spiritual life: he possesses the Mosaic Law, and what more does one need to dwell in the House of the Lord,” but the Law handed down by the Prophets? But he abandons this wealth as he and his family slowly abandons the Law: he dances with his wife at Tzeitel’s wedding; he lets Tzeitel marry whom she will instead of entering an arranged marriage, the other daughter runs off to support her future husband the Communist and the third daughter converts to Christianity. These are the woes causing the soldiers to encroach upon the Jewish community and turn them into exiles.

Alex wearing the false eyelash and holding the narcotic laced glass of milk, a clear conjunction of perverted symbols.

“A Clockwork Orange” is perhaps one of the most difficult films in the history of filmmaking to watch: you do not have anyone with whom you can identify. But no matter how despicable Alex (Malcolm McDowell) behaves, and no matter how greatly we want him punished, as a Christian society, we must behave--not as the worst among us--but as the best among us.
The "milky substance" is forced into his eyes to force the rehabilitation of a monster.
The most important symbol in the film is the eye: Alex’s false eyelash on his eye denotes “false knowledge” or wisdom (he’s street smart but not smart enough to make good decisions), but the forcing of his eye open by society to take in wisdom of how evil it is to be evil, is just as false and turns society into the same caliber of criminal it is trying to rehabilitate.
Milk is the second most important symbol. Alex drinks milk laced with narcotics, thereby perverting that which should be nourishing into that which is corrupting.
"I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, did he fire six shots, or only five? Now, to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and it'll blow your head clean off! You've gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?"
Clint Eastwood’s "Dirty Harry" wasn’t up for Best Picture, but it was released in this year and clearly supports the idea of the law having to be better than the criminals it’s trying to put away. According to the film, he’s called “Dirty Harry” because he’s always stuck with the dirty work, and to do that dirty work, he himself must be pure. There is a scene where Harry is surverying a church to protect a priest whose life has been threatened and while he's "peeping tom" he sees a woman through a window in her apartment "preparing for an orgy" and Harry wishes that he were a part of it, at the same time that he’s protecting a Catholic priest from the Scorpio killer. It’s this sacrifice--not being a part of the sexual "excess" of the time--that permits him to fulfill his duty; later, however, when he recites that same lines from the beginning of the film about not knowing how many bullets he has left, and asks the unarmed Scorpio killer, “Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?” we have to assume that Harry knows he has a last bullet left and intentionally leads the killer to picking up his gun so Harry can claim self-defense and shoot him… realizing that he can no longer be a law keeper now that he has broken the laws he has vowed to uphold, Harry throws down his badge.


In “Nicholas and Alexandra,” the last Russian Czars are surrounded by laws, none of which they made or are working in their favor. The last Czars fail to realize that the most important laws aren’t made by men at all, but by God: the laws of genetics, the laws of life and of death, the laws of licit and illicit sexual conduct, the laws of starvation and property, the laws of labor and public opinion, all which work against them to end their reign as the absolute rulers of vast Russia.
Director William Friedkin also did "The Exorcist.
Gene Hackman plays Brooklyn narcotics officer Popeye Doyle in "The French Connection" and the summation of Hackman’s character comes from the name “Popeye”: his eye pops, his other eye is permanently squinted so that his vision (and this should be understood symbolically) is always faulty and this is proven throughout the film. Since his actions depict his “spiritual state,” it’s also the reason why the bad guy gets away: the “good guy” doesn’t have the power that comes from being good to overcome the evil the villain represents. If we are going to say that we are the good guys, then we actually have to “be good.”
Popeye's closed eye means he misses half of what he should be seeing while his other "popped" eye takes in too much of only part of the situation. That's bad for a police officer.
A society is only as civilized as the way it treats its outlaws: if you can’t follow your own moral structures, you don’t have the authority to enforce moral structures on others who have abandoned moral structures for a life of crime. These films validate the need for law and the need for all members of society to obey those laws; in 1971, those laws regarded drug use, homosexuality, promiscuity, and really bad fashion choices, nothing less than society itself was at stake and, in 1972 when President Richard Nixon’s Watergate Scandal began, it’s clear that the moral lessons these films were trying to impart were not just timely, but also not heeded.
He didn't make time to go to the movies.