Friday, July 04, 2008

O’ Revolution
by: Schvach Yid

No, not Canada’s independence from Britain, but rather the progenitor of the eastern end of our transcontinental neighbor to the north, France. Bastille Day, my absolute favorite holiday of the calendar (and it ain’t even Jewish!) is nearly upon us, and since today is a celebration America’s day of revolt, and additionally, since I have no patience whatsoever, I’ve decided to jump the gun and do Bastille Day a bit prematurely.

I experienced a great clarifying moment concerning France’s revolt of the common person over
the aristocracy while watching the BBC production (thanks to PBS) of Simon Schama’s Power of Art. You can read a bit of it here: (get the pun?)

It was a super production, but unfortunately, I barely remember a word of it.
What I do remember of that series was Schama’s (he’s Jewish, as in ‘Sh’ma Yisroel’) discussion of Jacque-Louis David’s Death of Marat. It's at the top folks.

And here is a bit of what Schama had to say about it:

"If there's ever a picture that would make you want to die for a cause, it is Jacque-Louis David's Death of Marat. That's what makes it so dangerous - hidden away from view for so many years. I'm not sure how I feel about this painting, except deeply conflicted. You can't doubt that it's a solid gold masterpiece, but that's to separate it from the appalling moment of its creation, the French Revolution. This is Jean-Paul Marat, the most paranoid of the Revolution's fanatics, exhaling his very last breath. He's been assassinated in his bath. But for David, Marat isn't a monster, he's a saint. This is martyrdom, David's manifesto of revolutionary virtue."

Martyrdom indeed, as Schama might intone.

When I was a lad, elementary school years, living in New York, the World’s Fair came to town at Flushing Meadow Park – 1965. The Vatican had a pavilion there, and offered as the featured attraction, Michelangelo’s Pieta. Watching the Schama presentation of David’s Death of Marat and hearing his account about martyrdom, my brain zipped back to that childhood experience.

David’s Death of Marat is, of course, an emulation of the Michelangelo sculpture – it’s the Pieta without the mommy; even the respective poses of the two sacrificial lambs is the same, although viewed from different spatial perspectives (and as if to make up for the absence of Michelangelo’s female element, one might suggest that David depicted Marat as a rather feminine figure).

In retrospect, it’s a bit odd that, at the age of twelve, what I found the most intriguing about the Vatican’s exhibit was not the grand sculpture, nor its green lighting, nor the motorized walkway that sped visitors past Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but rather, what I thought at the time, were those funny little dishes protruding from the walls as one entered the exhibit. They were filled with green water.

Of course, they turned out to be dishes of ‘holy water’; the green tinge, I now assume, was imparted by the addition of disinfectant, probably an imposed requirement of New York’s Department of Health. Kids!

Happy Anniversary…

by: Schvach Yid

America! My brother and his family live in New Jersey (‘Joisy’ to those in the know), and since that state figured so prominently in our Revolutionary War, perhaps it’s fitting to commemorate the event with Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s painting of our nation’s founding father crossing the Delaware River (with the Red Coats hot on his trail/tail).