Offending the Church: Caravaggio’s St Matthew.

March 2, 2014

Caravaggio's 'The Inspiration of St Matthew' - the altarpiece for the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Caravaggio’s ‘The Inspiration of St Matthew’ – the altarpiece for the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

The religious art of the Renaissance portrayed Jesus’ divinity above all else, in dream like states. The physical and the spiritual almost become one in the same. As if Pagan Gods existing in a perfected World separate from our own. The perfectly chiseled bodies of Biblical patriarchs cover the Sistine Chapel, with Jesus on the far wall judging souls and displaying his power. Similarly, ‘The Last Judgement’ by Rogier van der Weyden shows Christ illuminated by surrounding fire, floating on a rainbow above every other figure. Jesus and the saints were idealised in the art of the middle ages, through the Renaissance, right up until the turn of the 17th Century.

Born in 1571, half a century after Luther sparked the reformation, Michelangelo Merisi – Caravaggio – through his art, contributed greatly to the new Roman Catholic desire to counter the Protestants, and reaffirm the importance of religious imagery in connecting the founding years of Christianity, with modern day Catholicism. A few years prior to the artist’s birth, the Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent’s final session and set its new rules on religious imagery:

“Moreover, in the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics, and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed, all filthy lucre be abolished; finally, all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust; nor the celebration of the saints, and the visitation of relics be by any perverted into revellings and drunkenness; as if festivals are celebrated to the honour of the saints by luxury and wantonness.”

– One might suggest that this marks a point in time in which the Church began its long history of obsession with sexual repression. But it also marks the break from the art of the renaissance depicting idealised saints far removed from the lives of ordinary people, and gave Caravaggio’s more naturalistic and human style access to the wealthiest patrons, through the Catholic Church. Cardinal Del Monte being a key player in the promotion of the young artist when he arrived in Rome. To this end, Caravaggio worked to emphasise the humanity and naturalism and humble nature of Jesus and the saints. The material Jesus and the Saints, as ordinary human beings. Divinity was not a theme he cared too much for. To attempt to provide links from the past to the present, Caravaggio would place Jesus or the Saints often in early 17th Century Rome, in naturalistic settings completely removed from anything previously imagined. No idealised hills and valleys would be included. For example ‘The Calling of St Matthew’ sees Matthew dressed in late 16th Century Roman clothing, in a 16th Century dingey Roman house, with dirty windows, whilst Jesus appears in 1st Century attire, bear foot, so as to emphasise his humbleness. And whilst this seems to be in keeping with the Church’s new strict rules on religious art, it seems they weren’t entirely ready for what they had unleashed.

In 1602 Caravaggio was tasked with producing an altarpiece for the Contarelli chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, in Rome. The French Church sits close to the Piazza Navona, housed Martin Luther during his trial in Rome, and already contained two Caravaggio works either side of the altar, depicting St Matthew’s calling (an obvious homage to French King Henri IV and his conversion to Catholicism in the 1590s), and St Matthew’s martyrdom. The newly commissioned piece was entitled ‘St Matthew and the Angel’. The painting itself was destroyed in Berlin during World War II, but this is a photo of it:

angelmatthew
– This is a work of profound genius. St Matthew is portrayed as a humble human being, wrinkled and old, a poor Roman of Caravaggio’s day, completely dazed and shocked by the divine guidance being offered to him by an angel, whilst bathed in light. As with all Caravaggio works, God is represented by a stream of light in a darkened surrounding. The Conversion of St Paul similarly shows this style, with Paul’s outstretched arms soaking in the light. A World away from the bearded God flying through the air in Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Caravaggio’s lowly ‘St Matthew’ is intended to connect the saints, to the common man. As if to say “they’re just like you”. He is unable to comprehend the gravity of the mission in front of him. Matthew’s hand is directed to write the very first words of the very first account of the life of Jesus – the Gospel of Matthew was at this time believed to be the first – almost as if he is in such a state of profound shock, he cannot write without the guiding hand of the angel. He is depicted as just a man, unable to comprehend the message without direct and concentrated help. The angel is concentrating intently on the hand of the illiterate Saint, producing the presumed first account of the life of Jesus, and you can almost imagine the words being written slowly, guided throughout by the patient teaching angel. The saint’s clothes are all over the place, exposing his legs and his dirty feet that point directly out to the viewer. Caravaggio has painted Matthew as real as humanly possible. And for that reason, the Church censored the painting and scandal ensued. According to Caravaggio’s early biographer, Giovanni Bellori:

“Then something happened which greatly disturbed Caravaggio and almost made him despair of his reputation. After the
central picture of St. Matthew had been finished and placed on the altar, it was taken away by the priests, who said that the figure with his legs crossed and his feet crudely exposed to the public had neither decorum nor the appearance of a saint.”

Art historian E.H. Gombrich elaborates on this episode in Caravaggio’s life:

“Caravaggio, who was a very imaginative and uncompromising young artist, thought hard about what it must have been like when an elderly, poor, working man, a simple publican, suddenly had to sit down to write a book. And so he painted a picture of St Matthew with a bald head and bare, dusty feet, awkwardly gripping the huge volume, anxiously wrinkling his brow under the unaccustomed strain of writing. By his side he painted a youthful angel, who seems just to have arrived from on high, and who gently guides the labourer’s hand as a teacher may do to a child. When Caravaggio delivered this picture to the church where it was to be placed on the altar, people were scandalized at what they took to be lack of respect for the saint. The painting was not accepted, and Caravaggio had to try again. This time he took no chance. He kept strictly to the conventional ideas of what an angel and a saint should look like. The outcome is still quite a good picture, for Caravaggio had tried hard to make it look lively and interesting, but we feel that it is less honest and sincere than the first had been.”

– Bellori conveys to us the despair that Caravaggio felt at being censored, whilst Gombrich informs us of the scandal that ensued from such a break from traditional depictions of saints and from that which the Church deemed acceptable. It is the epitome of expression through artistic endeavour meeting dominant resistant power structures.

Despite the strict new rules on religious imagery set by the Council of Trent, the Church was unable to let go of what they previously believed the ‘appearance of a saint’ should be; a belief that must not be contradicted on threat of censorship and scandal. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi still believed that depictions of the saints should retain an element of the divine about them; something that differentiated them from ordinary people, a sort of inability to let go of the idealised Catholic art of the past. Any deviation, any attempt to suggest a link between the common folk, and the saints was still not completely acceptable, and so Caravaggio’s attempt at a truthful portrayal of the apostle could not penetrate Church propaganda and ideals, and so was censored. It ended up in a private collection far away from the public gaze. Millions of people denied the right to see this work, purely because the Church deemed it to be offensive to their tastes.

Caravaggio painted a second dumbed down version, seen at the top of this article. Whilst still seeped in realism, and a wonderful painting, it loses a lot of the merits of the first painting. In it, a perfectly literate St Matthew in flowing rich red robes, an air of ‘respectability’ looks like a philosopher from antiquity. Holding the pen himself, Matthew lacks the look of shock that he had in the first painting, almost as if he’s perfectly prepared for this. The angel may as well not be there. The angel – counting on his hand – dictates arguments rather than the Gospel word for word. The saint writes unaided, his feet pointing away so as to not cause any offence, and most telling of all, the newly depicted St Matthew has a halo. He is now balancing between a regular human being, and divine. He is no longer connected to ordinary people. This version of St Matthew, with all its confusions, is entirely mirrored in a Catholic counter-reformation still unsure of itself.

I am often inclined to wonder if Caravaggio’s dangerous life might have turned out differently, had his creative flair been fully liberated from the clutch of a Church that presumed it had a right to prohibit what it considered to be ‘offensive’ to its wholly illegitimate grip on power. Challenging power structures on any level, is absolutely vital. Caravaggio was – to a degree – constrained by ideology. Modern day attempts to prohibit expression based on what a religious group consider ‘offensive’ are no different. The rationale they employ is one that attempts to tell the rest of us that we shouldn’t be allowed to produce what they deem to be ‘offensive’ expressions, and by attempting to outlaw ‘offensive’ material, it further seeks to forbid our right – as grown adults – to view material that adherents to that one religion might consider ‘offensive’. We are denied a right to see or hear dissenting views, as much as we are denied a right to create dissenting views. This is abhorrent to me. It is constraining human thoughts, and naturally creative instincts, for the perpetuation of one ideology. It is this censorship inherent to authoritarian religions that contributed greatly to their spread and grip on power and the one reason that liberation of ideas, of art, or expression in all its forms is the very basis of a decent, free and progressive society.


An Australian trip

July 17, 2011

It is surprising that I am not a Mark Rothko fan. I find his work to be easy and tedious. I feel nothing when I look at his work. It doesn’t overwhelm me, in the way that a Rembrandt, or a Caravaggio does. Yet, what he is trying to convey – a sense of calm – in nature, I find to be breathtaking. The photo below, I took yesterday somewhere along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. It’s difficult not to think “Rothko” when you see it. Yet it possesses something that Rothko just couldn’t create. Perhaps something that man can’t create.

Rothko simply fails to grasp hold of this sense of beauty in his works.

Here are a few photos I have taken on my second trip to Australia. Enjoy.

Ash bought me this incredible coat, as an early birthday/christmas gift. It is actually the greatest coat ever made. This was taken on a steam boat on the Murray River. Ash booked a gorgeous weekend away in Moama.

Our room in Moama, complete with a fire place, and a spa.

A shack on the Murray River.

Claire and Mark!

Ahmed, Geoff, Kerry, Ash and me.

North Melbourne V Collingwood, at the MCG.

Mr Geoff, in front of Flinders St, in Melbourne.

There will be more to come!
And be sure to check out my other photography: Futile Photographer.


…from her melodious lay

April 20, 2011

If you take the time to read the diary entries of Christopher Columbus after he found land in the “New World“, you notice a distinct lack of awe. There is no language describing in detail the land itself. This is a continent that no European had ever step foot on before, and Columbus spends almost the entire length of his journals, telling posterity that he expects to find gold any time soon. He speaks of all the marketable goods this new World could offer. The first group of people who meets, are the Taino’s. He describes them as:

They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal..Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ..They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.

This admiration for the Tainos does not foreshadow the devastation that the arrival of the Spanish would cause to the Taino people, who by 17th Century, were all but wiped out. After noting their friendly natures, Columbus regained his European nature, and wrote to the Spanish government:

The Tainos could all be subjected and made to do all that one might wish.

Suddenly, the people became a commodity.
Columbus’ diaries show that the mode of thought that Europeans had in the 15th Century was aimed exclusively at commerce. Columbus obsession with finding gold was entirely because his financiers would demand it back home. The lack of description of the landscape is echoed in the lack of descriptive language in their vocabulary. Gonzalo Fernández, the Spanish historian proves this decisive lack of language, and leads me onto the point of this blog, perfectly:

Of all the things I have seen, this is the one thing that has most left me without hope of being able to describe it in words. It needs to be painted by the hand of a Berruguete, or some other excellent painter like him, or by Leonardo de Vinci, or Andrea Mentegna, famous painters whom I knew in Italy

To understand my favourite era’s in art – the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelites – we have to understand the context of the time period in which they were created. The vast majority of people were supremely materialistic and beauty was largely ignored unless it had some sort of commercial value in the 14th, 15th and 16th Century. The way Columbus spoke of the Taino people in Hispaniola was not malicious for the time period. Through 21st century specs, Columbus’ words regarding the subjugation of an entire group of people seem heartless, especially given that he had already noted just how gentle those people were. But through 15th Century European specs, they were common.

Renaissance and later Baroque artists managed to convey a World both lost to antiquity, and contemporary but free from the constrains of a deeply materialistic World that they inhabited. That is their genius. The beauty of the World is somehow missed when it is overshadowed by the need for “things”. We ignore objects that the artists amplify. The natural World is just “there“, it becomes both a commodity and entirely ignored because there are apparently more important things to focus our attention on. If we get very little pleasure from seeing a tree because we’re so used to it, but we note the beauty of Giorgione’s (or Titian’s… no one is sure which one of the two painted it) pastoral scene in which the trees have an almost dreamlike quality, for no apparent reason, we have heightened our sense of reality. That is what art is supposed to do.

I cannot put my finger on what it is I love so much about Renaissance art. But I suspect it is because the artist takes an everyday object and makes me take note of that object in a painting, despite the fact that I wouldn’t normally take note of that object in reality. It heightens my sense of reality. If we jump forward to another favourite time period in art, of mine, to 1829, and to the Pre-Raphaelite Sir John Everett Millais (which is odd, given that the Pre-Raphaelites really hated Renaissance concepts), and more specifically, to his work “Ophelia” (one of my all time favourite paintings), this heightened sense of awareness becomes apparent:

We sense calm, we sense perhaps spring, we sense the contrast between the strong colours of nature, and the grey, lifeless colours of Shakespeare’s dying Ophelia. Her face does not stand out among the very allegorical choice of flowers. Pansies were also known as hearts-ease, meaning peace in feeling. The poppy has always signified death. Daisies signified innocence. The plants and flowers Millais included were not at the scene in which he painted, he added them himself for a reason. The poppy doesn’t appear in Shakespeare’s description either. Ophelia’s expression contrasts with the madness of the character Shakespeare created. She looks at peace. The flowers she holds signify the peacefulness of her death, despite the madness of her life. Her hair looks peaceful, it is not all over her face. She is not face down in the darkness of the water, she is holding flowers. The Victorians had a little bit of an odd obsession with the “language of flowers“. Her face is white and her clothes flow into the river at the end of the painting neatly. There is no madness to her death. That is why Millais’ Ophelia heightens my sense of a reality I am blissfully unaware of in my every day life.

In his book “The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance”, Berenson sums this up perfectly, by stating that:

… the chief business of the figure painter, as an artist, is to stimulate the tactile imagination

– That is to say, the artist is there to point out the World that we are unaware of, and say “look, this is it, enjoy it!!” Art is a reminder of what is real.

The 15th and 16th Centuries needed the Renaissance painters to convey a World that was beyond the imagination of the every day person looking for material gain. Columbus is the epitome of that obsession for material gain. When faced with a brand new World, his only thought was material wealth. Conversely, without that obsession with material wealth, art is pointless.


Futile Scribble

February 4, 2011

I am writing more and more in my little notebook recently, and I’d quite like to blog the notes I make, in some sort of vain attempt to appeal to my creative writing side. So alongside Futile Democracy and Futile Photography, I now own Futile Scribble.

The difference between this blog, and Futile Scribble, is that I do not want Futile Scribble to involve much thought. It is just for simple, quick, off-the-cuff notes that I feel the need to write down, and then to preserve. Almost an experiment for my own sake, to note how my thought patterns change over time. It is also an attempt to think in the moment, rather than becoming deeply anxious constantly through only thinking about the future. I am finding spontaneous note taking, to be rather settling and serene, in an odd way.
That is why Futile Scribble now exists.

Go subscribe!


On a Metro train in Paris

January 27, 2011

What is a writer? An artist? or just a narcissist. Especially bloggers. We think we have something important to tell the World, or to convince the World that we are right when actually we are the crowd. We are the amplified vanity of our real life selves. We can be creative and we can have spells where our mind is numb and empty. Most of the time we are just attention seeking. We need people to know our thoughts and opinions. If we locked ourselves away in a room and smoked ourselves to death reading the great writers like Hemingway, the World wouldn’t miss us. The World would have missed Hemingway. Perhaps we are interpreters. Perhaps we feel the need to vent or maybe we have no other way to express ourselves. Do we bring something to the World? I think so. I think bloggers are a new field of writers entirely. We are journalists without employment and yet our work is free for the entire World to see. We are commentators. It doesn’t matter our motives or our apparent desire to feel we have your attention. Are we artists? Some of us, yes. Most of us, no.

Sometimes we all just need to scream and punch and kick and fight and laugh crazily and beg to get off the train and lock ourselves away and think, because if we don’t we will be inflicted by a ferocious, endless insanity. But introspection is much like a kettle. It has a boiling point. It needs to be poured out when it reaches that point.

Writing, is my way of doing that.

On a Metro train in Paris, a young French mother was sat next to her little boy. She was sketching fellow passengers. Not all of them. Maybe just an arm of one of them, the hair of another. She sketched beautifully the vacant, lost expression of a middle aged tall man with short grey hair and a tweed jacket. She could have chosen anyone on that carriage to sketch; she chose the man with the most forgettable face. She saw the ordinary and created something extraordinary. And when the man left the train, she switched her eyes to the next person she wished to sketch, and she never scribbled anything out or started again. I was intrigued by her, the entire way. She is an artist. I wish I could do the same. I don’t have it in me. So I write. But there is no difference really. It is an outlet. An artist or not, it is an outlet. We are both channelling our minds to something that is uniquely ‘us’.

I do not write for any artistic sake. I am not an artist. To be an artist, you need to be able to suspend a sense of reality and express the sense of private solitary that is just aching to burst out. You see it in the writings of Silvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. Theirs is a unique Worldly interpretation that is expressed beautifully. They see a red rose and say it’s green, and you don’t know why they say it, but for some reason it makes sense that they do and I want to be them. But i’m not. I cannot express why I sometimes see a red rose appear green. I guess that is why I, like everyone else in the World, cannot do what these geniuses do.

There are many parts of the World and reality that I live in and don’t understand or find absurd or want to throw in the bin and forget, which other people tend to find normal or at least easy to deal with and I can’t and I don’t know why. I frustrate myself if I try to explain the way I see much of the bullshit I’m supposed to accept as a mere “fact of life” that you “can’t change” so “why worry? just get on with it“….. no, I have no time for that attitude. I mentioned not long ago, being yelled at at work by a colleague for putting a tray of food down on the table that people were sat at, rather than the table that they weren’t sat at, and taking the food too them. It wasn’t inconvenient. The people at the table were laughing and joking with me (which they weren’t with any other staff) and no harm was done. To be shouted at, made me stand for about three minutes, and laugh to myself. You have to laugh at absurdities, because if you don’t, you risk acquiescing to that way of life and you risk trying to legitimate it to yourself, you risk betraying your thoughts and your unique understanding, and I don’t want to be in that World. Fuck that World. I don’t fucking want it.

“At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

It is a childish rebellious nature. And because it is my nature, I cannot change it, nor do I wish to change it. I don’t want to be like everyone else. And that’s where writers fall down. We assume that we have something unique to say, that we aren’t like everyone else, that we think differently and can’t seem to understand the World like everyone else seems to manage to do perfectly. Realistically, we’re not tortured, or artistic, or even different. We are just far more over analytical and far more self aware and far more neurotic. I am horribly self aware, that I have to be in control of every situation I find myself in. If i’m on the street walking, I have to know who is in front of me, who is behind me, who is walking up the street from me, which way the car in the carpark opposite is likely to come, and if it’s going to rain at any time soon. I’m neurotic as hell. I don’t particularly need control with my friends or relationships. I just need to know that I am fully in control of myself and aware of absolutely everything that is going on around me. I absolutely hate that idea that I am boring someone, or that I am being made out to be stupid. I analyse everything and everyone. I am trying to hold on to my own sense of self all the time and I feel like I am losing. I question everything and everyone. I question my own intelligence and worry that it’s all false and that i’ve managed to somehow manipulate everyone into thinking I have an ounce of intelligence when in fact I have nothing to offer anyone in the way of intelligent conversation. I cannot relax. I am a fucking mountain of anxiety. I try to pander to what is emotionally acceptable in the hope that I am acceptable to you.

Introspection is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps me grow mentally, and places the present in the context of what came before, and what I expect of myself tomorrow. It is my meditation, because it is myself, testing myself. It is a form of creativity in itself for me. I like that. It is however different to a constant feeling of awareness. Awareness is good, but constantly, it just creates anxiety, and anxiety at awareness exhausts itself because it allows for nothing but the negative to take hold. Introspection leads to a natural rebellion. Awareness leads to anxiety.

If rebellion was not natural, and was pointless, we would not have the great works of art of literature that we today admire so greatly. Rebellion is simply dissatisfaction at the workings of the World. It seems to exist more with the younger generations. The older generations claim ‘wisdom’, because they’ve given up, lost hope for a better World, and acquiesced to the whim of those who pay them. The rebellious nature acts as a kind of spark that you need to keep going. I cannot live without that feeling. It would be a waste of my time. It is rebellion, in the sense that it makes no sense to me that 6.5 billion people, can be classed as one of very very few Nationalities or Religions or Races, like little cylinders all fitting nicely into the round hole they have been assigned. We are all, absolutely all of us, rectangles trying to be forced into the round hole. It is not cynical or pessimistic. It is sincerely optimistic that humanity is better than this.

Camus begins his book The Outsider with the line:

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

It is a beautiful start to a book. An existentialist book about a man who has completely rejected expected human reactions and emotions, and is just a very natural person, unaffected by the emotional norms forced upon us by society.

Trying to define oneself is in essence limiting oneself to the limitations of language, and around a social framework placed in the context of your time and geographical location and it is therefore quite impossible. I would also be limiting myself to collective understanding, and I cannot know experience and definition of myself, outside of my own constructed reality. No one else has had my experiences, or my memories, or knows how I react to situations, to people, to colours, to objects, or to events. I am me and I like me but I cannot define me. There is no absolute. A lack of absolute individually, and logically therefore collectively, leads me to conclude that nothing has to be “just the way it is, you just have to get on with it” if that is not how you interpret the World. Trying to define oneself is like trying to hold sand. We define ourselves and those around us, by our individual perceptions.

You build up a persona for yourself in front of different friends and family. It’s all fucking bullshit, but you start to believe that’s who you are. It isn’t who you are. Who you are is screaming at you to open its cage door. Sometimes you want to go away and start again, like your whole life had been written on a piece of paper you now want to screw up and throw into the fire.

The only truth is that happiness is fleeting, because for happiness to be meaningful, it requires the opposite. The past is gone. The future is irrelevant and living is what actually matters. And so when we aren’t living, when we are just existing, we are more aware than ever that happiness is fleeting, and it has fleeted. Perhaps we think that by writing and gaining recognition for our writing, we are creating our own fleeting happiness that is vacant from our lives elsewhere. Like a drug. A thought needing to be written down, takes the shape of our life until it is written. Until we sit back, and see it written. Then we momentarily feel a fleet of happiness and accomplishment. We are not alienated from our writing, like we are from our day to day work. The writing we have created is as much a part of us as our legs and arms. That is satisfaction on a level that is inexplicable.

We expend a great amount of energy trying to seek meaning to our lives and our World. We fail every time. We fail because natural meaning or purpose is absurd. The universe is indifferent to our existence. It isn’t laid out for humanity. It isn’t hostile to humanity. It is simply indifferent. And so trying to seek a natural meaning, is illogical. I write, to try to define myself and sort of create my own meaning.

I cannot word my arguments very well when I speak. It is my biggest set back and I hate it. I get so frustrated with myself. I see words jumbled up in my mind and I want to say them all but I cant arrange them in a logical order and so it just becomes a mess of words and sentences that mean nothing and I start to panic, which only makes the situation worse. I cannot construct sentences in the way that I want to. I have ideas and arguments and yet they are just feelings that I cannot convert into words and I despise myself for it. I don’t want to come across stupid and useless. I want to come across strong minded and passionate and in absolute control. I want to come across confident and authoritative when I speak. But I can’t.

That is why I write.


Render unto Caesar…

January 22, 2011

As you walk down the Rue de Souffle in the Latin Quarter of Paris, looking straight ahead of you, it is impossible to ignore the pure beauty of the Pantheon as it towers above everything else surrounding it. The road, named after the Architect of the Pantheon; Jacques-Germain Soufflot, is at first glance a fitting tribute to the French master of Neoclassical architecture. Voltaire, who is buried in the Crypt at the Pantheon, is said to have been taken in the funeral procession to the Pantheon, alongside a crowd on the Rue de Souffle, of over a million people.

Inside the Pantheon, you will have already past the huge columns forcefully holding up the entrance. You are then greeted by an amazing inner dome, which reaches to the sky, and is just as wide as it is tall. In the centre, is a giant piece of scientific brilliance, by the scientist Léon Foucault, erected in 1851 with the intention of being the first to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth on its axis. I cannot explain the experiment, because it hurts my head to think about it too much; needless to say, it is a work of beauty.

An equally as beautiful work of art stands at the back of the main hall. I stood in awe for a while at the incessantly attractive sculpture, depicting the “heroes” of the French revolution. The realism is romanticism at its finest, surrounded by neoclassicalism at its finest.

The Crypt is now the resting place of some of the greatest French artists, writers, philosophers, poets and politicians that ever lived. Voltaire, Mirabeau, Victor Hugo, Rousseau, Soufflot, Braille, Curie, Dumas; are all buried in the Crypt at the Pantheon.

And yet, despite all of this, there is a sign within the crypt at the Pantheon, letting people know, that actually, the structure is in constant need of restoration because its falling apart.

The successful failure, as i’m naming the beautiful yet slightly shoddy craftsmanship of the Pantheon in its attempt to resurrect the architectural genius of the Pantheon still standing strongly in the centre of Rome, is mirrored in 19th Century France when it comes to the death of the Monarchy, an attempt at Republic, and the falling into Empire. Rome experienced much the same structure of governance.

The last King of Rome; Lucius Tarquinius was driven to exile by Lucius Brutus in 509bc, and the Roman Republic era began. The end of the Roman Republic arguably ended with Julius Caesar being proclaimed Dictator for life in around late 45bc. Caesar was considered the hero of the common people. His face was stamped on coins, he sat on a throne-like seat in the Senate which had no one had dared to do since the fall of the Kingdom, he then had a statue of himself erected. This aroused suspicion that he intended to overthrow the beloved Republic and establish himself as King (which is probably true), and so a group of Senators lead by Brutus (an apparent ancestor of the Brutus who established the Republic 450 years previous, though it isn’t provable) murdered Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey (not in the Senate house, as most people think), underneath the statue of Pompey; Caesar’s old friend turned enemy. In killing the people’s hero Julius Caesar, his adopted son Octavian soon became the people’s hero, and used his popularity to hunt down and kill all of Caesar’s killers, to do away with Marc Anthony and to establish himself, cunningly, as the first Emperor of Rome; Augustus.

Similarly, as King Louis XVI was killed off by revolutionaries set to form a Republic, the aspirations of a young general who had visions of expanding the territory of France, as Caesar had done as General of the Roman Legions during his expanding of the Roman territory into Gaul (modern day France, Austria, Switzerland); Napoleon Bonaparte. After his success as a General, Bonaparte became First Consulate of the French Senate in 1799. Effectively, granting himself the right of Dictator for life, as Caesar had done. Following Caesar’s lead, Bonaparte started to wear the crown of laurel leaves. Caesar took the idea of wearing a laurel wreath from the old Greek tales of the God Apollo, who was always depicted wearing one. Caesar was putting himself on a par with the Gods. Napoleon was trying to emulate Caesar. It is almost scientific. The violent change from Kingdom to Republic to Empire is almost the necessary result of socio-historical processes that have been seen in Rome, France, and to some extent, the USA. Whilst personal characteristics of people like Caesar and Napoleon, and their lust and arrogance for absolute power are important in the narrative, they are merely one part in a much larger narrative of history that leads from Kingdom to Empire. When Republic is faltering, it is amazing to see, throughout history, an overbearing and maniacal personality appears on the scene almost right on cue, to force his way into the seat of power. Empire is inevitable at that point, and Empire is necessarily imperialist by nature. Napoleon and Caesar were both not popular with the nobility of their respective Country’s before in their younger days. Napoleon felt he was of social inferiority in comparison to the French nobility, he was an introvert and a loner by nature. Caesar’s family had very little political influence and he was a bit of an outcast. Napoleon saw, as did Caesar, that the State was falling, and a strong political and military mind could quite easily fill the gap. Napoleon once remarked:

“What a great people were these Romans, especially down to the Second Punic War. But Caesar! Ah Caesar! That was the great man!”

Napoleon, had himself crowned Emperor, emulating Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian (Augustus) in 1804. The French Empire expanded at first, but soon crumbled under his leadership. He successfully defeated coalition partners of Europe five times, before tempting fate with an ill conceived invasion of Russia in 1812, and was forced to abdicate and exiled in 1813. The strong and mystifying exterior of Napoleon, soon crumbled, like the walls of the Pantheon.

One could argue that Napoleon is actually not at all the personified mirror of the Pantheon, and actually far more successful than Julius Caesar given that Caesar was murdered before he could become Emperor, whereas Napoleon was successful in turning France into an Empire, taking control of most of Western and Central Europe in less than twelve years, and lasted a decade more than Caesar after taking power. Napoleon was a genius. Although, one would have to take into consideration the lasting legacy of both Caesar and Napoleon. For example, every Emperor of Rome was referred to as Caesar, for over 400 years after his death. The name Napoleon has long since died, other than Orwell’s use of the name for a horse in Animal Farm. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe was plunged into centuries of the Dark Ages; a truly regressive era in our history. When Napoleon fell, France thrived. The people adored Caesar. The people did not adore Napoleon. Caesar was proclaimed a God, and worshipped as such for the next half a millennium. Napoleon never came close to such accolade. The model of Rome during the Empire has been the inspiration for great artists, architects (such as Souffle’s Pantheon, and even as far as the Capitol building in Washington D.C), sculptors, writers, and people like Napoleon have tried to copy the system of governance for centuries since the final collapse of Rome in the fifth century. I cannot imagine the short phase of French Empire is going to be the inspiration for any such renaissance. The greatest poets during the Renaissance in Florence and Milan were crowned with a laurel wreath, in the style of Caesar to show that they were the masters of the poets. The legacy of the Roman Empire is far stronger and has a greater romance attached to it, than Bonaparte’s France.

The brief revival of the French Empire under Napoleon III was arguably more successful in terms of policy successes and the modernisation of France as an industrial power. And yet Napoleon III is often overlooked as a key figure in French history. His taking of power from the 2nd Republic which was established after the fall of his uncle, Napoleon, was largely a result of the fact that the new Republic was not a Republic at all, having abolished Universal Suffrage and a left over from the political upheaval of the fifty years previous. Stable government had not been known in France by the time Napoleon III took control, for around sixty years.

By the time Octavian became Emperor Augustus in Rome, the Republic had been dead for a long time. Whilst Augustus’ reign was far superior to Caesar’s and Napoleon’s and most Emperors with perhaps the exception of Trajan, he only managed to become Emperor – albeit cleverly and shrewdly – by building on the groundwork laid by his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. The political instability and the uncertain population was crying out for leadership; Octavian provided it.

Rome has a proud tradition. It, along with Ancient Greece certainly spawned Western Neoclassical art and architecture that has produced, with inspiration from the Ancient World, some spectacular works of art. The library in Helsinki is a great example of a Neoclassical building with a modern twist. Le Petit Trianon at Versailles in Paris, has a White House-esque look to it, fundamentally Neoclassical, but modern in feel. St Peter’s in Vatican City, is beautifully designed, and looks back across the Tiber and across history, to its Roman and Pagan ancestry for inspiration. Rome is the father of such brilliance. As it is politically….

If the line of history is to play out again and again, then surely it is not a coincidence that the Republic of the United States of America, which emerged as a result of the violent revolution against Kingdom, is often considered to now be an Empire. But, why is there no Emperor? Why has the Republic not collapsed as History would proscribe? Is America a new kind of Empire? A purely economic Empire, that is a product of advanced Capitalism? A Capitalist American Empire that requires a Napoleon-esque strategic mind, not for Statism and the old conception of Empire, but for ruthless business, coupled with aggressive foreign policy; the new Empire. And so no longer requiring of an overbearing, too powerful Centralised State with a single powerful person at its helm, because that would be contradictory to its “free market” economic purposes and so does it transcend the part of history that would proscribe the fall into the hands of a single person, because the Emperor, is no longer a human being, but instead the excessive power of capital? Or is it destined, after a period of prolonged success, to follow an inevitable path of history?


Tattoo day

January 12, 2011

Today Ash bought my birthday present. A tattoo.
It is in remembrance of the two weeks in which my grandparents died and my mum left. A couple of weeks that changed a lot of things. It is also in respect to how I view the working world. An silly absurd game full of players with this odd sense of “being professional”. It is entirely absurd. And so, my new tattoo is an Albert Camus quote, the King of Absurdism:
At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face“.

It wasn’t as painful as people were making out. I had read on an internet site that a tattoo that is half on my ribs and half on my stomach would be “excruciatingly painful”. After annoying me greatly at the absurd sentence itself (excruciatingly means extremely painful, so the sentence “excruciatingly painful” actually means extremely painful painful…… i’m 25 in nine days, I now get annoyed at poor sentence structure), I started to feel a tad bit nervous, which slowly turned into intense nervousness. That nervousness soon resided after the tattooist (Opulent Ink in Wolverhampton) started. Listening to more than twenty seconds of a Muse song is more painful than getting a tattoo. Although the part over my bottom rib, was masterfully painful. But I manned up! And now I have a lovely new tattoo…..


The band

November 20, 2010

A couple of bands in the area that I live asked me to do a few sample photos for them at rehearsal. It is my first attempt at band photography. This is what I came up with:

This second lot of photos, is from a band called Soundtrack. They can be heard here.


Futilephotographer

August 24, 2010

Since being over here in Australia, I have rediscovered my interest in Photography. Ash is a fantastic person to encourage creativity. I can count on her honesty. It is encouraging. Before hand, I was given two extremes. Either people who would tell me I am an amazing photographer who should take on the World and become the greatest ever, whilst they lick my arse thoroughly for as long as possible before the muscles of the tongue cease up; or I had pretentious art types who were about as talented as a Big Brother contestant, and so dismissed the art work of anyone who didn’t appear to be ‘fashionably wacky’. Complete opposite, and completely extreme. There was never anyone who would critique me the way I wished. I know I can rely on my Aussie for a truthful opinion and tips.

I studied Photography for a year in London, during late 2008. I left the course early because the people who ran it had a very specific taste in art and would outright tell you you’re photos were utterly shit. The line between subjective opinion and objective truth became magically blurred, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like them telling me what makes a good shot. I didn’t like them telling me that Diane Arbus was the greatest Photographer of the 20th Century. I didn’t like being told that a subject that is wholly subjective, can be moulded into something objective. So I left. And with it, my passion for photography slipped away. I have very low self belief when it comes to my own creativity.

I have now decided to take up Photography again, for myself. Therefore, I have created a new blog located at: http://futilephotographer.wordpress.com on which I shall display my Photography work from now on. I really do wish to start selling some works too, given that I am but a poor student in need of as much of an income as possible. Comments on my work would be very much appreciated.

I hope you like the photos!


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Lomo: Another roll

August 9, 2010

Here is another selection of a roll of photography prints from my Diana Mini lomography camera, taken here in Aussie land.


Side

July 20, 2010

According to dictionary.com, the word ‘side’ means: “one of the surfaces forming the outside of or bounding a thing, or one of the lines bounding a geometric figure.” It does not say that ‘side’ should refer to one specific place. We English have taken this description very very seriously.

Side, is an English concept apparently. The Aussies have no idea what I’m talking about when I say something is on the side. They look at me, as if I’ve said “Oh hi, I was just wondering if I could tweak your nipples for a second or two?” Their minds cannot comprehend the complexity of ‘side‘. Side, to us Brits is like Narnia. We know it exists, because we have seen it. But no one else understands it.

Let me elaborate; when someone in the house asks a simple question such as “where are the keys?” and you know that the keys are on the bench next to the cooker, the answer is “they’re on the side“. If the very same person were to ask; “okay, I have the keys, where is my phone?” and you know that the phone is on top of the set of drawers in the bedroom on the right hand side of the bed, the answer would be “they’re in the bedroom, on the side“. If they are then looking for their hand held mirror, which Ashlee was looking for this morning, and you know it is in the bathroom on the bench next to the dryer, you would say “it’s in the bathroom on the side“.

Here is an example. I shall use Jesus and the virgin Mary as key characters in this, because they still seem to be quite popular.

Jesus: “Oi, shitface, where’s my phone? And you can’t punish me for calling you shitface, because i’m Jesus, i’ll turn your bathwater into the terrified screams of unbelievers.”
Mary: “It’s on the side, love.”
Jesus: “Magdelene keeps ringing, tellin’ me she’s all pregnant and that the kid is mine. Fuck that. Ima kick off in the temple today, fake my death to avoid paying child support, and become what i’ve always wanted to be; a gay atheist democrat. I’m sure no harm will come from it, and I’m almost certain that the idea that I’ve had a child will in no way spawn the writing of an incredibly shit novel followed by an even worse film rendition of it, followed even further by the same author raping the very concept of literature, and metaphorically pissing all over greats like Shakespeare and Milton, by writing even more atrocious novels. Thanks for my phone, it was on the side, your water is safe.”

See! Even Jesus knew what side was.

We Brits know exactly what side we are talking about, when we answer with “side“. If someone were to ask us “oh cool, you found the keys, where were they?” and you found the keys on the small table that the phone sits on, you would say “they were on the side“. Side is a generic answer, for when something is on the work bench, or on top of the bathroom cupboards, or the bedside table. However, side is NEVER to be used to describe a bed, a couch, a dining room table, a bookshelf, a child’s head, or the floor. That would just be ridiculous.

I have tried today to limit my use of ‘side’ when Ash asks where something is. This morning, as explained earlier, she asked where her mirror was. I answered, knowing that the use of ‘side’ was very much off limits, with: “It’s on the …….. bench……. with the clothe……… with the jumper thing….. next to the…….erm………. It’s on the side“. I couldn’t help it, side is just a far more simple way of explaining the location of a given object at any particular time.

So now we have cleared that up, here’s a pretty picture of mine for you to look at, in an attempt to make it seem like this was a worthwhile blog at all. It was taken in Melbourne at the weekend. I have uploaded a few more prints that are now for sale, at http://jme2007.deviantart.com/prints if you are interested. That’s right, my transformation into a dirty Capitalist is well underway. I will be lobbying Western governments to invade poorer Nations and create awesome photo opportunities at the expense of the local population, in no time.


Aussie days

July 11, 2010

I am closing in on the halfway point of my visit to Australia. So, I thought i’d make a huge blog, full of my favourite photos from the past few weeks. So here you go….













Lomography Film Roll: Five

June 8, 2010

My fifth roll from my Diana mini. A few photos from the weekend at the park with friends, and a few from around Leicester.

I have a bit of a love for random photos; snapshots of the mundane life in motion.


Spirit of the ’60s

June 5, 2010

Today it came out, that photography Brian Duffy has died. Duffy is a photographer known for his rather iconic portraits of, well, iconic celebrities during the 1960s and 1970s. His work, along with Bailey and Donovan, defined that era beautifully.

I picture him, in a studio, standing in his flared cords, shouting instructions at Bowie in front of the camera. The spirit of London in the ’60s. His celebrity photography along with his fashion photography, are what I think of, when imagining the 1960s.

In 1979, Duffy became sick of photography, and burnt all the negatives of his images. But the ones that remain, will always be remembered.

Here’s a few of his work over the years:


Sammy Davis Jnr, & May Britt


John Lennon


Westminster Bridge, 1961


Reggie Kray and Grandad


Harold Wilson


The ’60s fashion


David Bowie


Love, in the ’60s

Brian Duffy, 1933 – 2010


The Tudors

May 16, 2010

Showtime Productions can’t fool me into believing that Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays an accurately aging interpretation of King Henry VIII in ‘The Tudors’ simply by making the side of his hair a little bit grey, and giving him a bit of a beard. He still looks about 18.

I wouldn’t usually blog about a TV show, because there are no shades of grey with TV for me. It’s either great, or shit. And so I can’t really write much on it. I’ll show you………. Have I got news for you, is great. The Sopranos, is great. The West Wing, is great. One Tree Hill, is shit…….. You see?

The Tudors is an oddity. It is both great and shit at the exact same time. I don’t know how this has happened. I cannot explain why it’s so great, apart from saying that it brings the tumultuous time period to life in quite a creative and modern way. By making Henry some sort of male model, and his wives; sex crazed power hungry venom, they have simultaneously distorted the truth so much so that Fox News should consider taking tips, but also made it easy to look past the horrendous inaccuracies and just watch it as a piece of entertainment, rather than historical fact. However, if it were that simple, then I could just say that it’s a great TV show. It isn’t that simple. Which is why it’s also shit, for me.

I studied the reign of Henry VIII for A-Level, and half of my book collection are studies of that time period. Not necessarily just Henry VIII, but also studies on Henry VII, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, The Wars of the Roses, the Reign of Mary Tudor, the Reign of Edward VI, the Reign of Elizabeth I, The English and European Protestant Reformation, Kett’s Rebellion, Renaissance Florence, Emperor Charles V, and the rise and fall of the Medici. I have taken a greater interest in 16th Century England and Europe, than I did when I actually studied it. I know the subject pretty well. And so, when presented with a TV show that tries to commit itself to the subject, throwing thirty years worth of reality into four seasons of Americanised TV, I get horribly frustrated, yet can’t stop watching. I then get frustrated with myself, for continuing to bother watching a show, that makes me frustrated in the first place. But there’s the paradox; whilst it makes me frustrated, I absolutely love it. WHAT IN GOD’S NAME DO I DO!!!!! ARGH!!!

I will give you a few reasons why The Tudors frustrates me.

  • Charles Brandon, in the 1530s, was in his 50s. He was married four times previously. He married a girl who was then just 15. It is true that he was perhaps the King’s best friend, and most trusted confidante. But in the show, he is about 25, for about thirty years, and marries early on, and doesn’t get divorced at all.
  • Henry had two sisters, not one.
  • There are an entire two episodes based on Pope Paul III signing off on an assassination attempt on Ann Boleyn. This never happened. Totally invented by Showtime.
  • George Boleyn, Ann’s brother is depicted as gay. Sleeping with Mark Smeeton. This never happened. There is no evidence that George was gay. Someone at the production meeting must have said “I know, let’s make George Boleyn into a raving homosexual.”…. “why?”….. “We’ve made the fattest monarch in history into a toned male model, so making an easily forgettable character gay for a couple of episodes isn’t going to be much of a problem.” Oh, and they made him a rapist. George Boleyn, was not a rapist.
  • Imagine in 500 years from now, someone depicting Elvis as making his rock n roll debut, in 2010, or the first moon landing in 2019. It’d be ridiculous right? In an episode of The Tudors, Thomas Cromwell shows a few people the Printing Press and introduces it as a new invention that will change the World. The Printing Press was brought to England about fifty years before the date depicted, and everyone, even the commoners who got by in life from burning witches and pooing in holes in the ground, would have heard of it.
  • The Vatican in the show, has Bernini’s statues in front of it. Bernini was born in 1598. Sixty years after the time depicted. Pope Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to work on the Basilica in 1626, almost 100 years after the time depicted in the show. That’s the equivalent of someone saying “Titanic DEFINITELY sunk in 2012.” Why even go that far? Bernini’s statues around St Peters are not essential to the show. Surely you’d just leave them out, for continuities sake?
  • By Season 4, we are well into the 1540s. Henry died in 1546. He was morbidly obese, brought on from a horrible leg injury some years prior. His weight supposedly prevented him from even getting out of bed, without assistance. In the show, Henry is still a lean, well toned, very good looking, 20+ man, with a few grey hairs and a beard.

    Having said all of that, I still love the show. It’s shaming. I’m actually magnificently disappointed that they are ending it after season 4. It’s epic sets, and it’s costume designs are incredible. I particularly love the sweeping sky shots of 16th Century London. The acting is enticingly top class, and the storylines, whilst distorted factually, are captivating. I would like to see it carry on, into Edward’s reign. The last few years of Henry’s life were not even half as interesting as the entire reign of his son, Edward VI and the Protectors Somerset and Northumberland. I’d even quite like to see Mary’s reign portrayed. The actress who plays Mary is fantastic. It should end, at the coronation of Elizabeth; considered the greatest Monarch England has ever had. Watching a time period you adore, come to life, makes for exciting viewing. The makers of The Tudors have certainly found a winning formula. It’s just a pity they made ridiculous, unneeded historical mistakes. I do think more could have been made of the Reformation Parliament, and the massive and swift change it would have brought to ordinary people. To gloss over in two or three episodes, a part of our history that set the course for the religious settlement of England for the next five hundred years, was weak and disappointing. Also, the portrayal of Thomas Cromwell is acted brilliantly, but I would have liked to have seen him more involved. Cromwell, according to pretty extensive research by one historian in particular, changed Government forever. He introduced a bureaucratic style of government, with departments, and auditors, rather than a one man strong council that existed previously. Crowell was massively important for his political and religious reforms. He wasn’t depicted this way at all. But even then, I am still enticed by the show.

    I hope next, they depict World War II, and how the tall, skinny Winston Churchill; the compassionate, articulate truth teller George W Bush, and tall, definitely-not-crazy, magnificent actor Tom Cruise defeated the evil Nazi’s in Russia, using the giant moon laser. Surely, that’s next? I’ll probably love it =(