The Renaissance Unchained

Before Bologna we spent a couple of nights in York.  Anyone who has read this blog over the last few years will understand one of my inevitable destinations – the York Railway Museum. The timing was coincidental but the Flying Scotsman was making a brief indoors appearance, mounted on the museum’s turntable.  I would have much preferred to see her outdoors in steam and Evening Star left on display rather than shunted out of sight in a siding.  As a boy I thought the latter the best named and best-looking engine on the system; when I last visited the museum in the very early sixties she was still in operation.

The odd thing is that entry to this thoroughly modern and much enhanced museum is free whereas, entry to York Minster costs £10 – somehow, priorities have become inverted. The Minster is a glorious space with grand histories and grand designs but I was attracted to a series of memorials at the East End.  The brightly coloured sculptures (slightly enhanced here to emphasise the effect) reminded me of something Waldemar Januszczak revealed about ancient Greek and Roman statuary in his recent BBC4 series, The Renaissance Unchained:

“When they came out of the ground they were pure and white but that’s not how they went in.  The sculptures of the ancients were never white. they were always highly coloured and gaudy – but paint doesn’t last as long as stone … So when the ancient sculptures were dug up again, they misled an entire civilisation.”  Not least the Renaissance and Michelangelo.

York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ...

And this brings me back to Bologna.  In the same episode of The Renaissance Unchained, Januszczak visits the church of Santa Maria della Vita, home “to one of the most dynamic and exciting masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture”, Niccolò dell’Arca’s terracotta Compianto sul Cristo morto (Lament Over the Dead Christ), a 15th-century version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

This is not the best composed image but it was taken quickly and on the sly – the face of the figure in the foreground should be against a clear background. Just like York Minster, Santa Maria della Vita charges for entry but with No Photographs!  Bearing in mind I had been denied use of the camera at the Ducati Factory on the same day, this was the final straw – so here it is, my small act of rebellion 😛

Compianto sul Cristo morto ...

Waldemar Januszczak’s delivery is inspiring, mildly anarchic and wildly enthusiastic. He is the perfect example of a good tutor, capable of generating an infectious interest in his chosen subject. The teachers from my youth pale by comparison – Boggy Marsh, Stuffy Millard, Nobby Clarke et al – what a sad under-achieving bunch you were.


  1. SwittersB · March 20, 2016

    Eerily cool!

  2. Sue · March 20, 2016

    Totally agree with you re the unbounded enthusiasm and sheer exuberance of Mr Januscak!

    • northumbrianlight · March 20, 2016

      He is excellent isn’t he – shame he doesn’t do more. Trust all is well – best regards, Robin

      • Sue · March 20, 2016

        Thanks, Robin, I’m fine…how about you?

      • northumbrianlight · March 20, 2016

        All good thanks Sue – next trip is the Outer Hebrides which should be exciting.

  3. Cate Franklyn · March 20, 2016

    That last image makes quite an indelible memory for me. Amazing to have capture such emotion so realistically in a carving. Wow. I also, had no idea that the statues were painted!

    • northumbrianlight · March 20, 2016

      It’s a stunning piece of art, Cate – more reasons to go to Bologna 😉 I have pictures of another Compianto which I might put up some time. Another terracotta work but night quite as stunning as this one.

  4. LaVagabonde · March 20, 2016

    So much expression in those faces. Good for you for capturing a shot on the sly. I can understand the “No photos” rule for military or sensitive sites, but artworks? As long as it’s not flash photography, I don’t understand why it’s forbidden. And it’s really annoying how more and more museums are beginning to charge separately for the right to take photos.

    • northumbrianlight · March 20, 2016

      It is such a wonderful piece of art I was determined not to be denied 😉 Funny really – there were five people watching two of us and still I didn’t get caught – I think it’s called job creation. This is Januszczak’s brief explanation of the Sistine Chapel which I meant to include in the post as an example of why he is so good:

  5. elisa ruland · March 20, 2016

    Ha, you’re like me, a rule follower…which makes it acceptable to break one every now and then, especially for such a beautiful piece of art!

  6. Leya · March 22, 2016

    generally I’m too shy to do such a thing as breaking rules…but as I grow older, I do it when the rules seems stupid and to no avail. You did the right thing…what a capture! Their expressions are indeed spectacular art.
    About the painting and colours in old terracotta – yes, the great terracotta army with thousands of warriors was also once painted. hard to understand when you see them standing there.

    • northumbrianlight · March 23, 2016

      Thanks for this Leya – I hadn’t realised the terracotta army was also painted. Somehow that seems even more remarkable – imagine all of them in colour!

      • Leya · March 24, 2016

        Yes, it’s rather… impossible, but nevertheless it seems to be the fact.

  7. restlessjo · March 26, 2016

    It’s a good ‘un for ‘on the sly’, Robin. 🙂 The carvings are great too. I suppose the upkeep of the Minster will be high but the numbers that go through those doors…
    Happy Easter to you! Home-based this weekend?

  8. greenmackenzie · March 30, 2016

    Love to see statues highly painted like this….and the insides of old churches were also apparently also heavily coloured….would have been amazing to see!
    As for high entrance fees which then deny photography….grrrr….a pet hate of mine. Last year York Minster didn’t allow photography and I was so disappointed ( like you though I took one naughty shot I just couldn’t resist!)…..does this mean they now?😄

    • northumbrianlight · March 30, 2016

      I wasn’t aware of any restrictions at the Minster – there were certainly a lot of us wielding cameras and nobody objected. You will have to go back 😉

      • greenmackenzie · March 30, 2016

        I will indeed….a great excuse✨😆✨

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