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.