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Holy Trinity? Holy F***!

Although I said that yesterday was the start of the Journal and Sketchbook class, it was more of a short introduction to some of the drawing and writing activities that we will use throughout the time in Florence. Today, Tuesday, was the first full four-hour class, and we led people through using lists in writing and drawing, as a means of gathering clusters of material and mining them for story potential. Patty and I have a number of "list stories" that we usually read aloud as examples of what we mean - Charles Johnson's "Exchange Value" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" - but seeing as we are in Florence, we were able to use a letter by Leonardo da Vinci to the Duke of Milan in which he asks for employment by listing all the war machines that he has designed. For the drawing, we went outside to the Piazza degli Strozzi, and surroundings, to do written lists and list-drawings:
John and Kelvin gettin' down with the crayons
It's clear after only two days that this is a talented group of students, who (believe you me) could put some of the hack artists in the tourist areas out of business already.

After class was over, I took the short walk to the nearby church of Santa Maria Novella. The main reason for visiting is to see Masaccio's 1427 fresco "The Holy Trinity", the one that basically invented/rediscovered central perspective, vanishing point, and trompe l'oeuil realism for Christian art:


It has two main levels of brilliance. From a distance, you see the illusion of the space, with the kneeling figures of the Medici (?) patrons seeming to occupy the same space as us in the church, and then the space containing the saints seeming to disappear into a hole in the wall. When you get close up to the painting, you see the subtle modelling of the shadows and light on the faces, particularly on the oddly middle-aged face of Mary, who turns toward us and breaks the barrier of 'world' and 'picture' that prevails with pre-Renaissance art.

That world is much in evidence in other parts of the church, like in these 13th century 'heaven and hell' frescoes in a side chapel:

Interesting in their way, if you give them the time and allow their sense of pattern to engulf you (if you are lucky enough to be Facebook friends with Matthew Collings, he frequently waxes enthusiastic about gothic and byzantine art along these lines).

But apart from the Masaccio, which is worth paying your 5 euro entry fee (and also worth dragging yourself face down across a cloister filled with poo, if necessary), it's the church itself that is visually interesting:

Click to embiggen

After a while, and particularly after I saw the facade of the church on the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella, I noticed what I think of as one of the reasons why the architecture is so compelling. They are like drawings (see my recent post on drawing and why this is important), concerned with making lines and shapes in space, with the solid material of stone, slate, and marble, of course, but not pushing brutally into the air like bad modernist buildings (and let's face it, like bad modern copies of renaissance architectural tropes). The Duomo, while much bigger, has a similar feeling of lightness.

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