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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

1510 Again


This essay draws liberally from a prior post entitled 1510, which unfortunately neglected to mention a philosopher of great merit and even greater smallness. His Latin name is Trochilidae and I shall tell him of the correction first thing in the morning when he goes to his feeder.

["La scuola di Atene" by Raphael - File:Sanzio 01.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_scuola_di_Atene.jpg#/media/File:La_scuola_di_Atene.jpg]


Over this text is a fresco. Fresco is painting in wet plaster. Not freehand, that would admit too many variables even for Raphael, who did this one between 1509 and 1511. One starts with sketches and incorporates their primary lines into a cartoon. Cartoon is a drawing on stout paper, same size as projected fresco, which one goes at with a pounce wheel --bigger than tailors use on patterns but same principle-- then the image is transferred to the wall by puffing charcoal through the holes. After that, one paints real fast before the plaster dries. Tricky work. Raphael produced the above fresco entitled "School Of Athens". It was intended to decorate the Stanza della Segnatura, or Popehouse, not to be confused with Pumphouse (see below):


The resident philosopher-defender of our Pumphouse is the celebrated Trochilidae, whose followers are required to flap their arms 80 times per second. His efforts to convert me have largely failed.

But the Popehouse was for Julius II and Leo X, whose careers coincided so closely it's pardonable to assume they were roomies. The fresco is in a chamber dedicated to human intellect. That means there were intellectual things in there. Leo kept a pet named Hanno. I don't know if Hanno was an indoor elephant or an outdoor one --or if it was housetrained (lack of housetraining is why I became a gardener), but suspect it was the reason Julius moved out.

The fresco was Raphael's idea of what a college should look like: philosophers of all ages lounging around on the steps of fantastic architecture, learning and teaching, fiddling with stuff like kittens do. He's got everybody on those stairs from Socrates to Sartre --even Zoroaster and himself! When I first saw a slide of this thing in college, I looked down at my hard desk, my unlaundered jeans, sensible shoes and despaired. How much easier it would be each morning to simply roll out of bed in one's sheet and wear that all day, and how'd Raphael know about Sartre?

Togas were a pre-Christian-missionary invention. You didn't have to make outfits to clothe the naked. You just let them spin into yours if they wanted. I remember college and know many of the naked didn't want to be clothed. One made friends among the naked and would not dream of insulting them with demands to cover up. But the composition has other points of interest. It includes Epicurius, Pythagorus, Xenophon, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato and Euclid. The central, reclining figure is Diogenes --but in Raphael's original cartoon, which now resides among the treasures of Milan, Diogenes is a talking duck in a sailor suit. They all devoted their lives to a calm inquiry into existence except Trochilidae, whose approach to philosophy was too aerobic for the Stanza della Segnatura Popehouse but secured him permanent welcome at the Pumphouse.

28 comments:

  1. After studying the painting as carefully as my unsophisticated eyes would allow, I assumed that Raphael was the dude in purple - sitting in the foreground with his face resting against his left hand. Anxious to confirm my assumption, I Googled the painting and discovered that the guy in purple is Michelangelo. Raphael is in fact standing to the left, shrouded in white, and looking unnervingly like a summertime Mona Lisa.

    Hey, what the heck do I know? I have no business being in the Chamber of Human Intellect. I belong in the Pumphouse.

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    1. Jon, Raphael didn't label the group, nor did he know what the various philosophers looked like, so he used faces of people he considered suggestive of their characters --Donatello, Michaelangelo etc. Got himself in there too, which some say is among the boys crowded at left behind Pythagoras, but I disagree. There is that familiar face and favorite beret that Raphael worked into self-portraits at extreme right, foreground 2nd from edge. You, and all good minds, are welcome in my pumphouse anytime.

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    2. Okay, I looked VERY closely this time, with a reliable pair of reading glasses. You are absolutely right. I can see Raphael skirting on the edge (a place where I've been many times).

      I won't attempt to do a painting in the Pumphouse, Geo, but I'm pretty good at graffiti.

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    3. Graffiti was doubtless the most prolific artist of the Italian Renaissance.

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  2. I swear that's Socrates in the top centre position. Of course in later times, we called that position ''centre forward" or something like a "midfield striker." These Brazilian soccer stars get everywhere. Is that my post delivery man I espy on the far left, I wonder?

    I think the people who were required to flap their arms at a high (tautologous) rate of knots, were probably fans of Leonardo de Vinci, or just wannabe pilots.

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    1. Good call on the great Brazilian, Socrates, from whose name "soccer" is derived; also on similarity of hummingbird to Leonardo's "Vitruvian Man", who was a basketball guard.

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  3. An elephant that wasn't housebroken could be a problem. And I never realized Raphael was also a prophet and foretold Satre, but gazing over the fresco, I now think I finally understand "Being and Northingness"

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    1. Nobody wants an elephant jumping on the bed to wake them up in the morning either --another reason Julius moved out.

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  4. I notice they all wear their sheets differently. That shows what great thinkers and fashionistas they were.

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    1. I suspect they were so deep in thought they blundered into clothes lines a lot and carried away what they got tangled in --which was various.

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  5. This is the first painting by the old masters that I noticed the sense of depth. I then began to look for it in others.

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    1. Indeed! Artist was a master of perspective and used different floor levels to include all figures in relaxed way. This sort of beautiful geometry gets me looking for it too.

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  6. Not a smart phone amongst them. How did they survive?
    And better the Pumphouse than Popehouse!

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    1. Amazing isn't it? People used to go for minutes, hours even, without texting their whereabouts, dietary matters, etc.

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  7. Sei un maniaco completo!! I mean, some might think your writing, um interesting.
    I actually like fresco's, I had the opportunity years and years ago to have some time in the Sistine Chapel, looking up, the only person in the room. The art to put them there occurred to me then.
    Your work here sometimes poses a conundrum to me......which, of the varied and flighty ideas to respond to....picking out the one thing in the brambles which is unlike the rest, ect.
    As to the pope.....I only wish the myth of the pregnant pope were real.....

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    1. Thanks, Mike. We are no strangers to conundrums here but Pope Joan is still in the running. It took 700 years for churches to argue her out of existence, remove images of her and declare her a fiction. Easy work in 1600 when she lived in the 900s. An enigma, eh?

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    2. A thought just occurred to me here on a Friday (yeah, roaring social life)...with the new guy, francis.....don't suppose we might get him to do a sainthood thing on old Joanie, do ya? He seem like a guy who while might not be really progressive, might be cornered into something like this, if we can find something to sway him....maybe tell him you're thinking of converting, have thousands of followers, etc. St. Joan...I can see a statue of her, papal clothes, big belly, it just boggles the mind.
      Let me know what you think, I'll fund it maybe.

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    3. We'd best save our money for the Nigerian Prince or the Spanish Prisoner, Mike. Vatican would sooner canonize Martin Luther for two of my favorite reasons: he snuck his future wife out of a convent by hiding her in a beer barrel and wheeling it out on a hand-truck; he's quoted, saying, "When I fart in Wittenberg, they hear it in Rome." You're the expert but I'd say your heart's in the right place.

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  8. I could stand in front of a detailed painting like that for an hour or more, trying to take it all in. I COULD, but out of respect for my better half, I don't. Not his idea of fun. Then again, he doesn't make me stand too long in front of various car engines when we go to his kinda shows, either. :)

    If that Joan were a pope, she'd never let that elephant inside if he weren't house-broken.

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    1. Regarding artistic differences, sounds like you and husband have forged a workable compromise. I have a feeling Joan would not have accepted Hanno as a pet. He was literally a White Elephant gift from the king of Portugal.

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  9. I can barely flap my arms twice in one second.

    That's my takeaway from your post; can you guess I am poorly informed about everything else? If I hang around here long enough, I might become educated, though!

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    1. Jenny, if you flap your arms any faster you'll start fitting from blossom to blossom, which interferes with education --does for me anyway. Our education is less frenzied.

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  10. Birds are easier to share a garden with than elephants, I'm not sure about philosophers. Although it seems impossible to garden and not absorb ideas. I think, therefore, that housetraining is bad for your mind. Aerobic philosophy is a good thing, as long as one warms up properly and stretches afterwards- no one needs a mental cramp.

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    1. I believe the proposition, cogito sine elephantos --I think without elephants-- was uttered by a gardener who accidentally left a gate open and philosophers got in.

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  11. Make friends among the naked... Geo., you could make a fortune on the college t-shirt circuit with that slogan!

    I've long loved that fresco. When people speak of the glories of Western Civilization, I believe that is the very image they have in mind.

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    1. Favorite Gandhi quip--when asked what he thought of Western Civilization replied,"I think it would be a good idea."

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  12. What a dedicated buildup to the finished article. It truly is a piece to be marveled at! Where'er the Pumphouse!

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    1. Thank you Helena. So far, my pumphouse has not been mistaken for the Vatican.

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