Perhaps it was being caught up in the swarm yesterday that led me to this stream, or shall we call it swarm of consciousness:
When last I left you, I was going up the down stairs into the Sistine Chapel. La Cappella Sistina.
It must be said right from the first that any attempt to describe this work of surpassing genius is impossible. One can only describe the experience of seeing it. All along the way there were signs reminding the visitors that the chapel is a sacred space and that one should behave accordingly. Visitors would probably have understood. The swarm, no. Just as you can hear the sea from a distance, I could hear the chatter rise as I ascended the steps and joined the swarm swarming into the holy place.
You enter on a marble floor raised three or four steps into the chapel which I recollect from reading is 143' x 44'.
Above you, Michelangelo's holy figures step out of the biblical times which suddenly become real. "Silenzio," cries a strong Italian male voice. "Silenzio! No Fotos. No videos. Move off the steps." (English is the universal language for instructions...Instructions follow in Italian, French, German, and something I think is Dutch.) The swarm quiets...for about 10 seconds. The chapel is dark, like twilight in your house in fall. Still the colors above and about are vivid and alive. I move across the raised altar to the far wall just to comprehend the majesty of the chapel without being jarred or carried away in the swarm.
There is a kind of bench along each side of the chapel with a step up. The benches are packed. I sit on a step. I breath quietly, trying to separate myself from the swarm. I feel it begin to happen. The frescos tell me the same stories of creation, the flood, and the prophets that I learned in Sunday School some sixty years ago. In the back of my little church was a stained glass window with Jesus praying in the garden just before...
A bench seat opens up. I'm there. I begin the tour with Rick Steves. I chose not to get the audio guide because I wanted only to look. to feel It was the right choice. Rick gives me just enough info to get my bearings. Glad he pointed out the "two moons" in the fresco illustrating the separation of day and night...sun and moon. Some guy is mooning the viewer. It's great. I feel like Michelangelo and I have suddenly become friends over the century.
The chapel is now real, not a grand work of art meant to take away the breath, although it does from time to time when I stop studying the intimate details of each section of the ceiling. And...when I suddenly stop looking forward and up and look back at the wall over the altar: OMG:
In English, we would say The Last Judgment
In Italiano: Il Giudizio Universale
The sound and feeling of the latter really captures the spirit of the thing.
Now here's an interesting point: The characters in the back of the chapel, Michelangelo did first. When they took the scaffolding down so everyone could see, everyone but the artist was blown away. The characters, he thought, were too small. Isn't that just like an artist, apparently of any caliber, it's never quite right. So anyhow, the characters that he went on to create were bigger and more dramatic.
I didn't just see the blue of Mary's garment. I know you will think I have already been in the land of opera too long when I say to you that blue changed my life. I don't know how to explain it. The blue was so pure that it took in my spirit and woke it up. The background of The Last Judgment wall is blue, but this blue transcended all blue. It was blue. Heaven. Summer, the season of fullness. Truth. Comfort. Mom telling me yes when Dad said no and then talking him into Yes.
Silenzio. No fotos. No videos.
I wanted to help this man by shouting: Will everyone please shut the F*** up.
Just stand here and look.
The swarms came and went. I remained. Not saying a work. Not wishing I could have a video or foto. Trying to memorize the place the feeling the spirit for I might never see it again.
Michelangelo completed the chapel after war and corruption had torn his world apart. The Renaissance was fading. He had lost his faith in humankind. In the middle of The Last Judgment, at Christ's left foot, St. Bartholomew is holding a flayed skin with the head of Michelangelo himself, twisted, grey, shriveled. Below are the damned. The whole thing is beautiful until you notice that this judgment thing is serious business. No one is laughing or happy, even those going to heaven.
I thought of that mummy back in the Egyptian room. so still in the midst of the swarm. I got up from my bench seat and walked into the middle of the swarm.Above me, the Creation of Adam. Ahead of me The Last Judgment. I looked at individuals in the swarm chattering away. I wondered if there were any molecules of air in the chapel that Michelangelo might have breathed. Did he and Raphael hang out or do lunch on their breaks?
The swarm reminded me of the chaos among the damned in The Last Judgment. But as I looked at the individuals making up the swarm, I felt an overwhelming compassion for us all...mummies in the making.
Suddenly, music. A celestial chorus. The swarm fell silent. Where was it coming from? What was the meaning of it? The music continued, and the swarm went back to swarming.
Silenzio. No fotos. No videos.
I seemed to be alone with the music, a choir of filling the chapel. The music would be what Michelangelo would have created had he been a composer.
Like one among the condemned looking up toward that pure blue of promise, I studied that gray shriveld face and wondered if Michelangelo felt what I now felt. The art in the end is irrelevant. The music filled the chapel. A tear rolled down from each of my eyes. I wanted to sit down on the floor and weep.
Silenzio! No fotos. No videos!
I wanted to shout at the swarm Could you just Shut the F*** up for 2 minutes.
I remembered old white-haired Mr. Stilley leading the hymns in my little hometown church. There was just that one window. It was a plain little mill town church. But as a child, I had the same feeling there as in La Cappella Sistina. The same feeling when I am at the monthly potluck at the Netarts Community Club. The same feeling I had in the classroom on those magical days of teaching. The same feeling I had when I would stay up on Christmas Eve watching St. Olaf's choir with my mom because I knew one day there would be a Christmas without her. The same feeling I had sitting at the lunch table with my dad listening to his same old stories because I knew one day the sound of his voice would vanish.
What I experience in the chapel was not the feeling of living in the moment that is so popular today. But rather the aspiration that I might live like that color blue in the midst of noise and people who take pictures instead of looking, in the midst of injustice and war, in the midst of careless attitudes toward life and the creative spirit.
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