So this is going to be a fairly short post since it’s just something I’ve been thinking about since my class went our trip to Florence.
Basically, it just boils down to how much I hate this room:
For a little more context, here’s a photo of San Lorenzo, the Medici church in Florence from above.
That gigantic domed piece right there? That’s this room. The Cappella dei Principi. The Chapel of the Princes. It’s absolutely beautiful inside. Everything is made of inlaid stone. Like!! Man, inlaid wood is amazing enough, but inlaid stone is something else. And it really is pretty much everything in there.
That’s not a painting. Nothing in that is painted, not the shading, the colors, anything. It’s just carefully cut stone merged together seamlessly.
Here are some more detail shots of the inlay work around the place.
It really is incredible. It’s the sort of fine craftsmanship that I’d love to be able to do because fine craftsmanship is my jam. (Speaking of which, bring back respect for craft as art. Or bring back respect for art as craft? …. both??? That’s an argument for another day I suppose, but essentially, tear down the hierarchy of art and respect all forms of it as skilled labor that requires practice as opposed to the magic of talent. I feel like I’ve already had this rant…)
Still, there’s something really viscerally horrible about this room. The pictures really don’t explain it. You can probably look up more photos, but I just. It’s awful. There’s some kind of vague hymnal singing being played over speakers quietly, and it felt like the least sincere sacred space I have ever been in.There’s an altar and there are candles and it’s a chapel in a church, but it’s terribly oppressive despite the massive domed ceiling and sense of space.
You’d think I’d still have liked it–the decorative style is just so lovely. Maybe it was just too much. I don’t know. My book arts professor told me it made her grumpy too, so that was validating. I think, though, that it was really what my art history professor said at dinner: there’s something really violent about that much power.
This is the place that Hitler and Mussolini chose to meet in the 40s. This is the physical manifestation of riches and some serious 16th century conspicuous consumption. We are powerful, and we want you all to know it. To me, that’s vicious.
Do you see those sarcophagi? They’re like 8 feet off the ground and bigger than trucks. To command so much personal space for your dead corpse–that says something too.
I don’t know what about this makes it so different from the massive Gothic churches that I like so much, but maybe it’s the division between the (ostensibly) public and the (explicitly) private that gets to me. At least churches were supposedly meant to be shared with the people at large. This just feels cold and parasitic.
Is that too harsh? The sort of anger and hyperreactivity you’d expect from a far-left women’s studies minor? Maybe. But I’ll hold to it. Visiting all of these grand monuments and churches and beautiful spaces and art havens, it’s still uneasy to me when I think about the price. It happened 600 years ago, sure, but it’s still happening now. I don’t want to lie to myself about what material awesomeness comes from.
Hope that wasn’t too much of a downer, but I want it to be something we reflect on more often. Art is not just art. History is not a vacuum, and we should not forget that. This wasn’t worded as well as I wanted it to be, and nor did it really convey what I felt, but I hope that it has come close enough to be understood.
Stay determined. The sun will still rise tomorrow.