I’d like to take a moment, if the reader will permit me, to address those who are behind the rash of church burnings and vandalism in France, the United States, and elsewhere.
There has been quite a lot of this sort of thing in recent months, such as that which occurred at Nantes Cathedral earlier this week, destroying the 400-year old organ as well as a number of Renaissance stained glass windows. Many other examples have gone unreported by the “mainstream” media, as well as by the art media world that I follow. Perhaps it’s because they secretly (or not-so-secretly) agree with the idea of iconoclasm when it comes to sacred art and architecture.
Part of the problem, of course, is that evidenced in this piece, in which the reaction of Archbishop Georges Pontier, head of the French bishops’ conference, to this sort of vandalism is to say, “We do not want to develop a discourse of persecution. We do not wish to complain.”
Of course not.
Most Catholic bishops are rather spineless, utterly uninspiring ninnies, who are primarily interested in being popular – or at least, being well-thought of – rather than in protecting their flock and their patrimony. Lest one think that this is a new development, I’d remind the reader that all but one (St. John Fisher) of the Catholic bishops of England chose to commit apostasy rather than lose their palaces (and heads) when Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England, and began expropriating Church property and destroying works of art for the sake of his ego and reproductive shortcomings. It is once again left to the laity to try to defend their own Church, since its leadership is, in the main, fundamentally incapable of doing so, because it is too concerned with how to build sustainable wind farms in the South Pacific while their empty churches burn to the ground.
So while this may sound a bit odd, coming from this particular scrivener, my challenge to those who are targeting Catholic art, architecture, and the like is: do your worst.
You can destroy it all. Burn the Holy Sepulcher, smash Michelangelo’s Pietà , tear up the Book of Kells, use the tilma of St. Juan Diego for target practice. Go ahead. The only thing that you will achieve, as a result of such barbarism, is a public demonstration of your own ignorance.
The Church’s existence is not contingent upon the existence of tangible objects. Nor, as it happens, does it exist subject to the approval of human beings. It cannot be destroyed via the attacking of outward manifestations of its beliefs. Many have tried, of course, but it has survived two millennia of persecution, both from without and even from within, carried out by far more powerful, intelligent, persuasive, and influential people than you are.
So again I say, go ahead, do your worst. Show us what a naughty little miscreant you are, and post it on social media. And then all of your equally small supporters can post their expressions of support for just how cool you are.
And when you lie on your death bed, many years from now, I hope you will have the opportunity to pause and reflect upon what you have done. Because no matter what you do today or tomorrow, the Church will still be here, even then. And despite everything that you have done or will do, in a futile attempt to bring an end to her existence, she will still be praying for His Mercy upon your soul at the hour of your death, WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHO YOU ARE.
Rant over, chaps and chapesses, so now let’s move on to some more interesting stories, and a larger dose of them, since unfortunately I was unable to post last week due to other circumstances.
Notre Dame News
Over at The Art Newspaper, Francesco Bandarin has a comprehensive summary of the latest news from the efforts to rebuild and restore the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Paris, following last year’s devastating fire. In addition to the recent, welcome news that the roof will be returned to its pre-conflagration appearance, word is that the complex tangle of melted scaffolding is expected to be removed by October of this year, and that although some of the vaulting that is still standing was weakened by the fire and will need reinforcement, it looks like it will be salvageable, which is a big relief. Among the tricky issues remaining to be decided is the question of what roofing material will be put on, once all of the structural support is back in place, since the traditional lead roof was an environmental disaster once it caught fire, sending countless particles of potentially toxic lead into the atmosphere and the Seine. In addition, it is expected that the square in front of the church is going to undergo a major redesign, which as S. Bandarin notes is probably going to be the one opportunity which President Macron et al will have to stamp something contemporary on the site. Given that our present perspective on the Cathedral is not what medieval pilgrims would have seen as they approached, there isn’t really anything that needs to be preserved here – although one hopes that it will focus on vistas and gardens rather than in concrete and “art”.
Celebrated British artist and petty criminal Banksy, whose rather childish art has somehow managed to capture far more attention than it deserves among the sheeple who flock to see his stunt du jour, recently fell victim to a common problem facing Contemporary artists who create works that look like (and indeed are) utter garbage. Mr. Banksy defaced a train carriage on the London Underground recently, and a conscientious worker, assuming (correctly) that the work was merely graffiti, scrubbed off the mess from the walls. Unfortunately, Tube authorities appear to be caving to public sentiment in wanting to embrace acts of public vandalism in the name of “art”, so expect to see more of the same until someone finds some common sense and a backbone.
Looking like something that Bond villain Karl Stromberg would love, a proposed underwater research facility to be located off the island of Curaçao has been revealed by Swiss designer Yves Béhar and French undersea researcher Fabien Cousteau. To be named “Proteus”, the structure is expected to cost $135 million, and will contain laboratories for studying everything from sea creatures to tectonic plates, along with providing living accommodations for up to 12 people. Presumably that’s what all of those giant olive-shaped bulbs sticking out of the main structure are for, although there isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to go down there: I’ve seen “The Abyss” too many times. Still, as a bit of futuristic design, it’s kind of interesting to imagine what it may look like if and when it ever gets built.
With the Olympics on hold for…well, who knows for how long, an item coming up at auction this Sunday in Cannes may be of interest to both collectors of sports memorabilia and to aficionados of iconic 20th century design. The original drawing for the Olympic flag by Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), founder of the International Olympic Committee, has been in the hands of the descendants of the original owner since the Baron de Coubertin executed it in 1913. Famously, he wanted to make sure that at least one color of all the flags of the world was included in the design, which is certainly one of the most famous and universally recognizable sports emblems in the world. The pre-sale estimate on this very unique piece of design history is roughly $92,000-$115,000.
And finally for this week, I often note that one of the joys of learning about art is the fact that there is always more to learn: the more you see, the more you realize that you know nothing, and that challenge to keep learning keeps me going. Case in point, Émile Friant (1863-1932) is a name that probably doesn’t ring a bell with most people, including yours truly. So when I read the news that the Association Émile Friant is asking for information from the public on works by the artist to complete what’s called a “catalogue raisonné”, a term used in art history for a complete, scholarly listing of all known works by a particular artist, I was intrigued and decided to look up some of his work online. I’m glad I did, because paintings like this, and this, and this show what a marvelous, direct manner of painting he had. This is definitely an artist whose work I intend to learn more about.