Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Masaccio's Trinity

For years, I've had Masaccio on the brain. It sounds painful, or itchy, perhaps, but at least this piece of drama in my life is not medical. Masaccio's Holy Trinity is what we're talking about, here. Samuel Kinser introduced me to this masterpiece of the young 15th century painter my senior year, in my Honours Renaissance course, which – despite the fact that I did most of my coursework with my great mentor Marvin A. Powell, Jr. – was the singlemost excellent course of my undergraduate. Professor Kinser is, among other things, particularly known as a specialist in Carnival in Europe and America, a scholar of the blow-out party, and while focused and rigorous, his seminars were nevertheless festivals of learning. He came close to stealing my historical focus from antiquity and centering it on the Italian Renaissance. While that didn't quite happen, the Renaissance has remained prominent among my historical interests and is absolutely dominant for my visual arts sensibilities. On another personal note, anyone starting to make connections to my casting of my band as "the Renaissance Men" would be right on target: that particular ideal – so lauded by our vision of that age – was an obvious one for describing the stunning and diverse talents of my friends from Notre Dame.

Masaccio's Trinity is my number-one priority for my upcoming day – only a day! – in Florence with Erik. In fact, when Erik proposed this Venice-Florence weekend road rail trip as part of my visiting him in Geneva, it was the image of this painting (well, along with the image of the Duomo, of course – I mean, hey, it's in everyone's picture of Florence) that immediately popped into my head. In fact, it didn't just pop, it exploded into my head, and beat pots together to create an overwhelming mental clanging. Erik proceded to natter on about getting to Michelangelo's David early, ahead of the crowds, and I nodded vaguely, all the while pushing the David way down on my list so that this fresco could take all the top ten positions on my priority list. And that despite the fact that Michelangelo has grown in my affections over the last decade, having replaced Botticelli in recent years as my favourite artist. (My love for Botticelli, and initially especially for his Mystical Nativity, also being due to Professor Kinser.)

I dread the fact that I might not get to sit at length and engage myself with the Trinity in the way that I'd like to. When we lost Hugh Carter in the Vatican Museums in April 1998, Erik did me the great favour of letting me sit in the Sistine Chapel for an hour while he backtracked our entire course. The crowd flowing through the space – punctuated by criminal morons taking flash photographs of the ceiling – made really interacting with the art extremely difficult. Following the artists into theology and prayer, which is what the art aspires to, was even more difficult. This will be a different sort of chance to interact theologically with Masaccio's Trinity than I've had just by studying prints of it. But since this is the singlemost prominent Trinity in the art contained in my memory – a piece that almost always comes to mind in the course of my own trinitarian work – I am really hoping to have a chance to be open to it. But this "one day only" adventure of ours inevitably will push me toward being something more along the lines of the "checklist" tourists I can't stand, who don't take the time to really encounter what they see, or don't discover enough of who they themselves are so that they can pursue what might be particularly significant for them and instead just work through the checklist of what they've been told is important. (I loved how the Vatican Museums were designed to conquer such people in spite of themselves, if possible, by having every room from the entry bear a sign reading "Sistine Chapel" with an arrow, as though it would be just through the door. These were then arranged in such a way as to take the tourist through everything before depositing them in the famed Chapel at the very end of their journey.) So am I sounding like an affected snob or like someone who takes art seriously?

Now on top of everything else on my plate, I've got to do a great deal of reading and research for the trip, and with so much that's of interest to me in Florence in particular, I want to have a pretty detailed plan of attack for our time in the city. The David is worth seeing, of course, but the Duomo and the Baptistery, Brunelleschi's work – in particular the dome of the Cathedral, of course, and his "Sacrifice of Isaac" bronze proposal for the Baptistery doors – and Michelangelo's Medici tombs, as well as the remains of the Pietà he was carving for his own tomb (I've always seen this one as influencing the majestic silence latent in Ivan Meštrović's Pietà at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame) all currently stand out in my head as higher priorities for me.

Any other recommendations by those of you who have been there?
Tags: architecture, art, florence, friends-notre dame era, historical, masaccio, michelangelo, mysticism/spirituality, niu, notre dame, personal, teachers, the renaissance men, theological notebook, travel, travel-2006 geneva/venice/florence, trinity

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