Saturday, June 30, 2007

(not so) hidden treasure of St. Peter's

I was going to read the full history of this wonderful Bernini sculpture in the left transept, but couldn't bear standing in a throng of turisti. So you'll just have to imagine it for yourself, which is fine: the skeleton with an hourglass floating out from under a red drapery below a man praying (Alex VII) doesn't leave much room for interpretation. This piece was, for me, more impressive than both altars, the first of which is wooden and very busy, while the second (at the apse) is after all pretty traditional, even with the perfect solitary dove shining in the sunlight. Granted, the latter is much more appropriate for depicting the triumph of the Holy Spirit, so I can understand why the artistically superior piece pictured above was relegated to the sidelines. But damn is that skeleton cool-- especially the flash-enhanced version above. (It's normally a much duller gold.) It's also fitting, given that St. Peter's holds more than 100 tombs, 91 of them for Popes.

St. Peter's is duly amazing. However I have to say I am not a fan of the Baroque style, especially in terms of interior design. Every square inch of the massive church was somehow adorned. It's overkill--which is saying something for a space so large--and I couldn't help but think of kitsch baroque. Also, though I tried to shun my politically correct impulses, I couldn't help but shake my head at all the pillaged gold from other countries that must have gone into this single building. Sure, it's for the glory of God, but would God really appreciate the pillaging? Furthermore, is it necessary? Shouldn't God be more happy with the mass of people rather than the building they worship in? (Ok, I won't hold this against the Catholic Church's 16th century mentality.)

Not to say it's a bad idea to build a kickass church as a sign of your sacrifice and dedication. But if you're going to do it, go high Gothic-- let the art shine through the architecture and the sense of wonder created by the vast space and towering columns, while the color is concentrated on the ceilings and altar, where it can be most appreciated. Bare gray stone goes a long way in complementing that and maintaining a sense of wonder in the presence of the Lord. St. Peter's, in all its colorful and well-kept glory, still doesn't compare to cathedrals found in various Spanish and French cities. However it may be the single coolest building to have a long-distance frisbee throw (which we considered trying, but common sense won out).
And that floating, hourglass-wielding skeleton reminding us of our mortality? He's my boy!

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