Friday, July 13, 2007
Donatello's Madalena, Michelangelo's Pieta, Unknown Angel.
Just as I am now completely at ease with a daily nap around 3:00 I begin to count the days before I return to Minneapolis – it is less than a week now.
Yesterday we went to Il Mueseo del’Opera del Duomo (The Museum of the Duomo, essentially.) It is Lee’s favorite and one of mine, also. This museum has a few notables and I show them here. Other than the David and Michelangelo’s Slave sculptures, this one sculpture by Donatello from 1455 is the one that most impacted us emotionally. It is carved of wood, then was painted and gilded in places – most of that worn away now. It is of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who befriended Jesus. She was said to be a voluptuous beautiful woman – living fully in the corporeal world; but after meeting Jesus, she had a change of heart and chose, instead, a life of spirit. After time alone in the wilderness with her hair as her only clothing (lady Godiva?) she returned, having forsaken her beauty and body for a new life. This is Donatello’s interpretation of Madalena after this transformation.
What to say? I have never seen such an expression of the liminal – that psychic no-man’s land – on a face. And the thing that strikes me most is how eerily modern the work is - few artists dug this deep into the psyches of their subject at this point in time. Affect tended to be flatter, less expressive. This seems like something only possible in the 20th Century. It isn’t “beautiful” like other Renaissance sculpture, but it is so bottomless in its feeling nature: it is as if someone has grabbed you by the throat and said, “Pay attention.”