Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Wednesday, January 07, 2004  

Is this true?

From a review on Paul Johnson's book on Art: Link via Collected Miscellany.

"The medieval cathedrals of Europe," says Johnson, "are the greatest accomplishments of humanity in the whole theater of art."

I think this is true (and add Bach's Mass in B minor and you have everything), but a small part of me quibbles. The review doesn't mention if Johnson has anything to say about the Parthenon or Pantheon. Both are stunning achievements of the ancient world.

I have seen the Parthenon at the Acropolis with my own eyes, and I never saw anything more beautiful and perfect in its balance, proportion, harmony, subtlety, charm, rhythm, and so forth. I can only imagine what it might have looked like originally with all it's statuary in the prediments and the frieze in the metopes encircling the building, plus the interior with its Athena.

We mustn't forget that the statuary would have been brightly painted. Some assume this would make them garish and absurd, but seen from a distance, they might have looked incredibly lifelike and stunning.

My only experience of a medieval Gothic Cathedral was Westminster Abbey, which did not make as strong an impression on me as the Parthenon did, which made me almost weep for its perfection.

Some, like William Blake, assault Greek art as mathematic and cold, whereas medieval, baroque, and rococo reflect exuberant, living, breathing art. The leaping, and curving line.

But the Parthenon has many curves in the structure itself. They are very subtle though. And, of course, with the original sculptures, it was intensely animated with human bodies and actions.

No, the purity, and genius of its simplicity (those amazing, but slight curves) has never been adequately repeated anywhere else; but still, I must yield to the gothic and romanesque churches for their soaring spirituality, and dense concentration of forms, variety, colored light, shadows, and so forth. They are an awesome music of the soul indeed.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 1:57 PM |