Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Tag: Rome

Roger Scruton on religion and culture

Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

“Culture, I suggest, has a religious root and a religious meaning. This does not mean you have to be religious in order to be cultivated. But it does mean that the point of being cultivated cannot, in the end, be explained without reference to the nature and value of religion.” — Roger Scruton

Saint Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and one of the four Evangelists. He was a tax collector by profession and when Jesus found him sitting with the other tax collectors he said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed him. “The Calling of St Matthew” by Caravaggio depicts this moment. Painting from life, Caravaggio developed a technique called Tenebrism, which was marked by dramatic contrasts of light and shade. This led him to create art of great emotional intensity. “The Calling of St Matthew” was a sensation when it was first displayed in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome and it remains one of the most famous of Caravaggio’s works.

Caravaggio


Cecilia

Thursday, 22 November, 2018

One of the oldest musical institutions in the world is the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. It was founded at the command of Pope Sixtus V in 1585, who invoked two saints: Gregory the Great, after whom Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Her feast day is celebrated in the Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches on 22 November. The story goes that Cecelia was a noble lady of Rome, who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a Roman soldier named Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230 under the Emperor Severus Alexander. She was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus, and her remains were later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

This portrait of Saint Ceclia is by Il Lucchese, Antonio Franchi (1638–1709). After training in Lucca with Domenico Ferrucci, he moved to Florence to work under Medici patronage. He also published a text on the occupation of painting titled, La Teorica della Pittura.

Saint Cecelia


All our Saints’ Day

Thursday, 1 November, 2018

Initiated by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and the martyrs on 13 May 609 AD, All Saints’ Day may have been intended to co-opt the “Feast of Lemuria,” which the old Religio Romana used for placating the restless spirits of the dead. The Christian holy day was established on 1 November in the mid-eighth century by Pope Gregory III as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.

Our saints

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
— Saint Francis


Memoirs of Hadrian

Saturday, 8 September, 2018

“There are books which one should not attempt before having passed the age of forty.” So advises the Roman emperor Hadrian, one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world, in Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.

As it happened, Yourcenar was 48 when Memoirs of Hadrian was published in 1951. It was an immediate success proving, perhaps, that there are books one should not attempt to write until having passed the age of forty. Memoirs of Hadrian The novel is a recreation of the life and death of Hadrian in the form of a long letter to his adoptive son and successor, Marcus Aurelius. Having passed the age of forty, this blogger decided that the time had come to read Memoirs of Hadrian and it is superb, from start to finish. Given the current problems facing Pope Francis, this snippet from the final chapter, Patientia, gives cause for thought:

“If ever the barbarians gain possession of the world they will be forced to adopt some of our methods; they will end by resembling us. Chabrias fears that the pastophor of Mithra or the bishop of Christ may implant himself one day in Rome, replacing the high pontiff. If by ill faith that day should come, my successor officiating in the vatical fields along the Tiber will already have ceased to be merely the chief of a gang, or of a band of sectarians, and will have become in his turn one of the universal figures of authority. He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose. I accept with calm these vicissitudes of Rome eternal.”

Given what happened to ancient Rome, Hadrian’s “vatical” (resembling a prophecy) statement is delightful: “He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose.”

Language note: A “pastophor” was one of the bearers, who carried the image of a god in a shrine in processions.

History note: In September 476 AD, the last Roman emperor of the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by a Germanic prince named Odovacar. Dark Age Europe was born out of the violent destruction of the Roman Empire as barbarism replaced civilization. Hadrian was prophetic.


Chesterton on Rome and Brussels

Tuesday, 29 May, 2018

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” So said the English novelist and poet G.K. Chesterton, who was born on this day in 1874. It is hard, however, to imagine a Chesterton of our era saying, “Men did not love Brussels because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

In Rome, the feeling of love that was once directed towards Brussels, the seat of the European Union, has increasingly turned to hate. This is because the two Italian populist parties that won a majority of votes in the 4 March elections were prevented from forming a government by President Sergio Mattarella because they reportedly oppose the euro, and this heresy is regarded as the most grave of sins by the currency prelates in Frankfurt, Berlin and Brussels. As a result, Italy is about to become the battleground for two fierce tribes: The people who voted for populism and the elites who have prevented the elected populists from taking power. What happens in the coming days and weeks of their conflict will affect the future not just of Italy but of Europe.

 G.K. Chesterton


Syria and OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence)

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 0 Comments

Remarkable, indeed, is the wealth of information now at our fingertips. And it’s not just Wikipedia. There’s also the OECD Aid Database, Google Data Explorer and Enigma Public. When it comes to what’s happening on the darker side, Bellingcat uses open source data to investigate everything from Mexican drug lords to Russian gangsters, er, politicians.

Then, there’s The Aviationist run by David Cenciotti, a journalist based in Rome. Since its launch in 2006, it has become one of world’s most authoritative military aviation sites. His post yesterday, Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria, is based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) “since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.” Snippet:

“Interestingly, at least two packages of 5 fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles — actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.”

Should this level of transparency worry us? After all, if David Cenciotti can access all this data easily, so can the Iranians. On the other hand, the abilities of people like David Cenciotti and Eliot Higgins to access and interpret Open Sources Intelligence means that the Iranians and their pals cannot get away with murder as easily as they once did. Their fingerprints are everywhere now, and they can be revealed in real time. Same goes for their lies. Take Russia’s claims that 71 out of 105 Cruise Missiles were shot down in the US-led strike. David Cenciotti casts a critical eye:

“If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.”

Question: What’s the toughest job in the world right now?
Answer: Sales rep for Russian air defense systems.


The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Friday, 30 March, 2018 0 Comments

This powerful image of by Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen was painted around 1624 for a Catholic “hidden church” in the city of Utrecht, where Catholicism was tolerated but not encouraged. The colour combinations and the light evoke Ter Brugghen’s experience of Caravaggio in Rome, but the angular figure of Christ and the reverential figures of Mary and John are very much his own. The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John expresses the devotional intensity that Good Friday has evoked down the centuries.

Good Friday


New Year’s reading: Gill

Monday, 1 January, 2018 0 Comments

It’s time to spend some time with the books that were the presents of Christmas past and we’re starting with The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from the famously generous and well-read Noel Donnelly of Dublin via Leitrim.

A.A. Gill was a journalist who died of cancer in London on the morning of 10 December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29. He followed an Alcoholics Anonymous “12-step plan” to recovery and, in tribute to the fellowship, began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. However, he continued to smoke some 60 cigarettes a day until the age of 48.

Gill was notorious for his brilliant, sometimes bitter, invariably witty and always humane observations on food, television and life in general. Here’s a snippet from a column titled “Sex and the City”, which was published in The Sunday Times in January 2009. The scene is a Sex and the City bus tour around New York City:

“We crawl into the Meatpacking District. Our conspiratorial and cosily gossipy stand-up tour guide tells us that this is where the girls did a lot of their shopping, and that it’s a sort of secret place only really savvy New Yorkers know about. She reels off a list of shops and what each character bought in them. We’re chucked off for 20-mintute retail reruns. I hide in Diane von Furstenberg’s changing room. And just in case you’re from Alaska, the Meatpacking District is New York’s secret like the Vatican is Rome’s.

We’re taken to the Magnolia Bakery, where queues of weirdly excited and messianic women wait impatiently to eat the teeth-meltingly sweet, infantile cupcakes like a votive Communion promising a blessed afterwork life of copious, cool sex, witty friendships, miraculously available taxis, Manolos, Cosmos, and happy-ending aphorisms. We don’t have to line up. Our cakes come with the ticket. Massive trays of cupcakes appear and are offered to us in a tramp’s pissoir alley on slimy benches beside a children’s recreational park. Feeding cake to yearningly single women beside a playground with happy West Village moms and their gilded tots was an act of sadistic patronage. We guiltily stuff our faces, begging the refined calories to transport us into closer connection with the fabled story arc.”

A.A. Gill had the gift, no doubt, and the best of his writing is an ideal gift.

A. A. Gill


All our Saints’ Day

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 0 Comments

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
— Saint Francis

Our saints

Note: All Saints’ Day was initiated by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and the martyrs on 13 May 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls’ Day, which follows All Saints. The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the “Feast of Lemuria,” which the Religio Romana used to placate the restless spirits of the dead. The Christian holy day was established on 1 November in the mid-eighth century by Pope Gregory III as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.


The daily wisdom of Google

Thursday, 26 October, 2017 0 Comments

Back in 1,400 BC, the Oracle of Delphi was the most important shrine in ancient Greece. Built around a sacred spring, it was considered to be the omphalos (the centre of the world) and people came from all over Greece and beyond to have their questions answered by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. Her cryptic answers could determine the course of everything from when a farmer planted crops, to when an empire declared war. Today, Google has replaced Delphi as the omphalos and people from all over Greece and beyond can have their questions answered by the algorithm. Example:

Google oracle

History: For centuries, scholars congregated at Delphi, and it became a focal point for intellectual inquiry as well as a meeting place where rivals could negotiate. The party ended, as it were, in the 4th century AD when a newly Christian Rome proscribed the prophesying. Then, on 4 September 1998, Google was founded in California.


Two Corants for Lyra Viol by Alfonso

Saturday, 1 July, 2017 0 Comments

On the face of it, a blog entry with the title “Two Corants for Lyra Viol by Alfonso” has a touch of the perplexing about it. What’s a “corant”, and why two of them? And then there’s the “lyra viol”. Not just a viol, mind you, but a lyra viol. Topping if all of, we have “Alfonso”. If people had to pick an Alfonso, most would opt for Alfonso Cuarón, the film director, whose works include Children of Men and Gravity. In this case, however, we’re talking about Alfonso Fontanelli (1557 – 1622).

Alfonso Fontanelli was an Italian composer, diplomat and courtier. He was one of the earliest composers in the seconda pratica style during the transition to the Baroque era but his career was interrupted in November 1601, when he discovered that his wife had been having an affair. He murdered her lover, but spared her life, unlike his musical acquaintance Gesualdo who, in similar circumstances murdered both his wife and her lover. As punishment for the crime, Alfonso was stripped of all his possessions. Still, he found refuge in the opulent Roman household of Cardinal Alessandro d’Este, and was thus saved from indignity. Alfonso Fontanelli became a priest in 1621, and died in early 1622 from an insect bite while in the Oratorio della Chiesa.

The lyra viol is a small bass viol, used primarily in the 17th century, while a corant was a type of dance popular in the late Renaissance and Baroque era.

Bringing it all together now: The Irish viola de gamba player, Liam Byrne, is part of the Icelandic collective Bedroom Community and he features with violist Nadia Sirota on Tessellatum, their upcoming album and film. That’s all a long way from the Renaissance world of Alfonso Fontanelli, but everything’s connected.