Thursday, 22 June 2023

sparizione di emaneula orlandi (10. 827)

Disappearing seemingly without a trace, the Vatican teen (her father was a lay employee of the papal household and the family had free run of the grounds) who mysteriously vanished on this day in 1983 whilst returning home from music lessons, a choral member and flutist of the Pontificium Institutum musicae sacrae, is currently under investigation by the Holy See, which after nearly four-decades of near silence on the matter has directed a re-examination of testimony and reports into the case of Emaneula Orlandi—thanks to relentless petitioning by her older sibling Pietro to find out the truth, at the behest of Pope Francis. Rumours arose, mostly sourced from unverifiable accounts, that Orlandi was a runaway, lured into a trafficking racket with exorbitant commissions for selling Avon products and adopting the persona of Barbarella, transmuting into conspiracy theories including that she was being held in ransom as leverage for the release of would-be assassin of John Paul II, as an East German Stasi operation under orders of the KBG, kidnapped in the wake of the Vatican Bank collapse and money laundering scandal in order to force the payments of restitutions, and is hidden in London mental hospital, kept as collateral for nearly forty years. The probe is currently under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office in Rome and has been the subject of a recent Nexflix documentary.

Monday, 15 May 2023

rerum novarum (10. 743)

Rejecting both socialism and unchecked capitalism, with support for private property as well upholding labour rights and the formation of unions, Pope Leo XIII (advocate for workers as well as a flask-carrying aficionado and spokesman for Vin Mariani) this day in 1891 issued the above encyclical—from its incipit (On Revolutionary Change in the World) with the subtitle Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour—which is considered a foundation text of Catholic social teaching and the movement for workers’ justice. Seeing socialist regimes as an encroachment on the church’s role of imparting morality, rather than an ideological system administered by the the state, Leo warned that the seizure of individual possessions and transferring ownership to the community failed to redress the plight of the working-classes and moreover mandating a contract between employees and employers, honest work for honest pay and a dignified livelihood that contributes to class harmony as well as enshrining that jobs be free from unsafe and immoral tasks endangering body soul, privileging the poor over those enjoying a large bounty of temporal blessings.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

cathedral of the pope (10. 286)

While outside of Vatican City proper, the archbasilica and other properties of the Holy See are accorded extraterritorial status within Italy pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the Major Papal, Patriarchal and Roman Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in Lateran, Mother and Head of All Churches in Rome and in the World (Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris ac Sanctorum Ioannis Baptistae et Ioannis Evangelistae ad Lateranum) is fรชted on this day on the anniversary of its dedication in a tradition dating back to at least the twelfth century. The oldest public Christian church in the Western world, St John in Lateran, Emperor Constantine I donated the edifice to Pope Sylvester I (previously a palace for the empress) in 324, and in addition to many works of art, papal tombs also house the Scala Sancta, the Holy Steps, relics that comprised the staircase of the praetorium of Pontius Pilate and sanctified with the footsteps of Jesus, retrieved by Constantine’s mother Helen. In a tradition going back to sixteenth century and the reign of Henry IV of France, Emmanuel Macron is ex officio the first and only canon of the archbasilica.

Monday, 22 August 2022

7x7 (10. 078)

ultima generazione: climate activist glue themselves to the Vatican’s Laocoรถn  

little gold statue special: MST3K’s take on the 1995 Oscars 

larder and pantry: photographer Richard Johnson’s compelling series on root cellars–via Everlasting Blรถrt 

a garbler of spices: an eighteenth century specialised position 

canting arms: heraldic rebuses to puzzle 

biblioclasm: to combat book bans and censorship, the Brooklyn Public Library is issuing free cards to all US adolescents  

yangtze: drought in China reveals ancient statues of the Buddha normally submerged–see also here and here–and is also causing shortages in hydroelectric production

Thursday, 4 August 2022

7x7 (10. 037)

@artbutsports: juxtaposing scenes from professional sports with classical painting  

nearly right: an intriguing Chinese language t-shirt circulating on social media  

sommelier: a Rube Goldbergesque contraption that we would be far too impatient for  

flying down to rio: a profile of movie star Lolita Dolores Martรญnez Asunsolo Lรณpez Negrette 

requiescat in pace: an obituary of antipope Michael, who believed that there had been no legitimate pontiff since Vatican II  

wikenigma: compiling a compendium of unknowns—via Pasa Bon!  

pop cars: visit an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s colourful automobiles alongside the classic models that inspired them

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

stanze della segnatura

Born on this day (or possibly 28 March) in 1483 (†1520—on the same day), the artist mononymously known as Raphael—Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino—would go on to become one of the trinity of Italian High Renaissance art alongside Leonardo and Michelangelo, prolific despite his relatively early death, working in Umbria, Florence and finally in Rome under the patronage of two popes, the majority of his creations on display in the Vatican. Reflecting his Neoplatonic ideals, arguably his best known, commercially duplicated work is The School of Athens (Sculoa di Atene, complemented by The Parnassus and the Disputa on opposite walls), a suite of frescos commissioned between 1509 and 1511 to decorate the rooms of the papal palace with a celebration and revival of the arts and sciences and cameos of philosophers portrayed by contemporaries.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

narthex and nave

On this day in 1626, on the thirteen-hundredth anniversary of the consecration of old St Peter’s by Pope Sylvester I, the new papal basilica (Basilica Santci Petri Vaticano) planned by Popes Nicholas V and Julius II with construction starting more than a century earlier was heralded as complete. Financed chiefly through the selling of indulgences, with the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg being a major advocate for this fund-raising method, sparking the objections of a certain Augustinian monk.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

museo pio-clementino

Through the lens of Michelangelo failing in a competition to restore the iconic sculptural ensemble Laocoรถn and His Sons (previously) affords us another chance to examine the subject matter, a priest of either Poseidon or Apollo, who respectively was either guilty of the transgression or potential crossing the line in exposing the Trojan Horse for what it was or for breaking his vow of celibacy. Pope Julius II commissioned a contest to determine the best design proposal to restore a conspicuously absent arm for the central figure. Both Michelangelo and Raphael—related to the judge, the Vatican’s chief architect—lost to an artist called Jacopo Sansovino’s outstretched arm. During an excavation in 1906, the arm was recovered and positioned in accordance with Michelangelo’s original suggestion.

Monday, 25 January 2021

collezionare capolavori

Though in stasis and awaiting visitors, the storied and seldom seen Torlonia Marbles from a private collection are gathered together for public viewing for the first time, resulting from an agreement four decades in negotiation and agreed upon four years before the exhibition was scheduled to open. Not only was the loan to Rome’s Capitoline Museum controversial and fraught with compromise and conciliation, there’s some intrigue associated with its collectors as well—the family once the bankers and economic advisors to the Vatican and master and model for the attainment of prestige and status through art collecting.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

laocoรถn group

Likely the same statuary ensemble praised by Pliny the Elder as the pinnacle of aesthetics (see previously) nearly a millennium and a half prior to its rediscovery, the figures twisted in agony depicting Trojan priest Laocoรถn and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus attacked by sea serpents was excavated on this day in Rome in 1506. Commissioned for Emperor Titus, the work by sculptures from the Island of Rhodes, Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus, the iconic grouping is considered to be the baldest, immediate expression of suffering without redemption or reward, and there is no single definite myth or backstory behind this portrayal recorded in marble. There’s no honour in death and their gods will not save them—as contrasted with the bulk of the art in the Vatican’s holdings, of passion (suffering) and martyrdom—where Laocoรถn is also on display. It was unearthed in a vineyard, prompting Pope Julius II to immediately dispatch Michelangelo to the site of the excavation to ensure the art was properly conserved, immediately acquiring it for his patron and put on public display that same year.

Friday, 18 December 2020

presepio, threepeeo

For this long slog of a year, the Vatican has elected to showcase a profoundly different manger scene that while we think all find this somewhat other than expected and some taking more exception with the choice of the display than others of nineteen to-scale figures executed in terracotta sourced to a crรจche that pupils and art teachers made for their town, selected from a Nativity Scene consisting of fifty-four pieces in total—steeped in the tradition of the earthenware—over a ten-year period from the mid-1960s to the mid-seventies.

There’s a helmeted astronaut in attendance as a nod to the contemporaneous 1969 Moon landing plus a centurion that some are comparing to Darth Vader (see link above), though the sculpture pre-dates the franchise by a few years. As one observer enthusiastically commented, it would be a nice ensemble—in miniature—for heath and home. Previously on tour in the 1970s in Israel, Palestine and Trajan’s Forum in Rome, the selection echoes the Pope’s missive from last Christmas—Admirabile signum—that it is customary and expected to include symbolic, contemporary characters to make the display busier and better address the everyday nature of holiness and grace.

Friday, 24 January 2020

les domains franรงais ร  l’รฉstranger

Though we cannot say for sure but a minor scuffle during a visit to Jerusalem by the French head of state that echoed a pointed altercation by a popular predecessor—whether a stunt or not—did nonetheless afford a fascinating, convoluted look into the small territorial claims, property-holdings (see also here and here) that the country has beyond metropolitan France.
The Church of Saint Anne—the mother of Mary and erected in the twelfth century during the regency of Queen Melisende under Crusader rule, at the site of a grotto that was believed to be a play spot of her young daughter, was reportedly gifted to Napoleon III by the Ottoman sultan in gratitude for his intervention in the Crimean War. In addition to this medieval structure at the head of Via Dolorosa, France lays claim (all disputed) to three other sites in the Holy Land, the Villa Mรฉdici in Rome, seven churches and crypts in the Vatican and the historical home of Victor Hugo on the UK dependency of Guernsey and the ensemble of buildings on Saint Helena where the disposed Napoleon (see previously) was confined.

Monday, 22 May 2017

polity et pietat

Geopolitics are making things seem a little bit meaningless right now, and sorry that the world is going a little fascist—but this too will pass.
The media echo chamber and the own signature time dilation that the US regime is causing (weeks stretch out to full four year terms) seem insurmountable but provided that we are not complicit in our own destruction and hold tyranny to account, we won’t descend quietly into that unreality where bluster and bombast and magical-thinking (those essential oils are going to have to step up their game with the impending cuts to health care in America) become the standard tool-box for diplomacy, legislation and policy execution. Perhaps a papal audience was intended to be another petulant and hollow photo-opportunity but maybe Dear Leader, who has so far been rather impervious to the world—secure in his narcissism, might get a more transformative lecture than he was expecting.

Monday, 13 March 2017

sxsw or urbi et orbi

The BBC’s technology correspondent catches up with Bishop Paul Tighe, Vatican representative and papal social media handler, in attendance at the South by Southwest conference.
The Holy See will also be presenting a panel discussion on Compassionate Disruption, which has attracted a lot of attention, but the interview focused on the forum that essentially launched the media platform Twitter a decade hence and the papacy’s uncomfortable but determined embrace of the social network five years ago. Pope Francis’ directive is that tweets are at minimum to be encouraging and if one deigns to enter into that discussion, one should try to avoid the negative elements out there.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

cibo, gente, e spasso

Despite vocal protests by residents and officials—though cosmetically, probably not raising much ire as other fast-food franchises and tourist-tat already saturate the corridors radiating out from the tiny nation-state, another outlet of a much maligned nutritional hegemony-monger opened for business near the Holy See and for the first time, occupying real estate owned (but without being accorded extra-territorial status) by the Vatican.
We’ve been known to patronise this establishment in the past but I think it’s really too much to suffer the Golden Arches within sight of Saint Peter’s—or anywhere else not keeping with character of its host neighbourhood, and resolve to be a little bit more finicky going forward. No matter how architecturally sensitive or neutral the faรงade might be made, it’s hard to imagine fitting, deserving locales other than newer subdivisions or buried within the catacombs of an airport or shopping centre, not even considering how such fare assaults local culinary tradition. It seems a little disgraceful and one would think that the property-owner would have more say about its tenants and isn’t so cash-strapped as to have no choice in the matter. What do you think? Just like quarters and communities, there’s no group so culturally impoverished that there’s no cooking heritage to displace.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

porta sancta

Recognising what the world needs now, Pope Francis threw open the Mercy Gate of the Lateran Archbasilica (the Pope’s church as the Bishop of Rome) and declared an extraordinary Jubilee Year—a decade earlier than the next scheduled time of forgiveness and reconciliation, which are announced periodically at quarter- or half-century intervals.
Ordering the door to be unbricked (sealed in earnest outside of these periods), the Pope promises that this message of grace will counter the violence and fanaticism in the world—and in people’s hearts. Quite a few basilica-major around the world, including Saint Peter’s in the Vatican and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, have their own Holy Doors and their own tradition and millions of pilgrims are expected to pass through these thresholds over the next year. The Papal Bull—Misericordiรฆ Vultus—allows for bishops everywhere to declare his own Mercy Gate for this Year of Jubilee. After the ceremony and reflection, the faรงade of San Giovanni in Laterano became the canvas to promote mindfulness of another urgent threat to peace, environmental degradation, with a light-show of projected images of the natural world.  His Holiness is primed to act on Mother Nature’s behalf as well.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: honey-badger or non-plus-ultra

Regarded as one of the Five Good Emperors for his civic-planning and long reign of peace and prosperity—only with the hallmark bookends that of violence and paranoia that attend most transitions of power, it is a regrettable commentary on the history books that Hadrian is nearly exclusively remembered only for his eponymous wall that separated the province of Britannia from the untamable wilds of Scotland.
The travelling emperor and Grecophile visited nearly every part of his realms, and on his grand-tour, left many public institutions improved and was a real bread-and-circuses kind of leader.  Other borderlands were fortified as well, and inasmuch has the Limes afforded a measure of protection from the barbarians, they also served an important propaganda purpose, white-washed and gleaming when new, the walls and towers were visible from great distances as a hearty deterrent and reminder that Rome ruled these lands. Though currying favour again with a Senate that was formerly reduced in esteem through the refusal of recent regimes to submit to protocols (despite their emptiness and the fact that the Senate’s role was almost purely ceremonial), Hadrian managed to chafe their elite sensibilities by being an unrepentant individual. 

Against the style at the time, Hadrian wore a beard, was an open homosexual, when most had the decency to stay in the closet, valued Greek culture and mannerisms over copy-cat Roman ones—which were usual poor and prudish imitators, was a big-game hunter (the Romans thought safaris were unseemly for nobility, though they had few qualms with being spectators for brutal gladiatorial bouts)—and to top it all off, he was a provincial hailing from Hispania, the first non-native emperor Rome had seen, and probably would have been its last had  not Hadrian’s tenure not been on-balance a successful one and the broader pool of talented and skilled leadership from beyond Italy would have been hence excluded from the highest echelons.  While those walls did much to help quell insurrections in much of the Empire, Judea with these radically un-Roman Christians still posed a problem, and Hadrian, towards the final years of his reign took a more tyrannical turn on the province—merging it with another entity, outlawing monotheistic worship—the Romans not yet really recognising the distinction between Christian and Jew yet, and reflagging the combined provinces as Syria-Palaestina, hoping to incorporate the Middle East into Hadrian’s envisioned Pan-Hellenic state.
The naming-convention endured through modern times and was a serious matter as the colony was renamed for an adversarial tribe. The peaceful years were surely ones hard fought for and Hadrian was no pacifist, with revolutions being staunched in many lands; the emperor’s detractors merely said that his lashing out—Rome did not care about the suffering and suppression in Jerusalem but the attendant crimes of political purges in the forum were—and that Hadrian was showing his true colours and held the Senate in contempt all along and his efforts at maintaining stability within the Empire were derided.  Though Hadrian had always demonstrated a nature that was pre-emptive rather than reactive, his change in character could have been attributed to the sudden and mysterious death of his long-time companion and lover, a Greek youth from Asia Minor called Antinous.  Antinous was accompanying the Emperor on a cruise down the Nile when his lifeless body was discovered in the water.  Theories about, including that Hadrian was growing weary with the boy—or that Antinous was off bears or even that emperor’s astrologer advised Hadrian that he would be rejuvenated and attain an advanced age—which he did—by sacrificing a youth.   I don’t know whether it was foul-play or not but I am sure that the two really did love one another. Hadrian never recovered from this tragedy, it seems, and dedicated many honours to the memory of Antinous. Somewhat outside imperial purview (the Senate conferred Godhead and although usually granted, they would have like to have been consulted first), he had his lover deified as a god and included among the Caesar family pantheon. A city in Egypt near the site where his body was recovered was demolished and rebuilt in Hellenistic style and named after Antinous, as was a constellation of stars. And as in life, Hadrian commissioned hundreds of statues of Antinous had them distributed to all corners of the Empire. Their story may not be familiar but you, gentle reader, have most likely seen his likeness already, the youth's image being the most reproduced one of the first century and the most widespread.
For a time the cult of Antinous (being conflated with Osiris who embodied similar graces) was bigger than Jesus, with more adherents than this new Christianity. The reign of Hadrian continued for several more years, and ever the architect and civil-engineering, the travelling emperor returned home and his ashes were enshrined in the mausoleum he designed, now known as Castel Sant'Angelo (the one-time home of the papacy and their jail, acquired after the Arch-Angel Michael appeared atop this tallest building in Rome and delivered the city from a medieval plague outbreak), across the Tiber from Vatican City.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

sede vacante

I have noted that some of the more progressive minds can transform into be the most oppressive and narrow-minded when presented with dissent in any sort. I think that this may be the case in the United Nations' damning assessment of the Vatican (not the appendages of the Holy See, which is an important limitation) over its disposition towards women's rights and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, the Church is trying to reform its ways when it comes to child-protection, another but very valid complaint in need of changing. I wonder, however, if this wholesale pointing out of the obvious is not just a grab at low-hanging fruit, since the UN nor by European (the Vatican does not claim EU membership) channels would dare challenge other convictions (religions, traditions) and articles of faith over lifestyle and preaching.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

sistine candles or in the room, the women come and go, talking of michelangelo

Mental Floss has an interesting article that reveals the original reasons behind the ban on photography and the taking of videos in the Sistine Chapel, adorned with breath-taking the breath-taking frescoes of Michelangelo in this private chapel of the Apostolic Palace and ante-chamber to the vast Vatican museum compound, was not in fact to protect the art from the crackle of light from billions of flash-bulbs but had more to do with licensing agreements that the Holy See granted to one of the biggest financial supporters of the restoration project. Started in 1980 and lasting nearly two decades, the prospect of reviving the walls and ceiling, un-re-touched since their completion in 1512 and stained with incense and candle smoke, was a very expensive undertaking and a big entertainment consortium from Japan helped extensively with the bill.
In exchange, the group had exclusive rights to reproducing high-quality images of the interior and documented each stage of the restoration work. Their rights have since expired but the ban—more or less, still remains in effect. It is really a sight to behold in person, as Goethe said after visiting in 1797, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” No photographs can do it justice and if you must take mementos, please tread lightly.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

vulgate or under lock and key

There are reports circulating that American intelligence services monitored and profiled the Pope during the highly secretive and sequestered Conclave, in order to assess the candidate's views on human rights and international relations and postures on US financial interests and overall direction of leadership.

Others among the suffragans and fore-runners were apparently targets of interest as well. It is already enough that there's spying on the mangy masses and secular leaders, friend and foe whether goals are mutual, compatible or at odds, but elevated to this level invites the audacity to imagine, whether or not implied, that observation smugly includes influence on the outcome. Other contests seem fixed and faked and only an elaborate exercise to appease the public, only undermined by such intense and covert scrutiny, but the perpetration at this height is too bold with its attributed paternalism. What do you think? Is this finally one step too far?