At the end of the Middle Ages, between the almost universal illiteracy and the tight control of theologians turned into judges of the Inquisition, there were no gaps left to think freely. It is what had happened before in the Islamic world.
But life makes its way…
Human thought and language had begun 2.8 million years ago, when the hominins began to work the stone with their hands. With both hands: sensing on the left the pragnanz of the being hidden in the stone (1). And determining those possibilities on the right (2), bringing to light the cut, blow by blow.
That first carver hominin had no words to express himself. If I had them, I could have said: – “I only remove from this stone what is left over”.
This is what Michelangelo did at the end of the 15th century of our era. At 23 he sculpted the Pieta del Vaticano. And no theologian could have stopped him, because he didn’t use words that could be described as heretical.
Michelangelo did not express himself with words, but with his hands through the stone. The stone dust that covered him in his workshop prevented the guardians of the Faith from noticing him. And by the time they noticed, it was too late.
By that same time, the merchants of Venice had broken into the social scene, relying on the law that made them equal in their commercial transactions, as we have seen in the previous chapter (3). The words of a receipt do not deal with God; Only merchandise and currency. No theologian could file objections or qualify a heresy receipt.
The artists intervened changing the way of seeing the world
Thus began the Renaissance. The merchants did not want their children to be abbots or theologians, but to have lay studies in that society of illiterates and theologians. Mathematics, painting and sculpture studies…
And so the artists arrived, from the hand of their parents and patrons. These artists would go down in history as painters, sculptors, architects … In some cases, with several of those trades in the same person, such as Leonardo and Michelangelo.
Miguel Ángel Buonarruti (1475-1564) was first a sculptor, then a painter and also an architect, civilian and military. That, when he had not angered his patron, father or prince.
After sculpting the Pieta, Pope Julius II (known as “the warrior pope” for his dedication to conquering cities for his Papal States), commissioned him to paint the vault of the Sistine Chapel. Miguel Ángel was then 33 years old. This work took him 4 years.
Then he was in Florence at the service of the Medici. And later he worked as a military architect in the defense of the Republic of Florence against the troops of the Pope.
When the Florentine Republic was defeated by the papal forces of Clement VII, Michelangelo was taken prisoner. The Pope forgave him to paint a fresco on the altar of the Sistine Chapel. The next pope, Paulo III, changed the theme of the fresco for the Last Judgment. Michelangelo worked on this work for 5 years from 1536 to 1541.
On the ceiling of the Sistina painted in 1513, God is at the center, extending his hand to the first man he has just created. Each character has its place: its niche, within which it remains static. Everything is in perfect order.
But in the 24 years between the fresco of the dome and that of the Last Judgment on the altar, many things happened.
There were three successive popes in Rome. In Germany, Augustinian friar Martin Luther rebelled against the Pope and was excommunicated. Luther’s Protestant reform resulted in the splitting of the Catholic religion. Rome was sacked by troops of Emperor Charles I, who took the Pope prisoner. Ignacio de Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, making it available to the Pope as intelligence service. The Medici family was expelled from Florence, but later they regained power. The patronage of artists is over and thus the Renaissance in Italy is considered finished. To say that there was mannerism would be to fall short.
The serenity, balance and harmony of the forms of Greco-Roman tradition; the symmetry around a stable center, where the escape lines converge, producing the illusion of perspective… All that got old and had to change, because the classical world had become incredible. Then, the artists changed their way of looking at reality and representing it.
Plato’s philosophy that had attracted the young Michelangelo had ceased to make sense to him.
Now, in the Last Judgment, the characters do not resemble those in the vault. The space is not the same, because it has ceased to be habitable. The characters are lost and scared; they are swollen as if leaving a gym, to fall into an abyss. The mother of God, belittled, looks away, protecting herself from her Son with her arms. He doesn’t even want to see what he is doing. The only thing clear in this painting is who has the power: the Jesus of the wedding in Cana transformed into avenger.
This new way of making art and seeing things, took the guardians of the faith by surprise so that, without words that could condemn as heresies, they accused Michelangelo of a heretic for showing (again) the genitals of his characters. As the Pope Clement VII was already cured of fright, the cardinals waited for the Pope to die to order the naked figures to be covered with calzones. And so they remained covered, until their restoration completed in 1999.
As I said, Michelangelo did not need words to convey his messages: only painting and a wall… and the permission of the head of the Catholic Church. It seems a contradiction. But it is because the history of humanity is very contradictory. When everything seems to close, it opens; when it seems to be opening, it closes. When we expect that something is going to happen (or is not going to happen), we are missing the best (and also the worst).
That’s why art is so important: because it says without saying. It does, but it seems that it doesn’t (4). With the left hand, increasing the pragnanz, the inexpressible in words (still, because that is the beginning of thinking). In each work of art the initial act of creation of humanity is produced again.
But, still being a lot, art is only the first of the two phases of human thought. In the next chapter: Experimental science, modern thinking, we will see what was put together next, with the experimental science that initiated modern thought. In the Italian Renaissance, artists managed to slip through censorship; but the scientists had it more difficult.
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
1) See: Pragnanz in the left hand.
The left hand was humanized, making it easy to feel what was hidden when building a tool.
(2) See: Determination on the right hand.
The right hand was rationalized by determining the possibilities presented by the left hand.
(3) See: Traders to the rescue.
Go from hunting human beings, to the be equal face the law. That was a change that would bring consequences.
(4) This phrase “She does it, but it seems she doesn’t” is a tribute to my paternal grandfather, who said it about my mother. He was right, because she had a lot of left hand.