I saw the Statue of David and the Pieta. I actually stood before them and looked at them. And thought of what the sculptor believed - that a form was always trapped in a stone, and the sculptors job was to liberate it from the stone!
I saw Buonnarotti’s aesthetic extravaganza on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and on the wall behind the altar.
As a child I had seen them in that gigantic hardbound album of classical art which I couldn’t lift. So heavy it was. My brother Vakkachayan had acquired it from somewhere and it was my favourite pastime turning its pages, from the first to the last and reading the captions and the explanatory notes. Every picture in that book of paintings from the 11th century to the 19th century had a long story behind it. My brother told me many of them, and I poured over those pages almost every day. The Sistine Chapel paintings and the statue of David, I remember, made me blush. I remember the domestic help once teased me for looking at ‘obscene’ pictures.
But last week I saw them all. In flesh and blood(!?). And I looked and looked.
No. I have no trained eye for art. But the idea. Yes. It is the idea that held me enthralled. The idea I had passed on to my students year after year when I introduced them to the Italian Renaissance, the precursor to the English.
Looking up, with my head at right angle to the body, at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the heavily crowded room where cameras were not permitted. I remembered the numerous stories about Michael Angelo. The Agony and the Ecstasy. The spirit of Renaissance reflected in the strange but exquisite co habitation of the Hellenic and Hebraic achieved in the paintings and sculptures of the period. The liberation of art from the straight-jacketed demands of an austere religion. All that I read (without fully comprehending) and taught as part of my profession came crowding into my mind. The feeling was strange. It was like a nostalgia for something I have never seen or experienced – perhaps a nostalgia for an imaginary world I was forced to inhabit as one of the imperatives of my occupation, and which eventually entered my soul and became part of me.
Maybe I’m not making sense.