We Need a Revival of Humanism

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 18, 2018 | Go to article overview

We Need a Revival of Humanism


FLORENCE -- A tourist in Florentine museums is like a skipping stone above unfathomable depths. Here a Botticelli. There a Donatello. A single room at the Uffizi that would reward a lifetime of study gets five minutes before lunch.

I have no intention of performing art criticism without a license, but a few things stand out even to the amateur eye.

The medieval rooms display art for the sake of God. The artists reveal all the glories that two dimensions have to offer. But they are often anonymous. And their subjects -- even Jesus on the cross -- usually have the kind of flat, calm faces associated with Byzantine art. In a universe structured and ordered by the divine, piety is expressed by serenity.

In the Renaissance rooms, it is art for the sake of humanity. The artists -- sometimes celebrities in their own right -- mine Classical and Christian stories for drama, sex and violence. Their statues and paintings are intended to express the best of human craft, endeavor and ambition. They produced a very public, even civic, art.

By the time you reach the face of Michelangelo's David, it is supremely confident, prepared and determined. Previous artistic Davids usually were depicted as scrawny youths, which emphasized God's miracle of deliverance in the fight against Goliath. This David is no longer in need of miracles. Other than the sling on his back, he has nothing to do with the biblical story and everything to do with a spirit of humanism, optimism and pride.

And then you reach the Caravaggio room at the Uffizi, and you know you are seeing something entirely different. The face of the Medusa cries out with inner agony. …

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