A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Masaccio's Florence

I listened to many beautiful papers at the X. Symposium Platonicum in Pisa, and participated in some very interesting chats with colleagues. For my part, I gave a paper on the different layers of the philosophers' being "out of place", their atopia in our dialogue (the Symposium). Like Alexandros Nehamas in his book Art of Living, and Jonathan Lear, in his lectures A Case for Irony, I took Kierkegaard seriously, but decided to draw upon a different element of his from what they picked, which I labeled "the real possibility for new beginnings". Not that Plato needed anyone or anything projected upon his writings, while we certainly need to know ancient and modern history of philosophy and reflect on similarities and differences in our comparing readings (also of) Plato. I was happy to chat about these subtleties and some other topics after the short paper.

Now that I am spending some time in Florence, I can very well understand what a friend once told me about his investing his entire fellowship in staying for a month in a Florentine palazzo. The first moment worth mentioning was when we were caught between Ghiberti's Door (Baptistery) and Brunelleschi's Cathedral. It was in this moment that beauty made me shiver: This was just the beginning, which prompted me to put Diotima's ladder aside for a while and my otherwise being so often caught between a rock and a hard place in ancient landscape, sometimes between Gilbert Ryle and Julius Stenzel and sometimes between Plato and Aristotle. Now I am caught between beautiful creations.

My great anticipation had focussed on Masaccio, whom I mentioned in a previous post. I had not imagined, though, that he would become the centre of my Florence stay, not to be overshadowed by anyone else despite all the manifestations of artistic greatness around. He died at the age of 27 years old, and he left only masterpieces. Would I not know he is the painter of the pieces I look at, I would not have guessed that they are painted by the same artist. This does not happen when encountered with Ghirlandaio or Michelangelo or Da Vinci. It is as if Masaccio knew that he would die young and decided to leave a masterpiece for all of his (different) developmental stages. He did not experiment like Paulo Uccello, that is sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Each of his works has been a success and this for different reasons. In the Brancacci Chapel, we saw some of his frescoes, beside Masolino's and Filippino Lippi's, the son of Filippo Lippi. To be sincere, I had eyes only for Masaccio, for each and every piece of his.

Masaccio's Tribute Money. What I admire and adore in the above constellation (among Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel), is the way he structures time on the two-dimensional surface. There are three stages in time and scenes painted, but Masaccio does not decide to narrate in a sequential manner from past (left) to future (right). In the central scene, the tax collector comes to collect the money from Jesus and his disciples. On the left, we see Peter finding the money while fishing, and on the right, he gives the money to the tax collector. There have been other attempts to depict time sequence in the paintings (see Gentile da Fabriano, the Adoration of the Magi, 1423, for instance), but with no similar excellence in the structure as a result, not to mention the single-point perspective converging on Christ's head. Although Christ is the central figure, it is a figure with his back turned on us, namely the tax collector, that connects past and future through his hand gestures.
PS: Terrence Malick's post must wait; no leisure. Now I am paying the due respects to a book I decided to review with delight, namely Sarah Broadie's Nature and Divinity in Plato's Timaeus, before I call it a day, as far as reviews are concerned, at least for a while.