Art & Armies


 Capella Sistina

Capella Sistina

Below is something that I often consider when thinking about what is important in life. History looks favorably on efforts and expenditure in the arts. Those of us who participate in the creation of new things should be optimistic about our roles in society. Hopefully my choice to join the creative flow will prove to be meaningful and lasting.

Ingrid Rowland is one smart, learned and observant person. Revel in her light.

Rome and the Vatican Library provided more than their beauty and their eternity. On January 1, 1508, a rumpled academic from the university named Battista Casali gave a speech before Pope Julius II beneath the blue vault of the Sistine Chapel studded with gold stars—where in a few months Michelangelo would set up his scaffold to paint the ceiling we know today. Casali declared on that occasion that the greatest weapon against the Ottoman Turks, the era's most aggressive superpower, was this same Vatican Library. He meant not only its copies of the Bible and the Church fathers, but also, and especially, its Greek and Latin classics, the works of Plato, Vergil, Plutarch, Horace, Sappho, Sophocles, Cicero, Aristotle, Vitruvius, the authors who exercised, instructed, and comforted the mind and soul. And despite the fact that Casali's oration revolved around a clash between religions, he also meant the Arabic writers who had preserved Aristotle throughout the Middle Ages and invented algebra. Ottoman Turkey, as he well knew, was anything but a know-nothing Islamic state, and Islam in those days was no enemy of culture.
Casali found support for his position in what now might seem unlikely places. The Vatican Library's most enthusiastic patron in 1508 was also the most important member of Casali's audience: the Pope himself, Julius II, the Papa Terribile, the pope who sank as much money into the construction of St. Peter's basilica, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, and Raphael's frescoes as he did into his notorious military expeditions. And there is no question, five hundred years after Julius's election in December 1503, about which investment, armies or art, has proven the shrewder.

- November 4, 2004: Ingrid D. Rowland, NYRB

Herein lies the epitome of the power of the relationship between imaginative thinking, visionary leadership, the production of art, the design of buildings and spaces, and the library. Books, creativity, and art are devices for peace and sustain humanity throughout time. The Papa Terrible is anonymously best known for his patronage of the arts not for his war making to the average Vatican tourist. 

With the current Pope visiting Philadelphia in a few weeks I can't help but contemplate his position in the papal lineage. Francis the Terrible? Hardly. Based on his tenure to date I imagine he's more a supporter of art than conflict. Francis the Kind Patron? Lover of books and art? I wonder what creative endeavors he's supporting today that will be viewed as favorably in 500 years as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel accomplishments. History will tell. The world needs more visionaries.

  After the Battle of Marignano, drawing by Urs Graf. Almost no one remembers when or why this happened or cares about it.

After the Battle of Marignano, drawing by Urs Graf. Almost no one remembers when or why this happened or cares about it.