Wednesday, March 25, 2009

St John's shock and awe

If you have not yet had the opportunity to see for yourself the result of the €530,000 restoration work carried out on St John's Co-Cathedral, make it a point to go. The work has been carried out by Santo Guido Restauri. This week I came across Patricia Daniel's blog and her fascinating insight into the art within the Co-Cathedral.

The opulent Baroque style in church architecture was encouraged by the Catholic Church at the time of Council of Trent as a way of expressing religious themes with emotion, but the busy decoration was also a way of loosing all sense of shape and space and leaving the faithful dumbfounded, standing in awe at God's greatness.

Patricia writes about the dark side of St John's:

The cathedral is simple on the outside with an opulent interior. Fantastic baroque stone carving on every wall and pillar, in the nave it’s still all covered with gilt. So in one way, the building is filled with light. But there’s a feeling of darkness here and violent death – not the serenity of a soul gone to meet their maker. One of many examples is a magnificent 3-D memorial to a fallen knight, executed in shiny black metal, decorated with shields and swords. You don’t get a sense of redemption, only a sense of anger. ‘It’s as if they’re still fighting,’ says my daughter.

Is that what the family (or the Order) requested from the artist? The entire interior, including many of the altar-pieces, was commissioned from the Calabrian Matthia Preti. Did he actually subvert the task to convey his own perception of the knights? The bucolic biblical scenes painted in pastels on the ceiling are marred at the bottom by giant figures of knights in black robes who cleverly but frighteningly emerge in 3-D from the fresco. They do not form part of the biblical story at all - they crouch ready to leap out.

The whole is designed to shock and awe the congregation.

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