Late winter blues have attacked Joe and me, and even Bryn-dog. Blea! The fickle weather would warm to a shocking heatwave temp- like 55 degrees- for a few hours, and then a rising, irritating wind would usher in a blanket of very cold air to confuse the mind and scatter the seeds of frustration and discouragement throughout our home and mostly frozen garden. Heavens! It’s almost May! What’s up with this??
Anyway- we love to watch great astronomy and math programs on Netflix in the evenings after busy, active days- mostly spent indoors- but now, we needed something different, something to distract the mind from this lengthy winter. We wanted to travel from our armchairs to another time, preferably in Europe.
Amazon Prime dangled some programs that might resonate... Ping! One caught our eye. ‘The Renaissance Unchained.’ Catchy! Huh. Never heard of this fellow- Waldemar Januszczak. But we liked his name, and were intrigued by the title of his Renaissance history series.
It’s a doozey! This guy, a highly respected art critic and historian in his 60s, is rotund, fond of open-collar black clothes. His shortish dark hair is combed straight up into a high peak. There are three sparkling piercings in one ear. The ‘peak’ and piercings suit him. He’s a character!
His Polish parents fled to England during WW2, and he was born there in 1954.
Of course, I looked him up. Whew! Mr. J is a very busy man! He’s done many art commentaries. Here’s what Wikipedia says: (and it’s spot-on)
Januszczak has been described as "a passionate art lover, art critic and writer. His presentation style is casual but informed, enthusiastic, evocative and humorous. He bumbles about on our TV screens, doing for art what David Attenborough has done for the natural world," and is someone who acts out of "a refusal to present art as elitist in any way. He makes it utterly accessible and understandable."
Joe and I delight in his amusing, passionate presentation of mostly unfamiliar artists who lived in a period that is poo-pooed- or mostly ignored- by today’s art world. He slapped down a book in front of the camera titled Flemish Primitives (that is, art created 50-100 years before the official Renaissance had begun). Those two words made smoke come out of his ears. “Rubbish!” snorted Januszczak. “Wonderful art–stunning and original-and often better, happened well before the Renaissance! Come with me- I’ll show you some leading lights!”
So, off we went on a tour of artistic marvels, nestled in Italy and in Belgium. We ventured into special rooms where few have been allowed, to view glorious art up close and personal.
Oh! Such beauty and realistic detail! One of the wooden sculptures, of life-sized people reacting to the dead crucified Christ, is riveting. It is so magnificent I was rendered speechless- too amazed to remember who created it. I have never, ever seen anything remotely like their individual expressions of shock and despair.
They aren’t in Renaissance art books I have studied. I think I would remember.
Just that One incredible sculpture would make a stone gasp.
But alas, some sculptures are done in (sniff)- wood. Can’t have that, the critics huff! Has to be White marble (like Michelangelo’s ‘David’)! Maybe that’s why the Christ one isn’t seen often.
Well, gaze at that scarily realistic, passionate group of people frozen in an instant of Time. Gaze, astounded, at the brown-gold glow of 800-year-old wood; gape at their wind-ruffled robes, and tell me this isn’t better than great.
It’s easy to be captivated by his irreverent bluntness and humor. We now understand why artists painted or sculpted the masterpieces Januszczak presented. These men- and the population who viewed their work -were constantly reminded by the Church of Hell and Damnation, of the Devil, always in disguise, who never ceased tempting and hunting down sin-filled human beings. They were terrified by the plague, which would kill 75% of the population practically overnight; of murderous wars by neighboring city-states ...
Art reflects the turmoil- the political tumult- of the times. It was tough to live a reasonable life then.
One more thing; he (and we, by proxy) climbed a big hill to view a GIANT Giant (seen in episode 4) leaning back against a huge rock to ponder the spectacular scenery in the valley below. That incredible sight, like so many others, made us want to run to the local library’s collection of huge art books to linger over these treasures...
Janusczcak is an extremely prolific filmmaker who offers lots of historical adventures we plan to follow. All have intriguing titles, like these in ‘The Renaissance Unchained’ that we’ve finished:
1. Gods, Myths and Oil Paintings
2. Whips, Death and Madonnas (lots and lots of them)
3. Silk, Sex and Sin (in Venice) WOW!
4. Hell, Snakes and Giants (such snake-y intrigue!!!! Serpents are everywhere, even set in pottery!! Who Knew!!! Check out that pottery! OMG.
Our teacher thinks everyone way back then was in a constant state of nerves, fearful and vaguely depressed... Just look at what weird Hieronymus Bosch - a soul who defines strange- painted. People flocked to see his work, vaguely reminiscent of weird Disney cartoons, even comic book-like, or, rather like an off-the-wall graphic novel. ‘Weird’ hardly expresses what that guy produced. You need a week to take in one triptych, of The Garden of Eden, Paradise, and Hell. What the viewer sees is ghastly, amazing, horrifying, STRANGE, disturbing stuff.
People in pieces.
Lots of bizarre nudity.
Nudity is rampant-
So. There is everything---- from Glorious, to off-the-wall, long before the Renaissance began...
Each episode so far is fascinating. My blinkers are off; instead of looking straight ahead I now am open to a vast, panoramic view of the various forms of artistic expression in the pre-Renaissance decades, and even why they happened.
Fix some popcorn, pour a glass of wine, throw in some nuts, and settle in for enlightened evenings!