Friday, April 8, 2016
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The famous Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503-1506), 'lady of light' or 'light-heartedness'; Lisa sits between two columns, with only their bases barely visible. Image Source: Wiki.
In an earlier post, I argued that scientists and technologists ironically inspire the primal and anti-rational because they are transforming life, breaching boundaries, and not always weighing long term consequences of their innovations. To understand that process, one must analyze it with ideas from the arts and humanities. With regard to the impact of the Internet, part of the answer comes from visual artists, who are preoccupied with how we see the world and how the world sees us. In my previous post in this series, I discussed Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings and their resemblance to computers as mirrors.
Perhaps the most famous symbolic depiction of the mirror looking at us is Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503-1506). Mona Lisa is smiling so mysteriously because the painting may not be about its enigmatic subject, Lisa del Giocondo (née Gheradini), at all. The symbolism in the Mona Lisa indicates that the portrait represents an archetypal mirror, which is actively watching you. Understand the Mona Lisa, and one starts to understand our present circumstances on the Internet. The next few posts in this series describe how the symbolism of the Mona Lisa provides clues to our Millennial mentality. Given the uproar over Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, it is fitting that today's post also explains the meaning of the word 'trump' in Renaissance card games, and it discusses why the Mona Lisa depicts a trump card and concept.
For a taste of medieval walled town life from Leonardo da Vinci's time, this is Pérouges, France, built in the 14th and 15th centuries around wine and weaving industries in the Ain River Valley, near Geneva; it is a seven hour drive by car to Florence, Italy. Video Source: Youtube.
The medieval town of Gradara is known for a castle which was finished in the 15th century, and would have been new in Leonardo da Vinci's youth. The castle features in the fifth canto of Dante's Divine Comedy, at the climax of the adulterous love story between Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. Video Source: Youtube.
Florence in da Vinci's time, in a 1493 woodcut from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle. Image Source: Wiki.
Interiors of Palazzo Davanzati, a restored medieval-Renaissance Florentine palace, built in the late 14th century. The palace reveals a claustrophobic, walls-within-walls mentality, with everything being enclosed: towns, compounds, houses, inner houses, locked rooms, hidden chambers, and secret passages. Inhabitants sought ever greater security from outside conflicts, which became more elaborate and complex. Images Source: Walks Inside Italy and Sailko/Wiki and Museums in Florence.
Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa at the turn of the 15th-to-16th centuries during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The Mona Lisa contains triumphal allegorical symbolism which was very popular at the time. These allegories were everywhere. They were a cultural shorthand for a whole range of accepted ideas about the way the world worked. At this time, noble families and guilds presided over life inside walled towns. Constantly in conflict to amass power and consolidate control, they revived the old Roman tradition of triumphal processions to celebrate victories in battles. The Renaissance, according to Joseph Manca, was "the age of the trionfo." Parades took on symbolic qualities to enable noble families to assert their historical continuity with the greatness of imperial Rome.
Triumphal Victory Parades
Thus, 'triumphs' were parades, which became associated in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance with spiritual allegories. This transition from a real military victory march to a symbolic parade to celebrate certain social values is evident in Francesco Petrarch's poem, I Trionfi (1356-1374), written mainly at the Visconti Court in Milan. Petrarch's love poems describe his unrequited love for Laura de Noves (1310-1348). In I Trionfi, Petrarch (1304-1374) claims his love for Laura made him face ever more demanding physical, emotional, philosophical, and spiritual challenges. At each stage, a higher virtue or stronger allegorical figure triumphed and held a victory march. Peter Sadlon:
The poem, in Italian and English, is here. The victories of ever-higher allegorical figures are depicted in the illustrations below."In the first triumph, Love as Cupid conquers the gods and men (including Petrarch). In the second triumph, Chastity defeats Love, reflecting Laura's ladylike rejection of Petrarch's advances. In the third triumph, Death defeats Chastity (Laura was a victim of the Black Death). In the fourth, Fame defeats Death (her reputation lives after her). In the fifth triumph, Time defeats Fame, and finally (sixth), Eternity conquers Time (with the promise that Petrarch and the object of his love will be united at last in the afterlife)."
The triumph of Love.
The victory of Chastity.
The march of Death.
The parade of Fame.
The procession of Time.
The victory march of Eternity. Images Source: Peter Sadlon. ("The images shown here are from Bernard Quaritch's edition of Works of The Italian Engravers of the Fifteenth Century, with introduction by G. W. Reid. Reid denies the credit for the Petrarch prints to Nicoletto da Modena and supports the authorship of Fra Filippo Lippi.")
Tarot Card Trumps
Triumphant allegorical figures, or 'trumps,' were then included in the invention of the tarot deck, a kind of Game of Thrones card game for nobles. The earliest tarot cards look a lot like medieval illuminated manuscripts, but were adapted to woodblock printing, introduced in the 15th century. The Visconti di Modrone deck of tarot cards, which is officially dated around 1466, but may date from the 1440s, is one of the most prized possessions of Yale University's library.
The first established tarot card decks were created in the 1400s through the early 16th century. The Florentine Minchiate deck of 97 cards, developed in the early 1500s when Leonardo da Vinci lived in the city, was used to play a game with a catalogue of hermetic archetypes. 'Minchiate' means 'nonsense' or 'bullshit'; so this was a 'fool's game,' a bit like chess, and a bit like early poker, with some allegorical lessons, astronomical archetypes, and fabulistic morals thrown in for good measure. The World of Playing Cards:
"The game, like other Tarot games, is a trick taking game in which points are scored by capturing certain cards and sets of cards. However, the deck has also been popular with card readers who see it as a variant of the esoteric tarot because of the allegorical and symbolical content. The Cavaliers [knights or jacks] are man/beast creatures. The Valets (or Pages) are male for clubs and swords, and female for cups and coins. Further features include the replacement of the Papess, Empress and Pope by the Western Emperor, the Eastern Emperor and the addition of the Grand Duke. Some scholars believe that these cards may have served as teaching aids, because several trump allegories (Virtues, Elements, Zodiac signs) belong to categories upon which classical learning was based at that time."
This is a 1995 Lo Scarabeo limited 'Etruria' edition reproduction of a 1725 version of the Florentine Minchiate tarot deck. There was also a 1996 mass-produced deck and a 2011 reprint. According to Tarot Heritage, the first mention of a 'tarot' deck, comes from a 1440 Florentine diary. Video Source: Youtube.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Follow Your Dreams/Cancelled by Banksy (2010) on a wall in Boston's Chinatown. Image Source: Lifehack.
Do not ask if the middle class is dead and where the political blame lies. Ask how much time you have, now that they are dying or already dead. Ask what has happened in the past in other societies after a middle class has died. Most people in the middle classes are waiting for things to improve. If that does not happen, there are two modern roads out of extreme social inequality and economic disparity: revolution or a police state. This was the message, on 20 March 2016, when BBC World News broadcast a programme on the post-recession destruction of the middle classes, entitled The Super Rich and Us, hosted by Jacques Peretti.
For a time after the Second World War, the social contract became quid pro quo - meaning, 'this for that' or 'something for something.' In English-speaking countries, it is a contractual concept under the Common Law, "an item or service traded in return for something of value." The Latin expression is the source for the British slang 'quid' for the pound sterling. One would work for a certain amount of time and gain money and a livelihood in return. Now however, the social contract is increasingly just - quo.