Last updated on August 16, 2020
My little brother’s favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is Leonardo because of his leadership and brains. If it weren’t for their eye covering headbands, I would have a tough time telling them apart because the four are brothers.
The four turtles are named after the four great renaissance leaders.
Leonardo Davinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, other than being from the same Renaissance period and being amazing each in their own right, are distinct enough to tell them apart by just looking at their masterpieces. Who would you say your favorite artist is and why? (Please don’t say that your criteria are from the recent contest kicked off by the Yorkshire Museum).
If we’re talking about original, then we need to start with Donatello, not only because he’s an early Renaissance master, but because he came fifty years before the other three came into the limelight. But if you think I’m going to talk about his bronze David, then you guessed wrong, even though that’s arguably Donatello’s greatest achievement.
I’m excited that I can start with Donatello, because his Annunciation at Santa Croce, Florence, is how I imagine this first for the Joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It’s interesting to me that the creators of the TMNT were inspired by an old art history book, as the first time I saw this was in a very old copy of E.H. Gombrich’s Story of Art.
It was love at first sight, and it’s my favorite masterpiece in all the world. My love for this piece is contrasted by my disappointment in finally purchasing this well-known survey of art history, coming home to tear open the shrink-wrap, and discovering this piece was omitted in the later version of Gombrich’s book.
The fact that the Annunciation is a little-known high relief artwork of Donatello makes it even more special to me. Most art professors don’t even know of it. The humble, elegant simplicity of Mary here is exactly how I picture her.
The archangel Gabriel is like a strong warrior, properly kneeling before her because he knows exactly who she is. The fine details of even how Our Lady’s dress drapes one way as her head and hands show a quiet surprise speaks to her life of openness to whatever adventure God has in store for her. Someday, I’d like to see it in real life.
Almost as much as the art from the period, I love the idea of the Renaissance man, originating from Leonardo Da Vinci, who could’ve been equally successful as a painter, mathematician, or engineer. On a side note, I’m hoping to use as much of the newly found extra time being home during the COVID-19 pandemic to emerge as a Renaissance girl myself. And I hope this cultural snippet might lend a humble hand if you share in this endeavor.
Da Vinci’s Last Supper is one of his better-known works. But closer to Los Angeles is the stained glass re-creation, which is a permanent exhibit at Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA. Its 30 x 15 feet dimensions are great no matter how you look at it, especially when you see its vertically challenged at under five feet tall.
Seeing the Southern California sunshine through the carefully painted glass is as symbolic as it’s majestic. It’s no wonder it took four years longer than Da Vinci’s original painting! I hope that everyone will have a chance to view it in person post-pandemic.
When you come over to my house, you’ll see various angles of one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures, the Pieta. Our ground floor hallway has several large framed photos of this sculpture my parents bought during their first trip to the Vatican Museum. The Pieta was the first statue made by Michelangelo, who some say is one of the most talented artists of all time, and is also a quintessential Renaissance man.
I agree with Sister Wendy’s assessment that the Pieta is beautiful in the facial expressions when it shows the manifest loneliness. The serene sorrow of Our Lady, whose only love is draped lifelessly, is reminiscent of the many times that she held Baby Jesus tightly.
We almost need a word greater than “masterpiece” to do it justice. What’s amazing to me is that with all of his achievements and successes, Michelangelo was famed to have said as his last words, “I’m still learning.”
Last but not least is Raphael, who’s known for his beautiful Madonna paintings, and sometimes their peripheral characters. You probably recognize the cherubs in the Sistine Madonna, for example. To this day, I’m not sure why Sts. Sixtus and Barbara are flanking Jesus and Mary.
The two seem copy-pasted, and the same goes for the cutie pie chubby baby angels. It’s almost like Raphael put them all together in one painting so that you can choose where to rest your gaze.
Similarly in Raphael’s Ansidei Madonna, there’s the peaceful gaze of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus). In my favorite book by Sister Wendy, Book of Meditations, she describes St. Nick’s serenity coming not from a stress-free utopia, but amidst the struggles of daily life and using them to become closer to Our Lord.
Some might be right when they protest I skimmed too quickly over each of these artists. Entire tomes are devoted to each artist. Irving Stone’s Agony and Ecstasy might be a novelized biography of Michelangelo, but readers can sympathize with its depiction of Michelangelo’s artistic passion throughout his life as represented by Stone. That’s probably why the movie version had the great Charlton Heston portray Michelangelo.
My dream someday, when I’m old, is to become a docent tour guide at a nearby art museum. That way, in between tours, I can freely walk the halls and make use of the creative genius through the centuries all around me for inspired meditation and contemplation. In that sense, I’m waiting with bated breath for the completion of the “Building LACMA” project, new collections, and when LACMA starts taking applications for its Docent Council again.
I mentioned Sister Wendy before, and she’s the quintessential art docent. It might be her Oxford training and prayer life, which included daily Mass and sometimes 7 hours of prayer in one day. Detached from having material things, she didn’t fuss about receiving special celebrity treatment. On the contrary, she lived like a hermit, renouncing the unimportant things so she could have a keen sense for the divine.
As I enjoy the last weeks of summer break before the virtual Fall semester of school begins, I’m going to try to think of Sister Wendy’s contemplative solitude in her windowless trailer van and emulate her sensibility for Fine Arts, starting with the Orginal Ninjas.