One day in 1968, a few weeks after I’d run away from by UK boarding school (age 15) and was back in Switzerland at my parent’s evangelical mission of L’Abri, Dad said, “I took your sisters, and I haven’t been spending enough time with you. Let’s go to Florence.” Dad was not your usual anti-art, anti-culture backward evangelical. He was an odd combination of art-lover and fundamentalist Christian. As such he would have hated Trump– not only for his politics of hate but for his gold-plated taste-in-your-ass idea of beauty: pimped up casino style!
We spent two glorious weeks retracing the steps of Renaissance art from medieval to modern. We stood in front of pictures like The Birth of Venus and Primavera as if before altars. We really looked, rewarding ourselves with these ultimate Renaissance visions of loveliness, order, and idealism after plodding through countless pre- and early Renaissance crude, Italian Virgin and Childs that lurk in so many musty Florentine churches.
Dad was a different person in private than in public.
When my father and I took our father-son trip it was an art pilgrimage I never saw Dad so happy as when he was looking at and discussing art. His face literally changed. He looked younger. At night when we ate in restaurants it was as if Dad and I had a secret agreement that away from L’Abri, we would pretend we were normal people rather than Jesus-spouting goofs. Anyone overhearing our conversations would have assumed Dad was an art historian.
We’d check into small, inexpensive hotels in Florence, Venice and Rome. Dad would sort out his tattered pile of city maps and dog-eared art books and plot a course. He would always comment on the pitifully tiny bars of soap, the strange little dishtowel-like bath “towels,” the low wattage of the bedside reading lamp, the precariousness of the small, slow, dimly-lit elevators, and the joy of being in Italy, anywhere in Italy. The next morning we’d set out on a pilgrimage to places like the Carmine Chapel to see Masaccio’s “Eve.”
Dad was a great art history teacher.
I’m just passing on to my grandchildren what Dad gave me as his most loving gift. He would insist on looking at the art in Florence, Rome and Venice in chronological order. Dad would insist that I tell him what I liked and why, before talking about a piece. He never let his words get in the way of my reaction. He didn’t shape my thoughts until I had a chance to look. Words weren’t the point: the art was. Then once I’d expressed myself, Dad would gently guide me to the best works from some period, explaining the evolution of style, of subject, something about the period the art came from. “Frank, since you like ‘The Tribute Money’ fresco by Masaccio, here in the Brancacci Chapel, tomorrow let’s take the bus to Siena and let me show you Duccio of Siena, he…”
In theory, Dad was opposed to the “humanism of the Renaissance,” and was a champion of “Northern European Reformation art,” the works of the good Protestants. But in practice it was the art of the Italian Renaissance that we spent much more time soaking up. We stood in front of pictures like the “Birth of Venus” and the “Primavera” as if before altars.
On our Italian trips I always had a sketch pad along, sometimes I painted small oils. Dad would sit next to me and read, while I drew or painted in Siena, Florence and Venice, and he traipsed around with me looking for locations to shoot my 8-millimeter movies.
If Dad had heard Trump saying “America First” or “America is the greatest place on earth” he would have laughed at him and asked “What about Italy?”
When I wanted to make a film of some of the statues in the Logia in Florence, and said I would like some young pretty girl to walk through the shots as part of my movie, Dad hired a beautiful young Dutch girl we met in San Marco’s and paid her for several hours of work, so I could get my shots.
When my granddaughter Nora (3) plays roles from the Birth of Venus painting I think Botticelli would be thrilled. I know Dad would.
Nora age 2: “Ba, I’ll put this cloak on you!”
Me: “Am I Venus in the seashell?”
Nora: “Yes, coming to the seashore. Here is your cloak so you won’t be cold!”
Score one for Dad! As for Trump… Here’s what my evangelical Dad might have told him and the idiot white evangelicals who voted for him…
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I loved Rome. I took a cruise to the Mediterranean in 2000 and the one port shore excursion I had to do was a taxi ride of Rome. One reason I love the epic movies such as Gladiator (2000) and many others King of Kings (1961) is for the portrayal of Roman imperial life.
I am laughing because I planned trips through Europe with our kids that centered, like your father, around the great art. And my favorite period, like his, was and remains the Italian Renaissance, so we also went to all the Florence places you mention–particularly the Academia because David was an adolescent fetish of mine! (LOL–not something your father might have approved!)
And you are so very right that these ancient values of humanity–not forgetting or forgiving the inhumanities that have always existed, and always will–the value of art to civilization; the barbarism of mindless prejudices and discriminations; the recognition of the things of real worth–family, art, and food–these are the things the USA stands in great danger of having burned at the voting booth.
Thank you for these articulate videos that speak the real truth and common sense that appears to have vanished from most of the US electorate.
The problem with most Americans, including the “illiterate evangelicals,” but by no means limited to them in regards to soaking up world culture is that most of us are too poor to travel. The longest distance I have traveled was moving from one side of the country (southwest) to the other (northeast) – and while the new demographic has broadened my thinking, it’s by no means like being a world-traveler. I’ve been across boarders once (a school trip to Mexico as part of a student exchange program when I was in the fifth grade between my small town in Arizona and a small town in Mexico… I pray to God that is still happening and will still get to happen in this era). The best I’ve been able to do in seeing world class art has been through museums. I got to go to the J. Paul Getty in L.A. once, in college around 15 years ago and still get “artgasms” thinking about the illuminated manuscripts, icon paintings and the Impressionists-collection. But, you know, not all of us are able to go to Italy, or France, or anywhere else and it’s not particularly our fault when we’re just scraping together trying to survive.
Trump could certainly afford it, but, somehow, I don’t think he’d appreciate it.