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…
Posted by Frank Schaeffer on Monday, April 3, 2017