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  • Writer's pictureJay Abel


Updated: Jan 3, 2023

I had a disagreement with another Art historian the other day. I hold this person in high regard, but in fact my peers and I hardly agree on anything. At any rate professor X Had just returned from long junket in Italy and he was extolling the wonders of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Our dialog went more or less as follows.

Prof JDA - I’m not crazy for it. I won't argue with big Mike’s flawless technical execution but his glossy finish is just too slick and ideal for me. According to biblical legend, Jesus had his skin ripped off before he was tortured to death. Big Mike makes him look like a he died in a warm bubble bath from an overdose of qualudes, and his 50 year old mom is the size of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. She has the face of a high school Junior cheerleader who just went through a case of Oxy-10. She responds to the horrible death of her firstborn with a gesture more appropriate to a broken egg yoke.

And that Turtle-waxed marble looks like Kool Whip.

If one has the stomach for some real pathos look at the “Rottgen Pieta” from the 14th century. That girl is devastated. That Jesus is broken, like a dead dog in the road.

Professor X - It's the “Rotten Pieta” if you want my opinion. It’s just crude medieval obsessiveness, torture chamber gothic I'd call it. I saw a dozen others all over Europe, just as ugly.

Prof JDA - Similar perhaps, but none so visceral, and I kind of like art that’s crude and obsessive as opposed to high rhetorical flattery.

Professor X - I respond to classical enlightenment and perfection. I’ve seen plenty enough ugliness in the world, death and hopelessness, and I certainly don’t need another ration of it in art. I don’t find it instructive or inspiring.

Professor JDA - The Rottgen work has character. To quote Rodin, “all that has character is beautiful and nothing can be beautiful that is without character”.

Professor X - And Rodin, on his knees, worshipped Michelangelo…..

Of course, nobody is right or wrong here, I only present this dialog to my readers a point of debate, and as an example of how an anonymous, 14th century gothic artist (who probably considered himself a craftsman) might stand comparison with a superstar. JDA

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