Sunday, March 2, 2014


I have been confronted by a series of incredible images of hands here in Rome.

The obvious one, that everyone sees, is in the Sistine Chapel.  Almost touching, or having just touched.

I went to the Borghese Gallery, where one of the many prize Baroque sculptures is by Bernini, who shows off his incredible ability with the imprint of Pluto's hand on the thigh of Persephone in the Abduction of Persephone.  Like the illusion of architectural features in the ceiling of the Villa Farnesina, here, too, it is hard to believe that Bernini worked in stone, in one piece of marble.  The pressure on the skin is utterly realistic.  You can feel the pressure, and her attempt to flee.  

The Gallery Borghese is an unforgettable place, both for the building and for the series of masterworks, one after the other that are presented to visitors in two floors (including a room of four Caravaggio's, all of which deserve a room of their own and a half hour to appreciate).   To add to the riches, the Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of Giacometti's sculptures, not in a separate space, but interspersed among the other works.

And here is the post-World War II sculpture by Giacometti they have placed adjacent to the Bernini. In the face of Bernini's confidence and even bravado is this this, fragile, but also resilient hand, reaching out after disaster.  Or is it the splayed hand and dismembered arm of one of the millions killed in World War II?

I went for the first time to the Borghese Gallery with my new friend, the photographer Gary Schneider and his partner John Erdman.  Gary is in the midst of a project of doing "portraits" of South African artists.  They are not facial portraits but rather hand prints on photograph negatives that are eerily powerful.  The hand, and the fingerprints, are as unique as the face, but we can only think of a portrait as being of a face.  

And finally.  I read a moving piece in The New York Times by Simon Critchley, a philosophy professor at NYU, about a television program from the 1970s in Great Britain, by the Holocaust survivor, mathematician and writer, Jacob Bronowski.  Critchley points us to one  of the last episodes in the series "Ascent of Man" where Bronowski explores the power, and danger, of human knowledge.  In trying to emphasize the danger of certainty, which can lead to intolerance, he takes his audience to Auschwitz, the site of the murder of his family members (and my own).  It is worth watching to see how he ends the episode with his hands. 

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