Friday, December 27, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 09: The Beginning of the Modern Project

(Michelangelo’s David, 1504)
Two posts ago, I discussed the first scientific experiment, which was the invention of the construct of perspective, performed sometime between 1404 and 1426. Soon after that, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) more firmly established the theory and practice of perspective with what was to become the official guidebook of it, called On Painting. Notably, considering our general theme of the scaling of Jacob’s ladder, in another of Alberti’s works – the second ever treatise on Architecture - he, for the first time in history, stated that the city is the same as the house, and visa versa. That statement requires a highly theoretical view from above.

In my last post, I discussed how the effect of perspective, replacing the weight of the body and sound in the ear with the light of the eye in man’s perception, was apparent in history. Michaelangelo’s David (pictured above), less than a hundred years after Brunelleschi’s experiment, is a product of the dominance of perspective once it was in the process of being firmly established as the primary mode and influence of perception. It is clearly intended to have a “point of view”, to be viewed from the front.

I began the last post with a photograph of Hagia Sophia, the first Christian architectural product of the Roman world. Although the Roman development of the arch corresponds well with their sympathy for wholly delineated over-arching views of things (including the entire known world), they still primarily considered themselves as living under the dome that constitutes the form by which heaven appears to us. This dome of heaven was approximated by the dome of Hagia Sophia, the primary source of light and the object to which the whole building and everything in it rises. This implies that everything is UNDER the dome of heaven, and, as you can see from the photograph, this was still the case for Michelangelo’s (King) David

The term “dome” comes from the Latin word “domus”. It means “house” or “home.” “Dominus” is the master of the home, and “dominari” means to rule. In other words, a domain is something that is UNDER someone’s governance, or control. To rule is to rule OVER. This is precisely the idea to which Alberti was referring when he said that the house and the city are the same, except at different scales. A man is king of his own castle, so to speak. After Michelangelo’s time, living under the dome of heaven was a condition that was not to last much longer. When Nimrod sought to “make a name for himself,” he sought to rise to the height where he was king over all. The dome of heaven is the roof of all the earth, so it made sense to head in that direction.

Perspective’s transformation of man into light naturally soon led further in that direction and was affirmed by an explosion of developments soon thereafter. The first printing press was built and in operation in 1450. Marshall McLuhan points to this as the single most influential technology for the next 450 years, precisely because it affirmed the visualization and privatization of man. Information was no longer primarily conveyed orally by the elite, but could be much more readily accessed by each private individual if he so desired – in visual form. By 1500, works were pretty readily available as products of this technology.

Having scaled so high up in man’s view of the world, Columbus intended to arrive at a Westward destination by sailing East in 1492. Copernicus (1473-1543) formulated a heliocentric model of the universe. He was mostly ignored at first, because man was still primarily attached to his SENSE of what came to him UNDER the dome of heaven. Ferdinand Magellan set sail around the world in 1519 and returned in 1522, confirming practically that the world is round. The sacrifice of rising to this level of dominance and control was 232 dead sailors (including Magellan himself); four of the originals survived to tell the details of the tale. Michelangelo and Copernicus were contemporaries of Martin Luther, so it makes sense that “faith” began to be transformed into intellectual assent at that time.

A generation later, Palladio built the first modern “domus”, called Villa Rotunda, which began construction in 1567 (click on photograph to enlarge). Its name is derived from the fact that all four sides are the same, in reference to Columbus’ and Magellan’s beliefs and findings that the world is round. If you take a journey around the world from one porch of Villa Rotunda, you will end your journey at a porch that appears the same. In its center was a dome, which hovered over a room dedicated to veneration of dead ancestors. It was also the first ever private home with a temple front. The basic driving idea, then, is that this was when man began to over-come his bondage to the weight of his senses. The name of the Villa was a mark of man’s new level of dominion.

(Pictured below is Michelangelo’s Vestibule to the Laurentian Library, discussed in a moment)

This is why all of Palladio’s architectural details – remember that details were discussed in the last post of this series in my discussion on the classical orders – are turned upside down. In the ancient order of things, men and buildings stand upon the earth and head toward heaven, and that is the tale told in the details. In Michelangelo’s details, heaven and earth appeared to be coming apart. The scrolls that form the capital of ancient orders are re-scaled and literally turned upside down and sideways in Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. The windows shown in the photograph don’t open to the naturally sensed world. Appropriately, then, the bases of the columns that FRAME (the view of) those anti-windows appear to be falling off their own edges, and the capitals appear to break apart. The capitals, then, separate as much as they join the roof and column. I am here explaining what is shown in the photograph; man’s cheese had started to fall off his cracker.

With a temple front as its defining face and veneration of men who had disappeared from the earth at its center, in a room with Nothing at its center – and with the background of history’s 150 previous years – Palladio’s Villa Rotunda signified the beginning of man’s being centered on the logos of the light of the intellect, foreshadowed by Michelangelo a generation previous. Obviously, what appears in Palladio’s work was another giant leap up the Tower to heaven, and this time period generally constitutes the beginning of the modern project.

Palladio’s details do not tell the story of man and building standing upon the earth and rising toward heaven (as ancient Greek and Roman details tell), nor sense and intellect separating from each other (as told by Michelangelo’s details). Palladio’s details simply tell the story of a man whose being is centered on non-sense; Palladio’s details are simply up-side down. Palladio’s buildings start from the capital and end at the base; they hang from heaven. Ironically, this can only be sensed in person, hence my inability to show you photographs of this particular part of our story.

John Calvin (1509-1564), by the way, was of the same intellectual generation as Palladio. Luther intellectualized salvation by declaring faith as the means, but he didn’t really say how conversion occurs. Calvin affirmed our separation from our body in the process of salvation, and completed the picture of how salvation occurs with a large, complex, and purely intellectualized theory of it. By intellectualized there, I mean that the process doesn’t involve the senses, the body, nor action in any way, and, much like the stoic view of the creation of the universe, the very meaning of Calvin’s system in the first place can only be interpreted through the light of the intellect. In other words, the completed intellectual system is primarily and centrally observed rather than the love among a community of believers. Appropriately, then, Calvin’s system divorces itself from the messy actual history of the Jewish context and roots of Jesus himself.

In terms of the ongoing theme that we become what we behold, then, the effect of the work of the generation of Calvin and Palladio (and the generations leading up to it) was that man was turned upside down. I refer to this as the beginning of the modern project, because, theoretically, the Tower of Babylon that is our history was now complete. The theoretical eye at the top of the pyramid, from which the rest of history moving forward hangs, had been placed at the head of the Tower, which is man. From this point in time, it then took about 400 years to complete the modern project. As part of that process of completion, the phrase “NOVOUS ORDO SECLORUM” is found on the Great Seal of the United States (which, by the way, is an image of an eye at the top of the pyramid). Translated, this means, “New Order of the Ages.”

The beginning of the modern project, of the “new order”, is when we start to get to a place in history when the lens by which man clothes himself is generally recognizable to a contemporary man. This is also when, taking leave of our senses and taking a view outside and beyond the dome by which heaven appears to us, we begin to think of heaven as “somewhere else,” somewhere “up there.”

Progress of the modern project – the ongoing confirmation by sense and action of the original basis of the modern project - will be the topic of my next post.

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