As I sit here and begin to write this meditation, I do not really need the candle beside me. Even though it is the middle of the evening, there is still light streaming through the window. Perhaps I should begin writing a little later when the night draws in and when the flame will shine more brightly in the late night darkness.
In my last meditation, I was exploring the notion of being elsewhere: of escaping into the world of a book or a TV drama series or into memories through photographs of places we have previously visited.
I would really like to be elsewhere at the moment, but without having to go through the ordeal of a flight or train ride with present travel restrictions. I have begun to wish that I had learnt to drive when I was younger so I could go for a drive and then for walk in the countryside somewhere.
However. though I am saying to myself that I would rather be elsewhere because of three months of arduous lockdown, these last few days I have actually enjoyed being at home. Instead of Zooming on my laptop, I have been watching the birds zoom in and out of my little back garden. Ironically, now that the lockdown is about to be eased even more, I seem to have begun to enjoy being in my house. As this is my base in my retirement I suppose it is a good thing. And I count myself very fortunate to have a comfortable little house and garden to enjoy.
One of my home activities has been to sort through all the photos on my phone and laptop. I have obtained prints of some of them to put in frames for the lounge to replace some of the ones that have been gathering dust on my shelves. A long time ago, I bought a digital photo frame which has also been gathering dust and has hardly been used. So I have uploaded a selection of photos onto it. This means I can play a slideshow of my memories, of places I have visited, of my ‘elsewheres’.
Some of those pictures were taken in Pisa and Florence, where I had a short break with a friend just over a year ago. The digital frame is too small to do justice to the epic statue of David by Michelangelo. My photos cannot do justice to its grandeur either; no photograph can, except in concentrating on the detail. And my little facsimile of the statue at the end of my garden can’t either! I bought my own little David on a whim in the branch of Homebase very near me, just round the corner. When I left the shop I had to cross over the road with little David under my arm (not wrapped of course). On the other side of the road, I bumped into two or three of my students from school. It was an embarrassing moment, but after a few pleasantries I carried on walking as if carrying a copy of a great Renaissance work of art under my arm was as usual as carrying a bag of groceries. They didn’t comment in school after the weekend, which speaks volumes.
There was one statue in the David gallery in the Accademia that I hadn’t photographed. I thought I had as it greatly impressed me at the time. It was an incomplete marble statue of a slave of the god Atlas – the ‘Prigione Atlante’. Several other statues in the gallery were also incomplete. It was breathtaking to see each of these large figures emerging from a slab of marble as the statue of David standing at the end of the gallery must have done. I came to appreciate in a small way not only something of Michelangelo’s creative vision and artistry but also the sheer physical struggle it must have taken him to turn a huge slab of marble into this epic figure of David.
Like the other incomplete statues, the Prigione Atlante one was struggling and striving to be be out of its prison of marble. Its torso was writhing and turning towards the viewer. Its body seemed to be aching to be free from its cold marble womb, to take its first steps in the world like the Creature in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’
However, unlike the other statues, the Prigione Atlante had no head or face as it was more incomplete than the others. And as I have just mentioned, I have no photo of it. But the image stuck in my mind and came back to me a few days ago. I have checked my memory by consulting the Accademia Gallery’s website.
But why did I remember that incomplete work of art? Like the Atlas Slave we have been struggling and striving in this long lockdown and like the statue we are slowly emerging. However unlike the statue we are not headless or faceless. If you were standing in the gallery looking at this half-formed figure, you might imagine to yourself what the head might look like and what expression might be on the face. What expression will be on your face as you slowly emerge from the lockdown? Will it be fear or anxiety? Or relief and excitement? Or concern or wariness? Whatever our initial feelings, we must have hope. I do not think there is an accurate facial expression for hope. Because it lies in the heart.
Slave of Atlas. -Michelangelo (1530)
Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!
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