Early Modern Times – gods & monsters

Early Modern Times - gods & monsters

Dear readers,

Welcome to February! In the depths of Canada’s signature season, in which (despite the dubious results of groundhog goading on Feb. 2) there are always six more weeks of winter, what could be more comforting (particularly to early modern missionaries unaccustomed to the cold) than a holy relic? Indeed, this BBC video shows the delight of the Catholic faithful in several Canadian cities as they greet the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier, ‘fresh’ from Rome on a cross-country tour (of course, I fully approve of their practice of selling the ‘3rd-order relic’ holy cards which touch the ‘1st-order relic’ forearm, as that is a classic form of simony). Francis Xavier was a leading Jesuit in the sixteenth-century missions in Asia, preaching throughout Japan (as depicted in a painting hanging in the Angus L. Macdonald Library at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, NS), and who unsuccessfully attempted to spread the faith to China itself. He died on an island in the Pearl River, just off Guangdong province, in 1552 while waiting for a ride to the mainland. I suspect the mobile phone reception there was such that the ‘Aqua-Uber’ app was inaccessible. But arguably his greatest success was posthumous, in that parts of his canonised body would influence the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America–though in Catholic terms, it was expressed as the rite to a bare arm.

No less holy, perhaps, is the news of the auction of a painting by the sixteenth-century Venetian artist Titian, oddly pictured above left along with his son and cousin as a sort of three-headed beast in Allegory of Time According to Prudence. This Guardian article recounts how Titian’s equally odd painting of St. Margaret escaping the jaws of the devil in the form of a monster (see the photo accompanying the article) was once part of King Charles I’s collection. After Charlie’s execution in 1649, the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell (enemy of spiced goodies) compensated the royal plumber, John Embry, for services rendered (palace repairs, not unclogging of toilets) by offering him a pick of Charlie’s art. Embry chose the Titian among other paintings, and kept Margrett Afraid of a Monster even after the Restoration of the monarchy. The painting then passed through several hands, including those of ‘Mad Dick’ (the nickname of the eccentric eighteenth-century MP Richard Norton), and has just been sold by Sotheby’s for over US$2 million: rather more than the original £100 valuation when it was acquired by Embry, even adjusting for inflation.

Clearly this story needs to be the basis for a major motion picture, Titian: The Movie (inspired by true events). Could this be the start of the newest blockbuster franchise? More Titian (dir. Christopher Nolan): in this unnecessary and very dark sequel to Titian: The Movie, our heroic painter seeks more accurate renderings of the human body by acquiring corpses in a spare job as undertaker. Diet Titian (dir. Oprah Winfrey): having consumed far too many mince pies purchased from the sale of his artworks, Titian restricts himself to lean Venetian venison and ‘gondola’ granola (Executive Producers: The Doge’s Special Council on Healthy Eating and Weight Watchers). Cosmo Titian (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky): in this big-budget cerebral scifi epic, our painter blasts into the final frontier to set up shop on a Soviet space station selling mascara, eye-shadow, facial creams, and other make-up products to mysterious extraterrestrial customers and for inexplicable reasons. Anathema Titian (dir. Michael Bay): this heart-pounding but idiotic prequel, intended to reboot the franchise, considers Titian’s troubles with the Catholic Church in his early years, leading to excommunication and an underground career in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and calculus. Status Titian (dir. David Fincher): this so-so and often cruel sequel (intended to imitate Logan but considered ‘average’ and ‘mean’ by most reviewers) depicts our painter as an old man desperate to upgrade his Facebook profile by manipulating the science of probability. Transcend Dental Medi Titian (dir. Darren Aronofsky): exhausted after seemingly endless cinematic puns, Titian escapes the extraction of his rotting teeth by training as a physician, converting to Zen Buddhism, and finally either reaching Nirvana or entering The Force–depending on how one interprets the ambiguous and pretentious closing scenes.

In our classes next week: In EMSP 2000, Laura Penny completes discussion of the ultimate guide to seventeenth-century CGI in which green screens make everything look like God or nature–Spinoza’s FX; and turns to the government investigation into that strange social movement, led by Scottish philosopher David Hume, of upright occupations of the public spaces below bridges: The Royal Inquiry Concerning Humean Under-Standing.

In EMSP 3000, Kathryn Morris‘s students read the sequel to Charles Schulz’s classic comic strip Peanuts, in which the blanket-loving brother of Lucy and best friend of Charlie Brown moves to Sweden and grows up to become the natural taxonomist Linnaeus; while an older and still-bald Charlie Brown also attempts to dabble in natural history in France, but despite his new-found aristocratic status is nicknamed the ‘Comte de Buffoon’. The students in her Witchcraft class will learn about how these female sorcerers would test their gadgets in the so-called ‘widget trials’, and divert themselves in hiding the gadgets in secret places and deploying bloodhounds in ‘widget hunts’. Her Body in Early Modern Europe class will examine the supposed medical condition historically and hysterically attributed to women but in fact due to male ownership of small dogs, ‘his terrier’; and Descartes’s conception of material substances constituted of five-cent pieces found in the holiest site of Islam, the Mecca-nickel body.

Jannette Vusich’s course on the Renaissance Print looks at the late medieval southern European practice of cooking foods in thick meaty juices and fat, 15th-century Italian in-gravy-ings; while her students studying Leonardo Da Vinci: Between Art and Science will ponder the influence of On the Nature of Things, by the least wrinkled Epicurean philosopher of the ancient world, ‘Low-Creases’.

My students in EMSP 4000 will fully consume the infamous treatise by Genevan hotelier Jean-Jacques Rousseau on hotel-standard citrus fruits served at banquets, Dish-Course on the Oranges of Inn-Quality; as well as his urgent polemic for his fellow human beings to say, ‘I can’t avoid feeling pity at the suffering of others’ rather than ‘I cannot avoid feeling pity’: On the Social Contraction. Those on-board the Pirate & Piracy course will hear what will doubtless be a theatrical lecture by Assistant Registrar Dr. Yolana Wassersug on ‘Piracy in Renaissance Drama’, as well as learning about the Renaissance pirates Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, and the pirate queen of County Mayo, Grace O’Malley–whose Malley-able tactics raised the ‘Eire’ of her enemies in England, France, and Spain.

‘Til next week,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Studies Program

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