What a wonderful world

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The scene above is from a Japanese comedy, Swing Girls. It is an odd piece of chaos, with a series of tableaux vivants of school kids being chased by a wild bore while Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World plays in the background. At the end a panicked girl falls out of a tree and kills the boar by accident.

What you don't know when you watch the scene is what came before and what comes after it. What does it mean?

If you read the news too closely and compulsively you can forget that life is a string of small advances and retreats. Today we can still buy incandescent bulbs come the new year and the Keystone pipeline will be expedited. However, both of those developments should be qualified with the phrase 'at the moment', because the light bulb law has not been repealed nor has the pipeline really been approved.

It is safe to imagine those two issues will grind on for some time. They will continue to present their own series of tableaux vivants. Lest you get too addled by the give and take, the back and forth, and the up and down it is good to remember from time to time that the victories and defeats are never as decisive as they seem. In the end, it is a wonderful world after all.

Below is an excerpt of the questioning of an artist Paolo Veronese who was brought before the Inquisition in 1573. It is fairly clear to us that the questioners are a humorless and stifling lot, but on the day of the questioning who was being absurd was clear to neither side. And who knows, perhaps 500 years from now the Paolo Veronese will strike people as being the fool. 

"This day, the eighteenth July, 1573. Called to the Holy Office before the Sacred Tribunal, Paolo Galliari Veronese, residing in the parish of S. Samuel, and being asked his name and surname, replied as above.

Being asked as to his profession:

Answer: I paint and make figures.

Question: Do you know the reasons why you have been called here?

Answer: No.

Q. Can you imagine what these reasons may be?

A. I can well imagine

Q. Say what you think about them.

A. I fancy that it concerns what was said to me by the reverend fathers, or rather by the prior of the monastery of San Giovanni e Paolo, whose name I did not know, but who informed me, that he had been here, and that your Most illustrious Lordships had ordered him to cause to be placed in the picture a Magdalen instead of the dog; and I answered him that very readily I would do all that was needful for my reputation and for the advantage of the picture; but that I did not understand what this figure of the Magdalen could be doing here.

Q. What picture is that which you have named?

A. It is the picture representing the last supper that Jesus took with his disciples in the house of Simon.

Q. In this supper of Our Lord, have you painted any attendants?

A. Yes, my lord

Q. Say how many attendants and what each is doing.

A. First, the master of the house, Simon; besides, I have placed below him a server, who I have supposed to have come for his own amusement to see the arrangement of the table. There are besides several others, which as there are so many figures in the picture, I do not recollect.

Q. What is the meaning of the men dressed in the German fashion each with a halberd in his hand?

A. It is now necessary I should say a few words.

Q. Say on.

A. We painters use the same license that is permitted to poets and jesters. I have placed these two halberdiers, one of them eating, the other drinking, by the staircase, but both ready to perform any duty that may be required of them: it seemed to me quite fitting that the master of such a house, who was as rich and as great as I have been told, should have such attendants.

Q. And the one who is dressed like a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist - why did you introduce him into the canvas?

A. For ornament, as is usually done.

Q. Who are the people at the table of Our Lord?

A. The twelve Apostles.

Q. What is St. Peter doing, who is the first?

A. He is carving a lamb to send to the other end of the table.

Q. What is the one doing who comes next?

A. He is holding a plate to see what St. Peter will give him?

Q. What is he doing who is next to this last?

A. He is picking his teeth with a fork.

Q. Who do you really think were present at this supper?

A. I believe Christ and his Apostles were present; but in the foreground of the picture I have placed figures as ornaments, of my own invention.

Q. Were you commissioned to paint Germans and buffoons and such like figures in this picture?

A. No, my lord: but I was commissioned to ornament the picture as I thought best, which, being large, to my mind requires many figures. . .

Q. Does it not appear to you that. . . you have [not] done right in painting the picture in this manner, and that it can [not] be proved right and decent?

A. illustrious lord, I do not defend it; but I thought I was doing right.

By the way, in the end Paolo Veronese was instructed to fix his painting. What he did, and what became of him I do not know, but from the existing painting (below) it appears he may not have done all he was asked. I wonder if they just went back and forth over the details of it they objected to and he found harmless?

Click to enlarge