Sunday, September 2, 2007


In exploring Italy I attempt to absorb culture with the hopes of drawing conclusions. Sponge-like I welcome the exasperation on the bank teller's face with the same greed as the warmth coming from the staff at the Campetto Drafting supplies store.

The whole range is part of my experience and I want it all.

One persistent quality that keeps rearing its head in my Italian visual experience is religious kitsch. The effect is positively endearing. The aforementioned San Matteo features plenty of examples. The interior of the church was addressed by a student of Michelangelo. There are frescoes, ornate molding, delicious white marble sculptures with gold halos, all of a very high quality. This glory is mismatched with older and sometimes newer looking pieces to a comical effect.

And then there are the personal touches. Perched next to an intimate icon of the Virgin Mary you'll find a fake potted plant that invokes the spirit of Dollar General. The signs that insist "No Photography" are print outs with clip art, scotch taped to an ancient wooden entryway. And my favorite, the electronic votive candle display. The larger cathedrals tend to weed out this sort of sincerity but it is rampant among small local churches.

Usually these refinements are isolated to the interior but at San Matteo I noticed a precious moment outiside. A small bust, of unknown but presumably sacred origin is displayed in the upper right corner of the church facade. No explanation is given but a little shelf was built specific to support the effigy. Unfortunately it lacks a head. There is something sweet about this notion, of having such an abundance of sacred paraphernalia that it's propped up everywhere. And that little shelf. Really, so cute.

Finally, something I can believe in.

No comments: