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Post no. 14 (The Last Supper)

July 25, 2008

THE Last Supper, by Da Vinci. One Peter Greenaway an English film director/script writer/artist etc etc used the 500 year old (give-or-take) fresco as a backdrop for a special effects light-cum-music show. The idea was to rehash the last supper for the ‘laptop generation’ – whatever that means. The event was the product of a lot of wrangling and compromises. Reception to the idea was *surprise*surprise* a mixed bag. I liked Vittorio Sgarbi’s comment best. It was something to the effect that Greenaway reconsecrated what Dan Brown had deconsecrated (in The Da Vinci Code). You can see some pictures and a short video clip here. He has plans to do the same with various paintings and frescoes, most notably the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (Can’t wait to see that – if they give him permission to do it, i.e.)

My question is: Why does he have to do it on the original? What he does can be done just as effectively on a full size replica. (In fact that’s what he’s going to do with the last supper). The painting is incidental to the show.

I think that it’s got to do with the “magic” of the real thing. We all know what the leaning tower of Pisa looks like. We’ve seen zillions of pictures of it, yet we go to Pisa, roll around on the grass a bit and take the obligatory photo of us trying to straighten the tower. The same goes for the Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, the Little Mermaid (now if that isn’t a let down I don’t know what is), the Colosseum, etc. I don’t get it. Last year I went to Florence specifically to look at David (again). After wasting more than an hour in the queue I finally laid eyes on his big toe. wow. I walked around him a few times and left. I headed straight for Piazza della Signoria to look at David’s clone. I walked around that a couple of times too. I couldn’t see much of a difference (besides the colour). I was left wondering what all the fuss is about. What I saw in books was much clearer than what I saw face-to-toes. I look up at David and fill in the detail from memory.

Let me get one thing straight. David – as it seems that I have picked on him – is what he is. In no way am I saying that David’s beauty and importance are exaggerated. He – or rather his creator – deserves every last shred and sliver. But meeting him in the marble – “meeting him in the flesh” just doesn’t sound right, does it? – is no Damascene experience. You may argue that the constant bombardment is precisely that which desensitises us to his magnificence. I beg to differ. When you see the statue you don’t see a fraction of what you expect to see. The argument goes for practically anything that’s beautiful to look at or to listen to.

The point of creation is the defining moment of the painting, sculpture, melody, novel, dish, perfume, building. Given an adequate skill level, any painter can reproduce Van Gogh. When people see a replica of a painting they go “Look, Sunflowers by Van Gogh” (and hopefully the original would have been that, but anyway …) I bet that, confronted with the original Mona Lisa and an identical copy, we wouldn’t feel twice the tingling. And if we were shown the replica and told it was the original we’d still feel funny all over.

Well, I wouldn’t. There’s no way I’m ever going to behold the enigmatic smile face to face.

Toodle-oo.

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