Monday, December 12, 2011
I can hardly sleep for how excited I am about tomorrow. It's not the student presentations on Jerusalem (although I'm sure those will be swell), and no, it's not the grading. Rather, I'm having lunch with two really nice colleagues, a geologist and a biochemist, who have kindly offered to help me decipher a science article about alabaster. It's so science-y, that I can't even reproduce the title here. There are spectotropic methods of indecipherable names and intentions. I seek to understand how (geologically and biochemically) alabaster could sustain pigment and gold leaf. It's a porous stone, open and, I can't help but think, generous. Articles discuss its "veins." The alabaster you see above is not the kind that I'm researching, which was used in making devotional statuary (much of it of hand-held scale) from about 1300-1550. But I love the veins and the landscape it presents. We spoke, this semester in the "Nature" unit of Gothic Art, about the agency of aesthetics - the way a beautiful stone can "work" you, can draw you in, solicit touch and desire. Alabaster is cheaper than marble, shorter lived in the realm of human fascination. But it's warm and receptive to impositions of the human imagination. What makes a stone available to become art in the Middle Ages? Is its malleability its liveliness? Does it project forms to its maker? Does alabaster, for instance, warm to the human touch? I don't know of another stone that can hold gold and pigments so well and so long, that works so willingly with the dramatic elements of art. Is this why there are a full 97 (that's a big number) alabaster Heads of John the Baptist left to us? Is this why human skin can be lauded as alabaster? There'll be much more to write tomorrow (Caillois, Marbod of Rennes) but for now, I just wanted to register excitement as I start to think of the process from stone to statue, from unhewn to hewn.
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