Ruins of the Renaissance
It began with a set of doors.
On the backside of the bubonic plague, a recovering Europe began to dust off the pages of history and rediscovered the artistic fervor of former Græco-Roman Empires. The contrasts between contemporary culture and life prior to Rome’s collapse were stark; some historians would say it was all men could do to stay literate through the Middle Ages (many concluding with gratitude to monasticism for preserving language and literacy through the interlude). Philosophers returned to Platonic influence; writers returned to Latin; artists returned to lifelike composition. All these developed new paths in their crafts, and pushed the boundaries of possibilities further. For a moment, it looked as though Italy could reinvent the wheel. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze relief, a landmark contribution to the Florence Baptistry, served as a certain catalyst for what we refer to in retrospect as the Renaissance. “The rebirth.” After installing Ghiberti’s contribution to their north doors, the Baptistry commissioned a second set for the east.
It ended with a ceiling.
A young man born twenty years after Ghiberti’s death called these eastern doors the “Gates of Paradise.” Though primarily a sculptor himself, so versatile was Michelangelo’s skill that we remember him as the master painter of the Sistine Chapel—one of the final pieces of the era, bookending the Renaissance with Ghiberti’s bronze doors. Michelangelo—a deeply religious man by any account—covered the Sistine ceiling with God’s pursuit of mankind. For the century and a half between their lives, mankind gained innumerable contributions in every media known of the time. Despite the humanistic bent of the Renaissance’s burgeoning philosophy, most of these pieces depicted the biblical narrative—pieces to which we still refer, and make pilgrimage to witness.
These artists, who gave years to developing their craft (even the renowned sculptor Donatello apprenticed under Ghiberti), were not spare-time fingerpainters putting their “feelings” on canvases before the world. They were commissioned by both religious civilians (the Medici family funded much of the works) and the Church—the Pope himself hired Michelangelo for many of his masterpieces. The legacy of these is knit to the life of the Church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries because the Church had placed a value on communicating the Gospel through excellent and meaningful art.
Then it snowballed.
Any fair record of the Renaissance concedes to the corruption of the emerging art industry; the word “patronize” even now harkens back to the domineering demands of the patrons commissioning pieces. The Medici family had no uncertain participation in mafia-esque activities. Their influence built an industry which eventually turned art into a commodity; an influence which has snowballed over the centuries to leave us with predictable scripts, borrowed melodies and cliché portraits. Even Spielberg is worried about it.
Decades from now, the world will look back on the contributions of Millennials and Gen Z—those to whom Steve Jobs handed in-home studios and editing suites. There will be no shortage of material. There will also be an indiscernible rage of white noise. “Wisdom is justified by her children,” and the challenge to the Church to steward well these luxuries will either impress or embarrass in the days ahead.
Our ambition with film and media is to offer a “new song” as an alternative to the white noise; a distinctly beautiful presentation of the Man called “Christ.”
Stephanie Quick is a writer and producer serving with Frontier Alliance International in the Middle East. You can watch her films for free, read her books, and sign up to receive her ministry updates. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and browse the Covenant and Controversy film series and resource library.
1 | Cahill, T. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. Doubleday: New York, 1995.
2 | Ghiberti did not single-handedly ignite the Renaissance; the culture was already stirring and emerging. That said, the Baptistry’s north doors were the first major commission and historians often refer to it as the earliest recognizable contribution to the era.
3 | In 2009, over one million people traveled to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’. (Povoledo, E. Who owns Michelangelo’s ‘David’? New York Times, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/world/europe/01david.html?_r=0. Accessed 7 April 2015.) The home of da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ receives several million visitors annually. (AFP. The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. Daily News, 2012. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/louvre-world-most-visited-museum-home-mona-lisa-8-8-million-visitors-2011-article-1.1000282. Accessed 7 April 2015.)
4 | Pope Julius II commissioned the work in 1508. A historic "patron of the arts," he commissioned several pieces marking the High Renaissance period, including the reconstruction of St Peter's Basilica, Raphael's Vatican stanzes, as well as portraits and paintings by both Michelangelo and Raphael. (Cohen, J. 7 things you may not know about the Sistine Chapel. History, 2012. http://www.history.com/news/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-sistine-chapel. Accessed 7 April 2015.)
5 | Savage, L. Steven Spielberg predicts “implosion” of film industry. CBS News, June 2013. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/steven-spielberg-predicts-implosion-of-the-film-industry/. Accessed 7 April 2015.
6 | Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35
7 | The term “new song” appears nine times in Scripture; both literal and figurative, two-thirds of these occurrences have to do with the return of the Lord at end of the age.