BY BELISARIO RIGHI
Andrei Pomaceski was born in Krakow. Graduated in art history, with a thesis on Tuscan Renaissance painting, thanks to the excellent graduation grade obtained and the knowledge of his father, a state official, he had immediately found a job as an archivist at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, but since the employment it did not give him too much satisfaction and the salary was rather meager, he resigned after two years. In the wake of heavy emigration, also due to the pontificate of Pope Wojtyla, at the age of twenty-six he decided to come to Florence. After a series of odd jobs, from the porter to the unauthorized valet and other precarious activities, he found employment as a kitchen commis at a restaurant in the center, a modest job, which however gave him the security of a salary every month. One day, passing in front of a bookshop, he saw a sign hanging on the glass. A clerk was required, who would have to sell prints and art reproductions which, at the customer's request, would also have to be framed. Andrei had never been a salesman, nor did he know how to deal with the public and had no idea how to frame a painting, but thinking that this work could have been the first, albeit limited, contact with the world of art , went into the shop. The owner, Mr. Baldi, after a brief interview, hired him and the next day Andrei took up service. Facilitated by his culture and above all by his experience as an archivist in Polish museums, he soon became noted for the skill with which he carried out his work. He knew how to advise the undecided customer which was the right print to buy, or the most interesting view of Florence, and if he was asked for a frame, without hesitation he did his best, indicating the one, in his opinion, more suitable.
He was good. His skill was noticed by several people and often gallery owners also entered the shop and asked him for advice on the type of frame for some canvases. Mr. Baldi encouraged him to establish relationships with art dealers, although by doing so, he knew very well that he would lose it, but he was so fond of this experienced and diligent boy, that he wanted to give him a chance for improvement. He wanted him to get a job more suited to his abilities. The bookshop was located in Via Por S. Maria, and in the evening, when the work was finished, Andrei would return home on foot, as his accommodation was not far away, near the Church of San Romano, near Palazzo Pitti. To get home he did not take the road that anyone would have taken, crossing Ponte Vecchio and then continuing straight towards Palazzo Pitti. I would go out of the shop, cut off into a side alley and go to Piazza della Signoria, where he stopped to admire the works of Orcagna, Michelangelo, Cellini, Donatello and then take the street that leads to the Uffizi Gallery. Under the arcade of the Gallery, he felt excited and moved at the very thought of the works in that museum, he walked along the walls with his heart in turmoil, as when a lover passes under the balcony of his beauty, knowing she is at home. Arriving at the Lungarno, it descended as far as the Ponte S. Trinita which, first destroyed by the weight of the crowd, a second time by the devastating fury of the Arno, was rebuilt for the third time in the elegant style with which it has come down today. Andrei was pleased to pass it, also because it offered him the view of another important bridge: Ponte Vecchio, not beautiful, but existing before Florence, having been built, in its first architecture, by the ancient Romans.
Furthermore, the bridge of S. Trinita reminded him of ancient facts, such as that of the noble Ricoverino of the De 'Cerchi family of white Guelphs who, right there, on the day of Calendimaggio in 1300, in a fight he had cut off his nose by a thug of the rival family of the black Guelphs Donati. Historical events brought him back to high school days. After crossing the bridge, he finally reached his apartment near the Church of San Romano. At home he spent his evenings reading his beloved art books, and on Sundays he consumed the soles of his shoes wandering around churches and museums on the streets of Florence. This was the simple life that Andrei led. One day, in the library, a very distinguished and well-dressed gentleman came in and began to converse with Mr. Baldi. It was Dr. Norberto Gaddi, a senior official of the Uffizi Gallery. After lingering for a while with the owner of the shop, Gaddi approached Andrei telling him that he had heard of his expertise in the field of art and asked if he could help him. He was looking for a Renaissance painting depicting the theme of the Annunciation. He asked for his advice as a connoisseur, so that he could indicate which Annunciation, among the many, as well as being admirably executed, was the most radiant of the Renaissance splendor. He pointed out to him not to be in a hurry and when he found it, he asked him to take it to his studio in the Uffizi, where with the opportunity, if he wanted to, he could visit the museum privately. They broke up with this strange date. Mr. Baldi, who had attended the interview, told Andrei that that visit did not appear casual, because Gaddi, in his capacity as an official of the Uffizi, would have had no difficulty in consulting one of the museum's many experts.
It was, undoubtedly, a small test designed to test the competence of the young man and if Andrei had passed it, perhaps he would have been proposed for a job. That night Andrei did not sleep. He thought about that meeting and was convinced that Baldi was right, but the task was not easy. Gaddi had specified that the painting must have been Renaissance and the Renaissance in painting starts from the beginning of the fourteenth century, up to the late sixteenth century, at the beginning of Baroque art. There were many schools: Sienese, Florentine, Venetian, Ferrara, Flemish, German and then in the sixteenth century the Roman and Spanish ones were added and finally there is the Church, which with its dioceses scattered everywhere represents another Europe in the Europe. Until the end of the sixteenth century, before the advent of Lutheranism, Calvinism and other Protestant confessions, the cult of the Virgin was very high and there are many works on her and on the Annunciation in particular. Andrei began leafing through countless books, but to no avail. No work was to his complete satisfaction. He then tried to expand the research period by extending it even to the seventeenth century, until after Caravaggio, considering a possible work of that period as the result of the Renaissance ebb, which had reigned for about three hundred years and was not long in dying out at the dawn of the seventeenth century, but always without result. In the research he no longer referred to dates and periods and began, in order to find significant work, to review all the figurative artistic knowledge.
Andrei allowed himself ten days for his research and on the ninth day, on the eve of the deadline, in a book on American painting, he was struck by the Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, an artist who lived between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was the work he was looking for. He had no doubts. The next day, the tenth day, he went to Dr. Gaddi. At the entrance he asked an usher about him. The latter sent him to the first floor which was accessed via a wide staircase. Andrei felt sad and insecure and with each step he climbed his state of apprehension grew. At the top of the staircase, another usher showed him the office door, just about ten steps away, which seemed to him ten kilometers, however, he was so anxious. He knocked and was told to enter. "Good morning Dr. Pomaceski, how are you?" "Well doctor, thank you! And you?" "Thanks, I'm fine too, please sit down." And pointing to a sitting room in a corner of the large room, Gaddi invited him to sit down. "So, could you do something for me? Did you manage to find me a work as I asked you?" It was the official's first question. "Alas doctor, I think I am not sure. I have not found any work that can satisfy your precise requests. I looked everywhere in the field of European Renaissance painting, not excluding any school, without being able to find anything, but starting the research, as it is logical that I should, from the early fourteenth century, I even extended the historical period to the seventeenth century and then to the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century. I thought that if I had noticed an Annunciation as I understand it, she would certainly have understood the reasons for my choice, even if not in line with her request.
I found the work in nineteenth-century American painting. The painter is Henry Ossawa Tanner." From a folder he had with him, Andrei extracted the print and handed it to Gaddi, who looked at it very carefully and simply said that he did not know it, without making any comment, asked why he had opted for that work and which were the motivations.
The Annunciation - Painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Andrei timidly told his story. "You see doctor, first I started with Giotto and his school which marks the beginning of the Tuscan Renaissance, but the paintings of this painter are still lacking in perspective, a peculiar and representative characteristic of the painting of that period. I therefore discarded this excellent artist, not considering him quite Renaissance. The same was true for Simone Martini, who with his shy and shameful Madonna, albeit an admirable work, had painted a painting full of solemnity and sweetness, but that gold, too evident, still recalled, in a decisive way, the international Gothic, and even this work did not seem suitable to me. More perhaps, the Annunciations by Beato Angelico approached, expressing a Franciscan serenity and composure, full of mysticism, but the representations of the Friar are all circumscribed in cloister passageways that I did not consider fitting with that event. Those architectures denote a too precise dating and instead I have always thought that the Annunciation should not bear temporal references, but should, in my opinion, be a fact in itself, out of any historical dating and for this I passed further. The great Botticelli, with his innate bombast, makes us the image of an exaggeratedly elegant Virgin with her silky clothes and rich furnishings that surround her, which are decidedly out of tune with the very modest real condition of the Virgin Mary, a humble girl.
Leonardo's Annunciation of 1472, exhibited right here in his museum, is wonderful. In it we recognize all the wonderful art of Da Vinci, but the whole is false, or at least very unlikely. The Madonna, seated, in an upright posture, too haughty, too visibly elegant and refined, with her curled hair and her beautiful tapered hands, gives the impression of receiving an ordinary person, not a Legate of God, towards whom one should assume an attitude of humility and why not also of submission. Furthermore, that typically fifteenth-century style building with the edges covered in gray serene stone, makes too much the image of a Medici villa, of a palace, absolutely not in accordance with historical reality and that garden with cuneiform trees, transports us to a northern moor , when we know that it all happened in the Middle East. It is a magnificent work, wonderfully painted, even if, as you well know, wrong in the perspective of the left arm, and the face of the Madonna is of incomparable beauty, as only Leonardo would have been able to do, but not true. it is anachronistic and exudes no religiosity. Each painter, in this work, had expressed himself with the intention of representing the event in its intrinsic idea. We had always tried to depict the Annunciation as the announcement in itself, in which the two figures, that of the announcing Angel and that of the Virgin, play their part in an emotionally detached and purely representative way. Each artist had always and only concerned himself with portraying that event in the best possible way, with great detail and often, especially in the Renaissance, very, perhaps too elegant, without ever taking into account the real social condition of the Virgin.
The Madonna was a poor and simple girl, of very modest social extraction, probably also uneducated and so why portray her in the attitudes and ornaments of a great lady, or as in the case of Leonardo why put her in front of a lectern, not knowing her, in all probability , not even read? We know that painters, especially when the paintings were commissioned by royal families, used the ladies of the court as models and as such, at their most elegant portrayed them. None of the Renaissance painters escaped this naive rule of patronage and therefore no one has truly understood and grasped the truest and deepest meaning of the event, without ever emphasizing the psychological condition of the Madonna, without ever attempting to represent the internal drama that had to take place in the heart of the Virgin. No artist has posed the problem of how a girl, little more than a girl, must have felt in front of that unexpected vision, now being told that a child is being born in her womb, even the Son of God and she is still a virgin. And so from painter to painter, passing also through the Flemings, the Venetians, the Romans, I came to 1615 with a painting by Caravaggio.
Here, art has reached one of its highest peaks. The angel, still in flight, covered only by a shapeless white cloth, dominates the kneeling Virgin, with her hands joined on her breast, cloaked in a very modest tunic. The poverty and simplicity of the room with the bed in disorder and the straw chair denote a naturalness bordering on realism and the light, that typical Caravaggesque light, gives the scenography a great sense of drama. The expressive and depicting elements, which converge in their chorality to create a mystical and holy aura, find their highest representation in this painting and make it one of the most beautiful Annunciations ever. A masterpiece of unparalleled expression and interpretation, but it was still not enough for me. Caravaggio had come very close to what I was looking for, but I was still not happy. I asked myself: "what could be the mood of any woman after learning such news and how could her attitude be?" Certainly in his face we would see the signs of dismay, terror, disbelief and shame. From the Virgin Mary one would expect to read on her face the dismay for the unusual and unexpected apparition, the terror for the awareness of being the bearer of such a high Mystery, the disbelief at the not easy understanding of the event, and above all shame, knowing that that son is not, nor could it be Joseph's. In European Renaissance art production, there is not a single painting with such characteristics.
But here is Tanner, a modern American painter, most unknown to the most, in 1898, interprets the biblical fact in the way we would like it to be described. Here the Virgin is a poor girl, who in a corner, separated by a canvas from the larger rest of the room, with the brick floor covered by a miserable carpet, sitting on her unmade bed, her hands gathered, resting on her legs, with an expression on the face that contains dismay, terror, disbelief and shame looks in the direction of the blade of light that symbolizes the angel, which is counterbalanced by a candle and an earthenware jug on the opposite side. This was how the house of the Virgin had to be and so had to be her attitude. This is a work full of realism and truth, mysticism and emotion and perhaps for the first time, observing the Annunciation, we feel a feeling of deep love and charity for that girl who surely, if she could have chosen, would have gladly refused that great honor. Tanner's work is perfect, free from useless elegiac trappings, essential, complete, like a Zen thought, where no words are too many and everything in unison leads to completeness, to perfection. Tanner speaks to us in this language and we cannot remain insensitive to his words and above all we cannot look at the painting, with that exegetical coldness with which we usually observe works of art.
In front of that Madonna we are moved, we cry, we feel happy, because we have entered the artist's soul, we have understood her intimate and spiritual message, we have conversed with another human being. Because only in dialogue is it possible to find true humanity and the joy of having participated in the one feeling that unites all men: love. You see, Doctor Gaddi, even though I am perfectly aware that I have not complied with your request, if you still ask me to find you a representation of the Annunciation, despite your precise request for a Renaissance work, I would not be able to propose another one, because I have I have always thought and still think so, that the artist's work, of whatever art it is, must be independent of formulas and stylistic features suited to stylistic or historical currents, but on the contrary, it must appear pure and immutable, in the act of its uncreated light , uncontaminated by temporal elements and firm in its precise and defined conceptuality. The interpretations of any subject may be different and heterogeneous, but only those that contain the chromosomal elements must be taken into consideration, because a concept, in its phenomenology, can take on a thousand forms, some even apparently different, but it must bear in mind himself always and everywhere his truth, which as such can only be unique. In my opinion, Tanner is the only one who has managed to represent the drama of the Annunciation in a complete and perfect way. " "I'm not sure what to answer, Dr. Pomaceski. I would like to enter into a dialectical diatribe with you, because that would give a broader meaning to this conversation of ours.
I would like to oppose some refutations to his conception of the Annunciation, both as regards the strictly artistic part and the more broadly semantic one, but I find myself unquestionably in line with his thought and this inhibits my critical capacity. Instead, I think, contrary to her and perhaps this is the only, weak, reason for dissent, that her interpretation of what I have proposed has struck the right chords and was the only answer I expected in my heart. A firm, subjective and personal response that denotes a sensitivity that transcends the artistic element, to arrive at an all-encompassing spirituality of facts and feelings, which are the basis of our life as human beings, aware of how much the motions of the soul are. far more important than what touches our senses. As you will have easily guessed, my request was meant to be a small essay on your artistic skills and knowledge and since from our meeting it emerged not only that you have the necessary knowledge on the subject, but that moreover, it seems you have also had the gift a conspicuous spiritual sensitivity, I feel safe to tell you, whenever you want, to be able to offer you a job appropriate to your level, at my museum. Come and see me when you want. We will discuss the details on this. Now, it will be good if you leave her and put me to work, please excuse me. Goodbye, Doctor Pomaceski! " "See you soon, Doctor Gaddi!"