It’s 3.30 in the morning – on my way back to bed with a glass of water, I glance out of the window and am startled by “the mute, melancholy spectacle out there”(1) : the foggy stillness, the haunted haloes of the streetlamps, and, ach, another lonely lit window up there.
It could be a good time to read Walser – some delicate little piece of writing, devoid of pretence. Vulnerable gentleness relieved by magical wit. His writing a “delicate, prowling, sibilant fog” (1) in which all “was soft and seemed lost” (1).
Gazing at a 1000 years
Or I could leaf again through “Art of the Byzantine Era” (2) – gazing at pictures gleaned from a thousand years’ history. An illusion of permanence, until that passed away, too. At first sight a remarkable stasis, looking closer – subtle transformations: from classical elegance over hieratic magnificence to humanist delicacy.
It’s a rather dry and scholarly book. The reproductions too small for devout contemplation, the erudite commentary lacking aesthetic subtlety (with gradations going from ‘lovely’ over ‘very lovely’ to 'exceedingly lovely').
" But art is not always a true mirror of its time"
Then all of a sudden the analytical scholar gives way to a melancholy connoisseur – and writes a beautifully pensive passage to ponder:
“The last phase of Serbian art was a distinctive one. [….] there was developed a new style of painting, intimate, delicate, tender, […] It is curious that this delicate style should have come into being in Serbia at this time, when one considers that the Serbian kings were fighting for their very existence.
But art is not always a true mirror of its time, and the art of the nation which went under fighting like a lion had all the characteristics of a lamb. It has been called decadent, the art of this last phase, and if to be gentle in an age of violence denotes decadence, then the designation is correct. […]
Gentleness was not, perhaps, a universal facet of all Byzantine art, but it characterized all the great works of the last phase, Nerezi, Kariye Camii, and Mistra, so that the art of the Morova Valley does not stand alone. It brings our story of wall-painting in Serbia to a close on a note of beauty, elegance, and delight, and it is to be regarded as not one of the least of the Byzantine contributions to the story of the world’s art.”
In troubled times, 'the violent bear it away'.
So indeed: how about gentleness & art & delicacy “in an era when delicate persons have the most indelicate heaps of cares piled upon their shoulders (1)”.
- From “A Painter” by Robert Walser (transl. Susan Bernofsky)
- p213, p216 “Art of the Byzantine Era” , by David Talbot Rice