Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Great art rescue gets hand from God

In almost every town and village in Austria there is to be found a plague column. The plague column is a curiosity from the baroque era and shows the tormented victims of one of the great plagues that beset Europe periodically. These plagues are known by such names as the Black Death, the Purple Death and so on. The most recent great European plague was the Spanish Flu of 1919 which began in Normandy, France and went on to kill 50,000,000 people worldwide. The plague column's purpose is to thank God for saving the remnants of a town's populous following its fervent prayers, doubtless by all and sundry for divine intervention and forgivness, and to send the cruel plague away. It is a most powerful religious symbol.

One of the great novels written against the background of a plague is Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund. I have no hesitation in highly recommending the Bantam edition translated by Ursule Molinaro. It is a novel, as described on the back cover, of: two medieval men, one quietly content with his religion and monastic life, the other in search of more wordly salvation. This conflict between flesh and spirit, between emotional and contemplative man [...] is a theme that transcends all time.

What is being described as 'the greatest art disaster in the world narrowly averted' is unfolding here in Vienna. The manager of the Albertina Museum just round the corner from the Vienna State Opera is widely reported to have said: That the flood didn't destroy the works in the storage room is evidence of the existence of God.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to agree with Dr Schröder but it was certainly a small miracle judging from press reports of the narrowly averted disaster. It seems that water poured in to the storage room containing a thousand artworks by such iconic painters as Rembrandt, Klimt, Warhol and Durer. The combined value of the works stored in the Albertina basement is said to be €950,000,000. The works of art are now in the process of being transported to a secret, and we are assured a 'safe and secure' location. Unfortunately God is not assisting here. It seems that the robotic arm that pulls the works from the racks and shelves is malfunctioning due to electrical problems caused by the flood. Work, with or without God's assistance, is progressing at a snail's pace.


Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting, how humans tend to make their Gods in their own image. I don't know anything about this manager, so I generalise, but if you are a connoisseur in an ivory tower then I suppose there's a good chance your God will be the same.

You probably know this, but the gardens in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire are full of the graves of its inhabitabts who, when the plague struck, selflessly imposed a quarantine on themselves instead of running away. Most of them died.

Poet in Residence said...

Maybe our own-image Gods don't ask too many uncomfortable questions.

I think I've heard of Eyam. By the way, I know a man who cleaned his paintbrushes on a stone in his garden in a small village neart Lancaster. There was a hollow in the top of the stone which was for plague victims to leave money in vinegar at the village boundary.