Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Kings 2: The Big Show of Wisdom

It seems a bit ironic that in the text (I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14) God commends Solomon's request for wisdom (Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 12). Solomon is commended for not asking for things like wealth and influence and popularity. Instead, Solomon asks for an interior gift - an understanding mind (also translated as "a listening heart"), a gift that would not have obvious external attributes.

Italian artist Luca Giordano seems not to have grasped the interiority of Solomon's request. Or if he grasped the interiority of the request, he rejected that as the moment of the story to paint. Instead, he has painted a spectacle that is the opposite of interior.
Luca Giordano. The Dream of Solomon. c. 1693. Madrid: Museo del Prado.
In the painting, Solomon (of the golden tresses) sleeps on his fantastic couch. At the lower left corner are two men, perhaps courtiers. In the upper three-fourths of the canvas Solomon's room is filled with clouds that support floating angels, a traditional first person of the Trinity and a helmeted warrior whose shield bears the emblem of a dove. She is Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom...though she holds a book and sits with a lamb, prefiguring Christ and the Bible. A beam of light emanates from God's head. moving directly into Solomon's own. Solomon's crown rests on his bedside table at the far right of the picture. The whole scene is infused with a golden-white light. Solomon's request pleased God, and God promised that in addition to what Solomon asked, he would also get those things for which he did not ask.
Andrea Sacchi. The Triumph of Divine Wisdom. 1629-1630. Rome: Palazzo Barberini. 
It seems that wisdom will always be a heavenly spectacle. Andrea Sacchi's fresco of the Triumph of Divine Wisdom shares many of the same elements as Luca's painting. In the center of the ceiling, the female figure of wisdom sits on a throne. In her hand is a scepter topped by the eye of God. Her throne is guarded by lions, as was Solomon's throne (I Kings 10:19ff.). She is surrounded by clouds and angels making music. 

Unlike many ceiling frescoes, Sacchi uses no architectural elements in the ceiling. The "view" is open directly to the heavens. The earth and the sun occupy prominent places, and even they speak to divine wisdom. The sun, behind Wisdom on her throne, is at the center of the composition. The earth is below and to the right and appears to be circling around the sun.

This arrangement reflects the knowledge...wisdom...of the day. The fresco seems to support the heliocentric arrangements of the universe advocated by Galileo Galilei. In 1615 Galileo's writings were submitted to the Inquisition, and the scientist was instructed to abandon his teaching and writing on the subject. One of Galileo's supporters was Maffeo Barberini...Cardinal Maffeo Barberini...who in 1623 became Pope Urban VIII. Just a handful of years later, Galileo's theory is pictured on the ceiling of the Barberini family's newest palace. It is worth noting, though, that the artist gave Divine Wisdom a little earthly help. In addition to the lions via Solomon that guard the throne, wisdom's throne is topped with bees, a symbol of the Barberini family.   

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