Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Vision of the Four Elements, Part 3 - Fire

Since the flight from Nairobi to Nice made a connecting flight in Istanbul, we stopped for a couple of days in this juncture of Europe and Asia, where the human history of creation and devastation is as richly woven as anywhere on the globe.
The Romantic Hotel, Istanbul
Istanbul, I am happy to report, currently offers old world charm and hospitality in a progressive modern city. From the dining terrace of our hotel we could look across the Bosporus Straits toward the Orient or across tiled roofs to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, opened four hundred years ago in the nascent vigor of the Ottoman Empire.
Looking across the Bosporus Straits toward Asiatic Turkey

The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque
With freshman experience in Kenyan souvenir bargaining I came to the Turkish bazaar as a seasoned sophomore (Greek, sophos wise + moros foolish). 

A pleasant man named Cemil befriended us drifting around a public square. He offered apple tea and the finest hand-woven rugs. His parents had come from Greece and Bulgaria in the waning days of the sultan. We disappointed him only a little by buying a turquoise runner for the back of our sofa. A pillow sweetened the negotiation, with cash payment in US dollars.
Our silk souvenirs
At a compatriot's lamp store we offered little resistance to the shopkeeper, just drank more tea and brought home a beautiful chandelier at a favorable price.

Our chandelier
The lamps evoke Turkish motifs in the fiery arts, where flaming crucibles convert drab minerals into colorful glass and tiles.

Stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque
Ottoman architects reveled in decorative elements from their craftsmen's kilns. They achieved breathtaking designs in glass, ceramics, and metallurgy.

The dome of the Blue Mosque

Tiles in the Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, once the world's largest church, begun by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian in the Sixth Century, received its present ornamentation during Ottoman times. Chemistry and artistry in fiery furnaces produced the brilliant glazes.

Mosaic dome, Hagia Sophia
Kay and I flew to the French Riviera, the Azure Coast, in part to see stained glass windows by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. We had admired their artistry in the Rockefeller church of Pocantico Hills, New York.

Window, Musée Chagall, Nice
 "For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world." ...Marc Chagall

Mosaic of Elijah ascending to Heaven amidst occult symbols of the Zodiac, Musée Chagall.
"Chagall reads the Bible and suddenly the passages become light."...Gaston Bachelard
Gilded iron gate, Musée Massena, Nice
In Nice we also appreciated wrought iron forged in the hearths of its blacksmiths.
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Chartres
Artistry in medieval Europe reached its apex under Church sponsorship. The fire of Christian theology,  cosmology, and empire coaxed wondrous windows from its guilds.
The north transept rose of Chartres Cathedral

Medieval glass kiln, Chartres
Innovative traditions live on today at the Centre International du Vitrail in Chartres adjacent to Our Lady's Cathedral.
Modern artists, International Stained Glass Center, Chartres
To roam the streets of Paris is to revel in the mythic legacy of Prometheus, who first stole fire from the gods. The public art and decorative balconies catalog a full celebration of man's appetites and achievements.

The Woman in the Hat, by Lapis Andras,
outside the Hungarian Institute, Paris

The Thinker, garden of the Musée Rodin
Napoleon's Tomb in background
The French capital displays monuments to its prominent citizens and collective glories. They often exalt their creators as much as their subjects.

The Thinker, original conception
Sculptor Rodin initially depicted The Thinker brooding over human suffering in The Gates of Hell, the fateful fires of Dante's Inferno in The Divine Comedy.
The Eiffel Tower, twilight
 Inducted fires of electricity crown the skyline of the City of Light. 

Patriotic fervor
Sacraments of empire are as manifest in public sculpture as in the fiery words of the French national anthem, La Marseilles: "Arise, children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived..." The whole effect seems iconographic, calculated to sweep its citizens to unity and achievement. 

The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Our Lady alongside the Seine
 The fires of history have spawned monarchs and popes, revolutionaries and invaders, saints and despots on the heart of Paris, the Île de la Cité. Its noblest building is dedicated to The Virgin Mother. 

Interior dome of Sainte-Chapelle
Its loveliest place of worship, Sainte-Chapelle, arose within the palace of King Louis IX during the Thirteenth Century. He was subsequently canonized Saint Louis. 
Rose window, Sainte-Chapelle
Solar light fills stained glass windows with an interior glow. The motifs present an innate rather than a reflected beauty.

The sun fuels the processes of civilization on Earth. It renders the invisible visible. 

In gratitude the artisans of mankind aspire to respond, transforming dreams, experiences, and earthly elements in flaming crucibles of "I am." They ignite the works of their hands and minds with the combustion of Creation. They answer an invitation as irresistible as breath, to die into the newness of what might be.

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