Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stone Dust

          I look at old churches and yes I see the transcendence and holy beauty they were built to convey, but what I mostly see are the ghosts of men in smocks, powdered with stone dust, their pockets perpetually filled with stone chips, holding their chisels loosely as they step back to evaluate their work. They are dust themselves now, and yet I imagine them living and breathing and complaining about the quality of the stone or the lousy weather, or admiring a fellow-carver's technique.
          I see them most clearly in their incidental carvings. Not the monumental stuff that everyone looks at, but the acanthus leaves and grotesque heads and fleurs-de-lis and fantastical animals that crowd every workable surface of medieval buildings. That's what keeps me coming back to look a fifth or seventh or forty-ninth time. I have a great affection for these men and their More is More aesthetic. Big statues, little statues, gargoyles, finials, fluted columns, bas reliefs—if they could put a chisel to it, they decorated it, and you see their lives reflected in what they carved.

Yes, there's an angel, but the carvings that live and breathe
are the grotesques beside it. What do you want to bet the
demon with the tail wears the face of the carver's foreman—
or possibly his mother-in-law?
©Nancy E. Banks

          I was utterly charmed by carvings on the national museum of the middle ages in Paris of dogs nicely sharing a bone. The carvings are so affectionate that I assume the carver himself had dogs, and this makes me happy—to think that I share something in common with a man from another time.

Look at their wonderful toes!
©Nancy E. Banks

©Nancy E. Banks

          And when he ran out of dogs to carve, he started carving baby dragons, which have a notably canine charm.

©Nancy E. Banks

©Nancy E. Banks
           I wish I could shake his hand, the man who gave us baby dragons kissing. I think I would have liked to have known him.

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