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The Monumentality of it All
Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 14, 2016

It's Sunday, September 4th. I am in Rome, Italy. The sun is ablaze but it is not a Trinidad hot sun. There is no breeze and the heat radiates from the earth, making you feel as if you are being roasted alive. I visit the Palazzo Barberini, the National Gallery of Ancient Art that was conceived to celebrate the artistic passion of Maffeo Barberini who became Pope Urban VIII in 1623. As a cardinal, he sponsored many artists with his patronage.

As I enter the first gallery, I am transfixed by Girolamo Muziano's painting, "St. Matthew and the Angel." I am blown away by "the powerful monumentality" of this "pala" or altarpiece. It's a word I had not encountered before. Immediately I thought of Chief's (Le Roy Clarke) oeuvre and the power of his artistic creations. I had written previously about his genius but it never occurred to me that the word "monumentality" might capture hidden dimensions of his artistic powers or, as he prefers, "the obeah of his work."

The work of the artists from the Trenchante School which documents "the rich artistic geography of Italy in the Trencento, the century of Dante and Giotto" was just as moving. It underscored the powerful role patrons played in promoting the arts during the medieval period and the artists' ability to capture "an important evolution of visual culture on the part of the medieval public." God/Jah was moving in mysterious ways.

Again my thoughts returned home. I envisaged Cazabon's landscape paintings that captured Trinidad's cultural landscape of the nineteenth century. Having studied in England, Paris and Italy, Cazabon was au courant with the techniques of these Italian artists which he used to his advantage. He displayed his work in Paris.

Two of Trinidad's wealthiest planters (William Burnley and John Lamont) commissioned Cazabon to paint island scenes while Lord Harris, governor of the island, employed him to capture his marriage to Sarah Cummins, daughter of the Archdeacon George Cummins of Port of Spain. "Through his paintings," as I wrote previously, "he captured and documented the emerging consciousness of the nation." (Beyond Boundaries).

Monday was cooler. I revisited the Vatican to glorify in the wonder of Michelangelo's paintings which engulf the Sistine Chapel. Mother Teresa was canonized on Sunday. Although I am not a member of the Roman Catholic faith I was moved by her life and touched by her faith. An inner impulse drove me towards that monumental citadel of faith where Roman Catholics traveled since 64 AD to reaffirm their faith in God.

After visiting the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, I entered St. Peter's Basilica through the Holy Door. It seldom opens. Mother Teresa's canonization allowed for this rare exception. Once inside, I knelt in front of the tomb of John Paul II, a good man, and offered a prayer. I remembered his ecumenism and his outreach which stood in stark contrast to Michelangelo Caravaggio's "Narcissus," another one of the memorable paintings at Palazzo Barberini. Narcissism, a butchered love, had no place in John Paul's worldview.

As I knelt in the Basilica, I contemplated Pope Francis' words: "Faith," he admitted, "is not a light that dispels all of our darkness, but rather a lamp that guides our steps in the night and that is sufficient." Walter Kasper, a German cardinal, illuminates Pope Francis' theology which says: "The joy of the gospel is not primarily a matter of overcoming social injustice…The starting point lies much deeper. It concerns the lack of joy and the lack of spark, the inner emptiness and the isolation of human persons closed up in themselves and the loneliness of hearts turned in on themselves." (Pope Francis' Revolution of Tenderness and Love).

On my flight from London to Rome, I encountered Bishop Gerald Maximin County, the newly-installed Bishop of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Bishop County is related to me by marriage. In February of this year, I attended his ordination in St. Vincent. He was traveling to the Vatican to immerse himself deeper in his calling. In that sacred space, he hoped to imbibe in the theological rigor of Pope Benedict XVI, the philosophical ruminations of John Paul II, and the earthy folksiness of Francis, the shepherd.

At St. Peter's Basilica, as I reflected on Pope Francis' simplicity that was nurtured in the heart of Latin America's Liberation theology; Saint Teresa of Calcutta's mercy that touched the lives of many people in the slums of India; and the courage of a young Trini who has given his life to serve others, and all I could think of was the monumentality of it all.

Bastardizing Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," I concluded: "Ours is not to reason why; but to respect ourselves and others while we are alive."

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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