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The Basilica ofSt. Peter's in Rome. From Illustrated, ed. F. K. w.Jrren \UU'OW" hither & thither, & buzzing now on this side then on that. (JMN, 4:144) In churches where holes remained to attach planned facades on walls erected centuries before, churches layered on ancient Roman baths and tiled floors, and in the face of sham and show, Emerson found "many worshippers continually coming in" to pray and be soothed (JMN, 4: II7). He also found a secular authenticity in Italy that he missed in New England. In Naples he deplored his lodgings and the indecency ofhaving his pockets picked twice in a single day, but he reveled in the ~~picture gallery " with its "five genuine Raffaelles & Guido & Titian & Spagnoletto each of which you may safely admire without risk of its being a copy" (L, 1:367, 369). Experiencing Italy helped prepare Emerson to say confidently in the relative calm of the Paris Museum, "How much finer things are in composition than alone" (JMN, 4:405). Consider the potential influence ofjust one image Emerson likely saw in Florence's Santa Croce, Cimabue's sensuous and feminine Christ, and how it suggests the ways that Italian Catholicism, even as it irked disclosed strategies to Emerson as he searched for ways to let loose his free thinking on the planet. Cimabue's immense crucifix, presumed to have been commissioned in the late thirteenth century with the initial construction of Santa Croce, was displayed prominently in the church for centuries. '27 Cimabue's rendering of the crucifixion differs radically from the spare New England crosses with which Emerson was familiar. Cimabue's cross is dramati211 SUSAN DUNSTON cally colored and outlined in gold, with a prominent halo behind Christ's head rather than a crown of thorns. Christ is depicted in the compelling colors of soft and vulnerable human flesh and wears only the sheerest of drapes, which serves to highlight his vulnerability. Differing most strikingly from New England's images are the graceful and pregnant curves of Christ's body. The arms stretch in an inclusive and yielding attitude reminiscent ofEmerson's description ofthe Pope dispensing his benediction on Easter Sunday. The chest is muscular rather than emaciated, while the rounded belly suggests softness. The thighs are full, and the pelvis sways to the side accentuating the pregnant promise of the belly. In short, Cimabue's crucifix, which hung in the church where Emerson felt "at horne," exemplifies the rich mix of sensuality and piety , masculinity and femininity, fragility and power that Emerson brought to the endless glass cases in Paris and to the naive assumption that the world was entirely available in the human capacity and desire to organize it. Cimabue's work encapsulates what Emerson discovered in Italy and in himself: that combination is generative and aesthetic, two characteristics that ultimately appealed to him more than the stasis and clarity distilled by dissecting reality into "properly" discrete categories. Ralph Rusk was surely right in noticing the impact of the Paris exhibition on Emerson's mind, but he was on less certain ground in concluding that "Paris, except for antiquities and art, gave hilm more to ponder than any other European city had done. "28 First, leaving out the antiquities and art is an enormous exception. Emerson wrote to his brother William that he found Paris wanting in comparison to Italy: Paris "leads me twice to brag of Italy, for once that I see any thing to admire here .... [nn the arts Paris is poor compared with any Italian city" (L, I: 387-88). Second, the art and architecture of Italy, the Catholic grafted on the classic, as well as the living Catholic complex of Italian culture left Emerson unwilling to settle for conlposition at the expense of teeming ambiguity. Lee Rust Brown convincingly correlates the details of the Paris exhibition with Emerson's developing thoughts and unlocking of language, but again makes the doubtful assessment that "Emerson's revelation in theJardin des Plantes was the crucial 212 EMERSON IN THE CATHEDRAL event in his European tour"-doubtful because, as Brown himself notes, the Paris exhibit, with its "stuffed, dried, cultivated, or caged" objects, was a project "haunted by its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 193-225
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-11
Open Access
No
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