Monday, 1 December 2008


Luca Signorelli, The Damned

Other people. Railway stations, airports, exhibitions, packed lifts, sports grounds. When I was a boy I went to matches in London sometimes with friends, occasionally on my own, and remember the pressing, tumbling and collapsing at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's ground, the end known as The Shed. There was a sense of almost breezy panic about it. No seats in those days. Under winter floodlights the terraces looked like grim, magical theatres, the smell thick, the noise fierce, raucous, deep-in-the-belly, guttural.

Luca Signorelli (c.1445-1523) must have had a terror of overcrowding. This fresco is at S Brizio, Orvieto, where he also painted a Resurrection that is considerably less jammed. Chronologically and stylistically he is a sort of bridge from Early to High Renaissance, and you can sense Michelangelo's demons bracing themselves for a darker, altogether bulkier entrance. In Signorelli all is spikiness, the body is part latex, part steel. Wings rise like blades or sharks' fins. The demon with the green butt is playing school bully to some unfortunate sinner on all fours. Fiendishness is coded as cold, putrid green. Signorelli likes foreshortening so the lot tumble forwards with the archangels above as stewards or cops, camp commanders.

I taught Italian Renaissance art at school for some years and Signorelli was one of those artists hard to like. Maybe it was the latex and the sheer springiness. Maybe it was just his instinctive understanding what a communal hell would be. Michelangelo's Hell is solitary, everyone plummets alone down the horrible chasms of guilt. In Signorelli we have the mass model which all those perfect bodies just make worse.

I think of Signorelli now because yesterday, after the second generation had departed down the A11, I came up to find the television on and Andrew Graham Dixon talking about Signorelli.

The subjects on Desert Island Discs are asked what they would want to have with them. I think it might be an idea to ask what is the last thing they would wish to have there. Signorelli's Hell is one of them for me.


Poet in Residence said...

An interesting Q. you pose.
One of the last things I'd take to the desert island would be Heinrich Hoffmann's September 1923 photo of Hitler. The famous photo on the cover of Ian Kershaw's Penguin book 'Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris'. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Mark Granier said...

The last two things I'd wish to bring to a desert island would be my nyctophobia and autophobia. Normally, they are hardly there and only really exist in tandem (though they can be allayed by leaving on a reading light when I have to sleep alone), but under the circumstances...