Iconoclysms: Shattered in Venice, Rome, and Barcelona
by Timothy Noel Harris, with photos and maps by Tara Key
Iconoclysms: Shattered in Venice, Rome, and Barcelona is a work of art history derived from personal experience. Like what happens when you go into a lonely, sleepy church somewhere and find one dusty altar with a work of art that leads you to consider all that is around you and all that came before you.
A damaged Renaissance canvas in Venice. A church in Rome turned inside out. A multicolored mosaic park bench in Barcelona made of broken crockery. A dragon fountain made of old farm implements. Images destroyed. Space rearranged. Objects repurposed. Meanwhile, relatives are lost; things blown up.
The book consists of three long-form essays. The first is an extended reading of a Renaissance painting in Venice by Antonello da Messina. The canvas of Dead Christ Supported by Three Angels has been destroyed over the centuries both by natural attrition and by restoration attempts to arrest its weathering. The author weaves its story through the modulation of the changing ages of art history, ideas about the decay of art over time, the relation of images to religion before and after the Renaissance, and the beauty of a city dissolving before our eyes.
The second essay explores the textures of Rome, fixating on the work of the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini and how his inventions set the tone for the modern architect. A detour into the Museum of Lost Souls looks at objects connecting the real world with the afterlife in parallel to the practice of religious painting and architecture.
The third essay moves to Spain where the author tracks down the work of the architect and painter Josep Maria Jujol both in collaboration with Antonin Gaudi in Barcelona and in Jujol’s own buildings in small towns in the Catalonian countryside. In a sense, Jujol is a modernist, ushering in the age of abstract art, but, at the same time, straddling the past and the future by remaining true to the ancient traditions of Catalonian Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.
Iconoclysms is both a memoir and a story with landings and takeoffs, a reverie of history, twisting the Byzantine notion of shattering images for religious reasons, or iconoclasm, into a lens for viewing the history of art and architecture, real-world tragedies both personal (bereavement) and public (terrorist attacks), and a trio of southern European cities for the ages.
The text is accompanied by 200 color photographs, mostly by the author’s long-time collaborator Tara Key; she also contributes four color maps. Paperback, 381 pages.