Political Economy & Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’
Late one night on the Discovery Channel
we see how light makes the future,
how gold leaf gets right into cotton canvas
a pair of olive trees in an autumn field
an afternoon in southern Europe still air
grows cool & blue grass sprouts blades
of gold, gold photons that bounce & fall
slowly through a well of glass a slightly orange
filtered lens makes the screen feel
five hundred years too late. impressive
the coverage, the intention to make it last
costs no greater part of a life in the beginning
where the field of hay and the mill stones turn
against halls they show the castle in the sun
now and then satellite dishes nest in a turret
capture data on NASDAQ and FTSE bonds
to line the walls of the dungeon lightly
beneath that ancient field although
the two olive trees are still there
& the gardener says he is just protecting them
as he looks out over the driveway & all of a sudden
the vision, the painting of the trees in the trees
feels like history and nature mind-fuck for a second
but will another ad about next week’s mega-fauna special
prove or disprove our gut feeling generally
that the perspective is a little wrong, the babe’s penis
‘too small’ even though the gold beams down
all over the nation, lounge rooms flicker in sapphire
out past the personal edge but, not
having met Him personally
we can’t allege any return to a state of nature
after the right nipple got pierced & if that’s the case
while the size of a penis in an art doco might be
supplementary, you feel conned anyway maybe the painting
was made up too imagine
five stars, the film crew totally wasted
at a loose end one night after hours in the maze
the idea came to the gardener really
just to get them going he was the true artist.
The radio alarm: it’s three pm
& I lie half awake
listening to the gas leak story
the city in chaos
then I get up
stand in a cool shower
think of The Fear as I watch five news helicopters
from the bathroom window
toward the CBD
in humidity dragging
then I dry myself, decide not to shave
& go downstairs for a coffee
get struck in my heart with fear for you
It’s February 6 2004,
I’m reading the local ‘Advertiser’
& it looks to me like so-called real-estate
is a dead cert gloss
over the Howard governments’ ‘citizenship’ thing,
a capacity for ‘location’
can derive from ‘authenticity’ or ‘capital’
or lacks thereof.
Consider, for a moment,
as they drowned in the Timor Sea,
never having laid eyes
on a plot.
Consider, if you will,
Did they go straight to heaven?
I go back upstairs in disgust,
start writing down some ideas
& am thinking about Ted Berrigan’s
there seems like there’s different lights.
It’s like there’s some kind of light
in certain guys
when the phone rings & I wish
I’d been online.
An old friend and I
talk about the gas leak,
The Fear at work every day
The Axis of Evil
live in the studio
then I read out the Berrigan quote
& we joke & joke about light & dark
in Australian poetry,
that ‘harsh’ thing
as if a European sensibility hadn’t just
& held Reason up
shiny as a glas bayonet.
“Maybe the 1950s were miserable,” you laugh,
“but why persist with so much
all that ‘deep green silence’
dinner at Balzac’s
after the up-tight book-launch,
another series of sonnets in a limited edition
elegant and subversive in leather.
“Yes, what about that whole homo
— social thing,” you say,
“isn’t there light there too?
Didn’t Eve write something about famous,
febrile & well hung works?”
I suddenly saw the relation
in a new and different way,
not that I had anywhere near the 70 million bucks
I saw the truth for a moment:
a tiny grain exchanged for the hill
at the heart of the carnation,
the one where the ears of wheat line up
as we fly toward the Getty center,
world blazing prize intact.
Get thee to a gallery, scratch
with griffin hands the evangelising get-rich-quickers
pseudosynthetics piling up in little glitt’ry cairns
like anti-freeze finally turned to ice, the default
recollection, their highest bid
your last cool ontology.
If we all chip in
a flower or two, the now post-adrenalin nape
along the silvery bark, a couple
o sacrificial cranks & autocrats masquerading as security
a real sense of astonishment
brilliant & ferociously tasteless
some kind of crack-proof solution
will, y’know, just appear,
one brush stroke at a time, firstly formaldehyde
then white flesh like a metaphor
inspired by mammalian waste
elaborately, instantly beautiful.
is terrific that way, bystanders snapping to attention
as you hand them another posy
& lean out just from the frame, light
sublime at this time of day, so curiously
They sold out in the end,
every movement correlated
in dramatic arty free-for-alls,
mixed up nice with the visuals.
I went back to the castle
only in a memory,
animated wriggling momentarily arrested,
remnants of the script
stuck to the very last hedge left standing
by the so-called terrible angels.
They rise up in the late sun
waving their flowers
like a fun admonition.
The world changes channels
as we arrive home,
our space on the wall
soft, sound & electric.
Peter Minter is a poet, editor and reviewer living in Sydney, where he teaches Indigenous Studies at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney. He has published five collections of poetry, including the 2000 Age Poetry Book of the Year Empty Texas (1999 Paper Bark Press, Sydney) and more recently Morning, Hyphen (2003 Equipage Press, Cambridge). He was a founding editor of Cordite in 1997, coedited Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poets in 2000, and was poetry editor of Meanjin from 2000 to 2005. His work has been published and anthologised in various Australian and international publications, such as The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry. His next book, blue grass, will appear with Salt Publishing in 2005.
You can view an image of Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ here, on the Internet site of the British National Gallery:
“Political Economy and Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’”
Acquired in Italy in 1853 by the fourth Duke of Northumberland and subsequently rejected as inauthentic, Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ (Florence c.1507–8) hung neglected until 1991 in a back corridor of Alnwick Castle, England, when it was restored and rediscovered by Clore Curator of Italian Renaissance Paintings at London’s National Gallery, Dr Nicholas Penny. In 2002, after a ten year loan to the National Gallery, and the Gallery’s attempts to obtain the painting at a discount, the tenth Duke of Northumberland tried to quietly sell it off to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California for $50 million. Intense public debate over competing values of European heritage and private property contributed to the Duke failing in his bid to secure an export licence to complete the transaction, and in February 2003 it was finally purchased by the National Gallery for £35 million. An extraordinary aspect of the work is the illustration of the Madonna’s piercing, a small hole in her lightly veiled right ear. In Raphael’s time, earrings were generally worn only by Moorish or Jewish women and were a sign of exotic permissiveness. Piercings were sometimes worn by Christian women, but only ever those of easy virtue. The representation of the holy Madonna’s piercing, veiled and void of gold, implies intriguing relations between ethnicity, economy and ‘grace’. Of further interest, Alnwick Castle is also a popular film location. It has been the set for many productions including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder.
‘Well there seems like there’s different lights. It’s like there’s some kind of light in certain guys’, Ted Berrigan, in ‘Tom Clark Interviews Ted Berrigan’, in Nice To See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited by Anne Waldman, Coffee House, 1991, p. 84.
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