The Last Judgment

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, is at first less viscerally scary than other Last Judgments. All the Risen, even the Damned, are portrayed against the blue of the sky. Look more closely, though, and many are terrified. Of these two details, which are damned, and which saved?

After you see Jesus, wounded in feet and side, with his hand raised, saying “Depart from me,” it is clear. Then I see the incomprehension of the Damned. They do not understand. The saved man is fearful. His crotch is weird. Most genitals here are covered. I find Christ condemning deeply disturbing. Could I be on his left hand?

Down below we see the corpses rising and coming to life. One is clearly a skeleton, but the flesh will be added momentarily.

On Jesus’ right, they are helping each other up.

On his left, they are fighting, and tearing each other down.

At the bottom on the left, there are demons, and the first sight of the fires of Hell.

On Jesus’ right, our left, people cling to the Cross. One holds the crown of thorns, almost as if to place it on Jesus’ head.

On his left, they cling to a Doric column, perhaps symbolising ancient learning. It is not enough to be saved.

Here is the whole painting. I am disturbed to note the Melancholiac sits on Christ’s left. All that bare flesh! All that gorgeous musculature!

Cybele

In Ancient Rome, Cybele was the goddess of trans women.

Here is one of them, from a statue from Imperial Rome. Attis was her lover: she tore off his genitals.

Cybele was originally an Anatolian goddess, the Great Mother, whose statue was brought to Rome as the Sibyl prophesied that when she came, Hannibal would be driven out. He left Italy the following year. When Atalanta and Hipponemes made love in her temple, Cybele turned them into lions and yoked them to her chariot.

Robert Graves, in The Greek Myths, reports Cybele’s devotees sought ecstatic unity with her by removing their testicles and dressing like women. She had temples at Tyre, Joppa, Hierapolis and Jerusalem. He cites 1 Kings 15:12, where Asa “put the male temple prostitutes out of the land” in the early ninth century BCE. We came back: Josiah, in the seventh century (2 Kings 23:7) had to do it again. Graves also reports Artemis of the Ephesians, in Acts 19:35, was Cybele. I disagree. We say Venus is Aphrodite, as the Roman Goddess took on the characteristics and stories of the Greek, but goddesses with trans priestesses across the ancient world might still be separate traditions. There are trans people everywhere.

Cybele’s priestesses were known as Galli from Galatia, in the central highlands of Anatolia, modern Turkey. Three centuries before Christ 20,000 migrants from Gaul went there to hide in the mountains and raid the plains. So she might equally well have come from north-west Europe.

Some gay apologists argue that when Paul condemns “Malakoi”, soft men, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which in English translation is used to condemn gay sex, he really meant priestesses of Cybele. Thank you so much, guys.

Louis XIV disapproved of her. In the Salon de Venus at Versailles, there is a painting of Saturn removing Cybele, who is powerless against him, and in the Queen’s antechamber the goddess of combat burns her face. But in the gallery of Apollo in the Louvre, there is the Triumph of Cybele.

Spring and the West Wind crowning her. The West Wind, or Zephyr’s, arms are so masculine, the face and hair so feminine.

Rubens painted her as the personification of the element of Earth, here uniting with Water.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Cybele receiving gifts from the four seasons, is completely gorgeous.

Here is Luca Giordano:

Enforcing normality

I was normal, most of the time. The dress hung in my box room unworn, a reminder of my weirdness. I could put it behind me, I did not need it any more, so I threw it away. Then I met a woman through a dating small-ad, who would tolerate me cross-dressing, and I got another dress, to travel a hundred miles to meet her. I never wanted to meet her again, but I did want to meet others, so I got a wig and joined the Northern Concord.

If I was not ashamed enough of myself, plenty of people were willing to remind me. I went to the concert hall, as I thought if I were to do this I had to go out among the straights, and the moment I stepped off Canal St onto Princess St someone roared out “It’s a fucking bloke”. Sir Cyril James Anderton, CBE KStJ QPM DL, had been Chief Constable quite recently, and a friend was stopped by the police as she drove home, in her street. They kept their blue lights flashing, in case anyone was asleep, and had not looked out to see what was going on. The morality police imagine they are the good people, and my problem after my upbringing and aversion therapy was, I agreed with them.

Writing for The Friend and The Friends Quarterly is too narrow. One way to break into being paid for occasional pieces might be to write for TransLiving International, which is in a magazine shop locally. It also does not pay, but I might produce articles I could show to the editor of Diva or Pink News. I looked at it, and could not bring myself to buy it. I found it unbearable. It seems mostly photos, more drag than trans. I still want to be normal.

I am allowed to be weird, but only in particular well-bounded places where the weirdness may be exaggerated. I want my weirdness integrated. I am not a whole person with a weird part let rip then suppressed. It is the same with male submission: a gothic weirdness is separated out, rather than part of ordinary life.

On the train, the ticket inspector called me “Sir”. I have complained to the railway.

After Meeting, and lunch with Friends, I went to Tate Modern. I love the Leonora Carrington self-portrait, not out of copyright: she was twenty.

I want art to enclose me, enfold me, and in the Turbine Hall there is Adventure Play.

On a previous day children were encouraged to decorate the place with strips of cloth and pens, and now they are encouraged to take wood, saw it to the size they want, and nail it in place. The “House” has narrow corridors and a doorway fitted to a six-year old. I fold myself up to go through. This is art I can touch.

Then Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Rooms. K complained to me that only members could get tickets, but it is an unsatisfying experience. I queued fifteen minutes to spend two minutes in each room. “How did you find it?” I asked the young couple behind. She had her eight-week-old son in a sling on her front. “Underwhelming,” she said. They live a few minutes’ walk away, along the river. My grandmother’s dressing table mirror had wings so that you could see yourself from the side, and if aligned, see multiple versions stretching out into the distance. The rooms are black, and filled with light. An unselfconscious heart finds them fabulous, but I was not quite that. Kusama lives in a mental hospital. On the walls are photos of the old lady, weird among the normies, using a golf-umbrella as a parasol.

Before the second, we are warned “Don’t fall in the water”, several times, by the curator. It must be an awful job, shepherding passive-aggressive art lovers into a room for only two minutes, with so many to get through before the next quarter hour and the next lot come in. “Oh no, someone’s fallen in the water,” she says, like a resentful nanny with a stupid child. She tears off some tissue to go and dry off the path. “If you get disorientated, look at the ceiling or the floor” she warns, in case someone sues, perhaps. On the wall I read Yayoi: “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.”

I did not fall in, but bent to ripple the water with my fingers. A wave machine making the lights move would be good.

The Tate won the privacy action this flat block’s management brought against it, but the 10th floor viewing platform is still not open. This meditating woman is not looking into the flats either.

I walk slowly over the level four bridge. There is the sound of hammering from below. On the South Bank, with no wind in the beautiful Spring sunshine, a busker plays soaring melodies on a guitar with a backing-track. I weep with the beauty of it. I feel so alone.

Value and desire

Every word of my affirmation is fought for.

I am Abigail, a gentle, vibrant light.
I am a human being, a feminine woman.
I have value, desire, agency, determination, dignity.

I am Abigail, the name I chose. Someone else said, “gentle, vibrant light” and I thought that is too beautiful to leave out. You might think it obvious that I am a human being, but I am asserting my uniqueness, beauty and wonder as a human being, and also that I am one in 7.9 billion. I am a woman, despite denials, and feminine. I denied it too. I said on facebook it made no sense to say I was not “biologically” a woman, unless you believe in a soul separate from the body, and was roundly mocked for this. Yet I am a woman.

I thought I was worthless for so long, but I have value. I have desires, chiefly about safety, social contact and the regard of others. Activity is a means to those ends. I have agency: I can take action, and I do. I have willpower, or determination, when I decide to do something. Dignity, I read, means being worthy of honour or respect, and that is a leap of faith I will make.

I cycled 36 miles, which is as much as I want to do in a day, and don’t want to do two days running. So, while I like the idea of cycle touring, I don’t really see myself doing it. I thought of cycling daily, and just did not. It’s the difference between liking an idea of myself, and wanting the reality. Or, it’s wanting the reality and not having an idea how to get there. Or just not doing the work.

I want sexual surrender, and a friend suggested I needed more long term planning- not just the immediate delight, but the possibility of partnership. Are they a catch?

Taking my bike on the train, I went to visit the artist, who showed me their studio. Their Greek characters are sculptures and prints. I love the Helen of Troy, oozing sex and death. The Heracles is a killer. I was introduced to the stories as a child, and these are an adult reappraisal.

Coming back on the train, I started a conversation with a woman from the headline on her Guardian. She is a Quaker, who is just writing pastoral guidance for her meeting on trans people, whose meeting has been called transphobic. I told her of my experiences. I hope she would not see me as a threat.

A writer on dementia wrote of the need for a sense of self. A woman in a nursing home was disrupting the nursing station, until they found she was a former nurse. So they let her sit there, even write fake notes, and she became happier. I don’t take pride in having been a lawyer, and my sense of self comes from what I have found out about myself. My vulnerable, inconsistent pride comes from being this particular human.

I want to add good qualities to my affirmation. I have many gifts, and the ones I value are these:

I am loving, creative and decent.

I wish I had more outlet for these qualities. It seems a desire to be not to seem. I am this person, and I have so much doubt and fear. So I go back to the affirmation Menis Yousry crafted with me, and what I did with it. Someone called my words “honest, astute and brave,” and I treasure such affirmation.

Image from Wikimedia. Godward was painting for men. Those young women, probably shallow and dissatisfied, are a caricature beside Evelyn Blacklock’s self portrait. This is a real person, confidently and openly looking out at us.

John William Godward

Here’s John William Godward, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, from 1912. I have been sharing his work: solitary, pensive young women under blue Mediterranean skies, usually dressed the same way: a long crinkled dress with that slashed sleeve detail, a contrasting strip of cloth tied around the hips, a girdle below the bust. The hair may be tied, as here, or loose. When visible, feet are bare or in sandals. There is always a marble wall or bench, and flowers, and sometimes trees, the sea, a statue, a cat, a letter, an aqueduct, furs…

Here is a variation of dress.

I love the colours of the clothes. Mondrian would paint quadrilaterals in an irregular grid, Godward wraps and dresses.

You might think him Pre-Raphaelite, but Wikipedia tells me he was a protege of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. There is a story that he wrote in his suicide note, “The world is not big enough for myself and a Picasso”. I love them. I love the care lavished on them, the veins in the marble, the drape of the cloth. I love the beauty of the surroundings, and imagine myself as the women reclining there. I have a few more to share, and will continue including them, in order of date of creation, in my posts, because I find them beautiful.

Marie Bashkirtseff

In honour of Ukraine, here is Ukrainian artist Marie Bashkirtseff, 1858-1884. She came from Poltava, where the Ukrainian military has intercepted a Russian missile.

One could see the boy in the cap as Putin.

I love this girl’s presence and openness.

In the Studio, in Paris. In England women painting was seen as immoral.

Spring. Bashkirtseff died of TB, aged 25.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas.

Many Nativity paintings have an air of stillness and peace. This one, by Jan Wydra,

makes me think of light and movement. The light source is not the Christ-child, but the sun. If Jesus is lifting his hands in blessing, he is older than a week or two, but rather Mary has lifted his arm like a mother looking at her newborn in amazed delight and love- and playing with him, not just contemplating. Joseph could be looking out worriedly for Herod’s soldiers.

There’s the same movement in Christ and City.

All those people are about their business, but Christ is the still centre.

 

St Albans Cathedral

A cathedral is a hodgepodge of styles, designed to intimidate, perhaps, at best to inspire with awe. At St Albans, the Normans tore down the English cathedral to build their own. Nothing says “We are the masters now” quite like that. And different parts are from different ages: the brick tower, the stone nave, then the newer, faced stone porch, tediously symmetrical. You enter the west door then, unusually, climb stairs to walk down the “longest nave in England”. The important people are at the far end. This is intimidating.

It’s not the highest nave in England, because of the Norman arches in the north aisle. They cannot support the same height. Yet there are Gothic arches in the South aisle. I found that weird, ugly and unsettling when I first saw it. I wonder how the builders felt, when news filtered through to them of the new, fashionable Gothic arch.

The earliest of the mediaeval wall paintings dates from 1215.

All are faded, some almost unrecognisable.

So the curators have set projectors, which can indicate on the site what the original might have looked like. Between restoring with new pigment and covering over the original work, and leaving the faded originals, this is brilliant and beautiful. A touch on a tablet, and she is transformed.

This is “The Leaves of the Trees”, a touring artwork inspired by Covid.


This is the latest art added to the cathedral:

The shrine was broken up, and used as infil when the East end was walled off. When the wall was taken down, it was rediscovered. It has just been restored, with a new canopy. You can see the precise way it was broken, with pillars cracked and repaired in the same place. Here is the reredos.

That’s the best nourished dead Jesus I have seen. His head could be bowed in prayer, rather than death.

Here is the sculpture, which the priest would see, facing this altar:

It is Victorian restoration: the older screen was empty of statues. At the time, crucifixes were illegal in Church of England churches. The Reformers got at the older sculptures:

And here is a Chantry chapel, a bribe to God to get a rich man out of Purgatory early. What is so oppressive as religion enslaved to the interests of the rich.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:



The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:


This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Ely Cathedral

The lady chapel has a powerful feminine energy, focused by a human Goddess above the altar. I love it.

Elsewhere, though, the chapel shows signs of Reformation: the original pigment on the figures, and the way their heads have been struck off. Beware men with hammers who know the Will of God. They will pick up guns if they can.

These hundred glass feathers, Solace by Layne Rowe, are inspired by the pandemic.

Cathedrals should commission new art. Here is Mary Magdalene recognising the risen Christ:


and here is Christ in Majesty:

In the chantry chapel, endowed by someone for monks to say masses endlessly to get him out of Purgatory quicker- hope he’s not in Hell, chantry-magic does not work for the damned- there are other alcoves without a figure.

This is the Octogon, at the centre of the building, above the altar. The nave is visible.

If I had not photographed it, I would not have seen how enthusiastic these thurifers are. With a long chain, the censer would normally not reach a higher angle than a swing pushed by a careful nanny. With a short chain, held by a priest, it can reach the horizontal, but never this high. Mercy!

The nave ceiling was repainted in the 19th century. Here is Christ in Majesty:

Here is a far more conventional Mary, left holding the baby:

I don’t like tombs in cathedrals. Christianity should not be about death and the dead- we are not ancient Egyptians- but I have a soft spot for this reclining bishop. He looks comfy:

This is the West porch. All its alcoves are empty. I wonder if they always were. See also where part of the building has fallen or been demolished, taking away symmetry, and how even the doors dwarf that tiny human, and my bicycle:

The arches both sides of the nave show their age:

The face of this chap on the floor looks Mediaeval in style, but I don’t think he would be that well-preserved if so: