Back to those Santa Maria del Fiore frescoes. This sixteenth century work depicts The Last Judgement, with the bottom section representing Capital Sins and Hell and featuring huge graphic images of: death, hellfire, tridents skewering throats, horned and tailed demons, grotesque chimeras, The Beast swallowing humans whole, carnality, animal genitalia, a hydra (but that’s Greek, isn’t it? Well, why not borrow another myth’s monster if it serves the purpose?), evisceration, skinning, fear, agony, etc, etc.
It’s imposing, no doubt about that. But it’s just a painting, in a Renaissance cathedral, so it shouldn’t be taken seriously – except as art. I know if I’d have been exposed to it as that impressionable, vampire-phobic kid, I’d have been horrified. (Incidentally, Florentines objected to their city’s use as a location setting for Hannibal, in which a police detective is disembowelled and hanged from the balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio.) But nobody takes this kind of thing seriously now, surely?
I was disturbed last week by the Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary, Baby Bible Bashers. One of its subjects was a seven year old boy from Mississippi, preaching on the streets, encouraging sinners to repent, else go to hell. What’s my connection here? Well, this young child would look up at those fresco/secco images and believe them to a true representation of our fate. He knows there are worms down there that will eat you.
I was moved by the final footage of this damaged boy, brain-washed by idiot parents, traumatised to tears by the hostility of the reaction his words, and his family’s banners, provoked on the more liberal streets of New York. I’m with Dawkins on this one – child abuse.