Almost 700 years ago, as many people in Europe were trying to climb out of the squalor of so-called feudalism, Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted a series of frescos in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena which included two allegorical representations of how government can operate. One allegory represented good government and its effects on the land and one represented bad government and its effects on the land. This was done with the knowledge that it is necessary to keep reminding leaders in government of the differences because they have regularly exhibited a susceptibility to corruption.
In the allegory of good government, the main figure represents the commune-(ity). He is surrounded by figures representing Peace, Fortitude, Prudence, Magnanimity, Temperance, and Justice. Justice prominently appears twice. She balances the scales – which are held by Wisdom and there are cords which descend from them and which are gathered by the personification of Concord. The scenes of the city and the landscape beyond are vibrant and peaceful.
In the allegory of bad government, – which is on an opposite wall – the main figure is a darkly dressed, bloated, cross-eyed (self-focussed), fanged and horned figure representing Tyranny. His(?) hair is vainly woven around his head and in his hand he holds a dagger. He is surrounded by figures representing Cruelty, Treason, Fraud, Frenzy, Divisiveness, and War. Below the figure of Tyranny, Justice is bound and fallen and the scales of justice are broken into pieces. The scenes of the city and the landscape show marauding violence, impoverished hills, and disintegrating buildings.
That tyranny is portrayed as fanged and horned is as very significant today as it was in 1338. This is because a creature having both fangs and horns is something from outside of the natural. The combination of fangs and horns is today most manifest on Wall Street and in its Pentagon. Wall Street celebrates its debasing combination of fangs in its predatory “bear” marketing and it includes its horns in its “bull” marketing. It is the deliberate, bipartisan (such as it is) unleashing of this monstrous, militarized abnormality which is the manifestation of tyranny and tyranny’s above listed companions and their effects upon what could otherwise be a healthy environment. It is hardly surprising that such a monster would love to encourage and impose Frankenstein-like genetic engineering for private profits.
Moving forward to almost 400 years ago, Peter Paul Rubens painted a cycle of 24 canvases which were allegorical representations of the life of Marie De Medici. At the time, she was the widow of Henry IV of France and the estranged mother of Louis XIII. As a way of pampering herself as she was forced to surrender power to her child, she had built Luxembourg palace and its gardens in Paris. For the reassurance of her vanity, Rubens painted the stages of her life with monumental mythological, god-like, fleshy, figures as being Marie’s coterie throughout her existence, up to and including her banishment by her son. Of course, this was small potatoes when you consider Marie’s grandson Louis XIV’s enormous vanity of the palace of Versailles which followed later.
There are no horned and fanged tyrants in Ruben’s allegorical images of Marie’s heavenly existence. There is, instead, a glorification of the notion of the divinity of monarchs, even as they are rejected by their own offspring -who also claimed to be divinely endowed. All of the continuing bloodshed and corruption was just part of the stage upon which these divine people practiced their glorious backstabbing and theft.
Just over 30 years ago, I visited the galleries at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago to see an exhibit called “Pay For Your Pleasure” by Mike Kelly. The exhibit was mostly a series of fairly large portraits painted by Kelly on paper of famous intellectuals from history with quotes from those people which centered upon the idea that savage yearnings and violent impulses seemed to be intimately connected with their more celebrated endeavors. In the midst of all of these portraits of famous intellectuals and their quoted admissions of what we might call brutal inclinations there was a small, gaudy and disturbing painting of a clown by John Wayne Gacy. He had done the painting in prison. The exhibit was a sort of speculation on the possibility that without the darkly monstrous within us perhaps the celebrated brilliance of our most prominent cultural achievements might be unknown and vice versa (seemingly unavoidable pun). The exhibit also seemed to indicate that celebrity derived from intellectualism and ground-breaking creativity is of the same nature as is celebrity from gross predatory repugnance and murderousness. Few art exhibits have had as unnerving of an effect on me.
That display from 1988 came back to my mind recently when I read that the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington was featuring the portraits of military veterans which were painted by George W. Bush. While I strongly doubt that the intent of the Kennedy Center was to draw a connection between Mr. Bush and John Wayne Gacy, the promotion of Mr. Bush’s paintings does seem to be a further validation of something similar to what Mike Kelly had presented. It is very clear that neither of these men is/was a great artist and that both of these men have achieved great celebrity through their other actions and that those actions included the use of vicious slaughter of other humans.
It seems that a key difference between Gacy and Bush is the fact that Gacy was intimately involved in his horrors while Bush remained (and remains) at a significant removal from the horrifying results of his bipartisan schemes. I can only guess that the Kennedy Center is honoring Bush because possibly its directors believe that the scale of the horrors which were created by Bush and his democrat and republican enablers must be seen as a significant payment forward of and for some other culturally appealing creation which will be the balance of the slaughtering and wreckage of Bush’s (and his democrat and republican allies) career as a politician. Perhaps we are supposed to assume that Gacy had fangs and that Bush is merely horned and that Gacy was a predator while Bush was merely being defensive. It’s hard to see beyond the bloodsplatter.
To be clear, I have no desire for G.W. Bush to receive the same end as Gacy (he was executed in prison). I do have a desire to see more necessary restrictions placed upon Bush and his democratrepublican accomplices. Unlike those who might support vapidly duplicitous pleas by Ellen Degeneres (in regard to Bush) for more portrayals of the kind as used by Marie DeMedici and her accomplice Rubens, I am simply a lover of art and nature whose limited intellect is stuck on the wisdom within the walls of 1338 Siena.