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Image: Pius XII in a bombed out Rome September 7, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval , trackback

What would have happened if photography had been invented not in the early nineteenth-century but a hundred years before Columbus crossed the waters blue? Well, Beachcombing imagines Franciscan monks running around with tripods and dark rooms being built next to monastic kitchens. The Church would have monopolised this new technology, not as an art, but as a form of memory.

That medieval photography never happened does not mean though that there is no such thing as medieval photography in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Beachcombing does not mean by this those dreadful sugary shots of pious families before a favourite Madonna – as fake in their way as the fairies at Cottingley. Rather he refers to photographs catching the essence of a surving medieval religiosity.

Beachcombing offers here one of his favourite ‘medieval’ photographs, actually taken in 1944 in one of the poorer quarters of Rome. Pius XII, the most controversial pope of modern times, has gone out, to visit his congregation who have just suffered from the wrath of allied bombs: sow the wind and…

Pius who had a slightly messianic streak at times, stands before the crowd like a crucified Christ dressed in beatific white. Pius’s face (perhaps fortunately for the effect) is not visible, but watch the Romans who might have come out of a movie on the black death twist before him. My God!

When Beachcombing first saw this fabulous portrait he felt that he finally understood a hundred chronicle descriptions of eighth- or fourteenth-century crowds ‘ooo-ing’ and ‘aargh-ing’ over the burning of a heretic or the carrying of a religious icon.

Then again, look around, the edges and you can also see some modern faces smirking. It is unfortunate that a German soldier (?) seems to have found his way in too and is standing there like Where’s Wally/Waldo… Don’t they have something called photoshop today?

Any other medieval photographs? [drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom] Beachcombing has been looking for and failing to find some photographs – looked at years ago – of St Peter’s Swiss Guards with submachines strapped, incongruously, across their popinjay chests. Not exactly medieval but striking in their way.