Monthly Archives: January 2022

The Most Performed Playwright at Today’s Comédie-Française in Paris: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin called Molière (1622-1673).

Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668). Molière (1622-1673) dans le rôle de César de la “Mort de Pompée”, tragédie de Corneille. Paris, Musée Carnavalet.

Molière was born into a well-to-do family on January 15, 1622 at Rue St. Honoré and grew up near the Bastille at Rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. The greatest genius of the French theater was baptized at St. Eustache as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He adopted the stage name of Molière in the mid1640s after he founded his first theater troupe.

A type of Shakespeare of France – profound theater actor, writer and poet – Molière’s characters and wit are timeless – such as in Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), and The Misanthrope (1666).

French actor Romain Duris as Molière and Italian actress Laura Morante as Elmire in a scene from the 2007 movie “Molière.” The fictional film is told in flashback to 1645. It is a conflation of Molière’s life- indeed, in 1645 the 23-year-old Molière was recently bailed out of debtor’s prison – and with his great, most controversial play, Tartuffe, of the mid1660s. In the film a historical Molière poses as “Monsieur Tartuffe” (a priest) who is to serve as tutor for Orgon’s children. Again, in real life, Molière played a part in his play but as householder Orgon, the trusting husband. For the film, young Molière as Tartuffe, similar to the play, falls in love with Elmire, the neglected wife of the household, the audience in romantic sympathy. In this scene Molière delivers a letter to Elmire from her secret admirer which, unknown to her, was written by a debonaire M. Tartuffe (Duris as Molière).

Whereas in the present day any type of true romance may be heart-warming, the 17th century viewed romance through a lens of means and ends, either of which could be scandalous. Molière’s great plays Don Juan and Tartuffe were halted in their tracks by the French church and state concerned with their giving rise to possible popular scandal deemed inherent in their characters and plots by religious and royal critics turned censors. In the mid1660s, the Archbishop of Paris condemned Molière’s work – and nearly the libertine Molière himself – and then turned to the highest state authority, the king, with whom the top bishop was privileged to be closely aligned, to carry out the sentence.

For Molière, the Ancien Régime was not yet dead as a doornail. The American and French Revolutions were a distant century in the future. The risk of the late 20th and early 21st centuries’ apostolic church selling its religion for parts in exchange for a seat at the table of the new global faith was not yet the acts of a chronically troubled mainstream religion in the 17th century. Though mixing it up may be the church’s normal path, it were those sort of irreligious observations of human life in the 17th century that was a major theme and articulation for Molière’s greatest dramas. It brought him into some trouble. While the young King Louis XIV (1638-1715) sanctioned the orders that banned some of Molière’s farces, the royal personage expressed his reluctance to do so. It had been the priests who were stung by Molière’s popular ridicule with its social danger of being overthrown by comic truths. Yet their will to cancel Molière proved only partly successful in the mid17th century – and hardly at all soon after.

French Literature in the 17th Century

The 17th century continued the wealth of French literature in its many genres – poetry (Malherbe; La Fontaine; Boileau); novels and fairy tales (Cyrano de Bergerac; Perrault); essays (Pascal; La Rochefoucauld; La Bruyère); philosophy (Descartes); theology (St. Francis de Sales; Fénelon; Bossuet) and drama (Corneille; Racine; and Molière), and many others.

Molière’s Comedy

Molière wrote based on actual facts of society and human nature and, using ludicrous incidents, looked straight ahead to a moral purpose – his plays were very instructive and had all the makings of high comedy. Further to attract us, Molière is the premier dramatist of wit.

His characters are not individuals but types – which allows for perhaps greater intensity than complexity. Though the French are not as known for comedy, the form is mostly indigenous, contrasted to tragedy as a dramatic form which came out of Italy.

Paris is a theatrical city. Similar to today’s Beaubourg, there were outdoor performances at the Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine. The Hotel de Bourgogne on Rue Etienne Marcel was used in the 16th century by the Confraternité de la Passion for passion plays. In the mid1620s when America was a wilderness there would be street parades of comedians in Paris to lure spectators into the theatre. Stock farce characters included Aurlupin (mean spirited school teacher), Gros Guillaume (dressed in a flour sack), and Captain Fracasse (break things). At the permanent flea market of St. Germain de Prés, spectacles were put on stage. Goods were sold, some of it junk, because, as Daumier observed, “people are always fooled.”

Molière’s mother died when he was 10 years old and he was raised by a nurse maid. In his later plays there are often such maids and servant girls.

Molière was a commuter student at the Collège de Clermont behind the Sorbonne and trained by the Jesuits who had a tremendous hold on educating the young in this period. Nobility and the well-to-do bourgeois were schooled together but segregated by a “golden barrier” of identity – an illiberal, reactionary practice. Molière received a strict, excellent education and was a Latinist. He went to Orléans to study law but didn’t pursue it. His father sent him to Narbonne to be a royal tapestry maker (the family business) but Molière was idealistic and chose to be in theater. Following his bliss, twenty-something Molière – around the time of the film scene – was close to penniless for the next 15 years.

Following the queen of the sciences (theology), cultural authorities officially ordered the boycott of theater as immoral. But the people in Paris mostly ignored these bought-and-paid-for kill joys of church and state and the theater life thrived.

Molière’s first theater production flops; bailed out of debtor’s prison by a street contractor

By the 17th century the Renaissance social fad of tennis had faded away and Molière rented empty courts for the theater. He joined Madeliene Béjart, four years older, and from a family of actors, and established his first theater.

To build the theater, Molière fell into debt in 1644. The first performances were a complete flop and Molière was thrown into debtor’s prison for 3 days until a paving contractor paid the bail to spring the young actor and writer, a remarkable historical fact. Molière’s first theater was auctioned off with the proceeds going to his creditors.

In 1646 Molière’s troupe relocated to the provinces, specifically Nantes. Success was fleeting and Molière very close to returning to his father’s business as a tapestry maker. Molière, like his fellow actors, could only afford to wear his street clothes on stage – or vice versa. Molière was part of just one theatre troupe among about one thousand in France.

Over time Molière’s troupe was moderately successful performing all over the Mediterranean. Though Molière kept a notebook to record his ideas and character types these personal items have been lost to history.

Portrait of Molière, c. 1658 , Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), Château de Chantilly. Pierre Mignard is one of the major classic French portrait artists. When he crossed paths with Molière in Avignon in 1658, after having worked in Orange and Saint-Rémy, a great friendship started between the two men, until the death of the writer in 1673. The painting in Chantilly probably dates from this meeting, because the model appears to be less than forty years old.

In Languedoc the governor was the king’s cousin, and brother-in-law to Mazarin’s son-in-law. The royals hired Molière but then Mazarin’s son-in-law had a religious awakening and ditched the mistress, returned to his wife and banished the theatre.  Molière was suddenly cancelled. Allowance of theater based on moral grounds would continue to evolve – though society enjoyed its entertainment value. Finding a need and then filling it, Molière sold drama as morality (and vice versa) and always cut it close to the bone.

It is around this same time that Molière – acquiring the favor of the king – wrote the first of his great works – Précieuses Ridicules in 1659. In 1662 he married Madeleine Béjart’s younger sister (Armande), though it was not a happy one. The king was godfather to their child where Molière performed at the Palais Royal for the king and royal family.

Artist’s imaginary depiction of Lully’s Armide, Salle du Palais-Royal, 1761, by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The middle 1660s was a high point for Molière’s plays – Tartuffe; Festin de Pierre (Don Juan) and Le Misanthrope were all written in those same two or three years (1664-1666). These greatest comedies of enduring genius, however, were not well received in its day by an obliging audience who took governance and religion very seriously. A prosperous man wanting to retain his hard-earned social position and yet continue to practice his theory of the stage as the layman’s pulpit, Molière fell back on lighter, innocuous spectacles to teach and entertain French society for the remainder of his life.

At rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris since 1817, Molière was denied a Catholic burial in 1673

Molière died in 1673 at 51 years old. Denied a religious burial for the simple fact that he was a theater actor, Molière was surreptitiously buried in a Catholic cemetery in the section of unbaptized infants. In 1792, during the French Revolution, Molière’s remains were transferred to the museum of French Monuments. In 1817, Molière was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery where he lies today.

Molière’s Tomb, Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 1854, Etching in warm black on ivory laid paper, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Molière’s legacy

Tartuffe disguises himself as a virtuous man and is a hypocrite. As the French celebrate Molière’s 400th birth anniversary they reflect on the relevance of Molière’s drama for today. Some argue that false faces in democracy are just as numerous as those in mid17th century Paris though perhaps in a different way.

The cancel culture can be said to derive of Tartuffe. Though not displaying a purely religious hypocrisy as in Molière’s original character, today’s Tartuffe hates the individual heart’s freedoms and hides their will to crack down on people by citing the “common good” or other platitude which usually includes a spectrum of needs and fears. Notions of superiority, duplicity, and simple stupidity are present in Molière’s Tartuffe – that is, the hypocritical type of 350 years ago. 

A supposed offense today is paired with Molière’s hypocrite of 350 years ago against a partisan viewpoint of the “higher interest” with its obligations and payments “overdue” to them from which as a penalty and means requires the ban, cancellation, and banishment –yet, almost conveniently, not of one’s fragile self, if opposed. While the perennial distrust of politicians is well known, today’s social breakdown is broader and endemic – with the inflation of hypocrisy a common denominator. 

Like a popular play on an outdoor stage in 17th century Paris, hypocrites can be better recognized, fortunately or not, by type. The use of virtue signaling – a brittle stance seen, heard, and understood at the first – can be one such type. When it becomes evident that it also serves their hidden ends, the audience, assuming its role, heckles and boos those stock farce characters off the stage with gusto.

Though censorship and restrictions of thought and action of others in its many forms is hardly always the result of hypocrisy, hypocrites (whichever side of the fence their belief or opinion may fall) are certain to take the short route to do so. Molière would have sufficient material today to write and perform another of his great dramas for our time and under a similar menace of cancellation by those powers grown antagonistic to his content, who can lower the curtain, at times overhastily, when opportunity enters.

Land, Sea, Sky — Winter. (33 Photos).

1/2022 4.52 mb
3/2017 4.92 mb
1/2019 6.15 mb
1/2019 4.73 mb
2/2021 8.93 mb
12/2017 7.87 mb
2/2018 3.05 mb
12/2016 3.19mb
12/2021 7.59 mb
1/2018 4.27 mb
1/2018 12.8 mb
12/2021 11.3 mb
12/2017 5.13 mb
1/2019 7.29 mb
2/2016 6.23 mb
2/2018 4.41.mb
12/2016 6.36 mb
1/2021 2.77.mb
2/2018 3.24 mb
12/2016 615 kb 30%
2/2018 18.1 mb
2/2018 7.81 mb 88%
2/2018 8.47 mb
4.94 mb 99%
12/2017 260 kb 20%
2/2018 2.97 mb
12/2017 10.6 mb
3/2017 4.82 mb
12/2016 8.49 mb
2/2019 3.06mb
1/2022 7.96mb 98%
1/2022 7.12 mb
1/2022 6.75 mb 99%
1/2022 7.96 mb 90%
1/2019 7.52 mb

Biagio Governali (Italy), East Bronze Door – The Luminous Mysteries, 2004, The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, Chicago, IL.

FEATURE IMAGE: Detail (top portion) of the East Bronze Door by Italian artist Biagio Governali depicting the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, Chicago.

The four exterior doors of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago  – known as The Bronze Doors of the Holy Rosary of Our Salvation – visually narrate the twenty mysteries of the Rosary – the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous mysteries. The East Bronze Door narrates the five Luminous mysteries.

Inspired by the main gate (“Porta del Paradiso”) of the Baptistry of Florence made by Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) between 1425 and 1452 and located in front of Florence’s cathedral, the contemporary bronze doors in Chicago were made by Biagio Governali, native of Corleone, Italy. With the artist following the time-honored methods of bronze relief sculpture used by medieval and Renaissance artists, the doors were dedicated and blessed by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. (1937-2015), on October 11, 2004.

Our Lady of Pompeii was originally established in Chicago in 1911 as an Italian national parish and is the oldest continuing Italian-American Catholic Church in Chicago. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii was proclaimed in 1994 by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928-1996) as a place to pray for peace that embraces pilgrims of all faiths. The bronze doors are intended to endure as a herald of the Catholic faith and give homage to the Shrine’s Italian roots.

Chicago. University Village/Little Italy. East Bronze Door (complete exterior), Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 12/2013 6.89 mb

Pope Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) established the Luminous Mysteries near the end of his almost 27-year pontificate in 2002. About the entire rosary itself the pope said, “To meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary is to look into the face of Christ.”

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia (“The Rosary,” Herbert Thurston and Andrew Shipman, volume 13, Robert Appleton Company), the structure of the rosary including its 15 mysteries (five each for Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious) had been officially unchanged for 500 years – from the 16th to 20th centuries.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II instituted the five Luminous Mysteries. In his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, published on October 16, 2002, the pope marked out 4 broad areas as reasons to pray the rosary:

1. The rosary aids in contemplating Christ with Mary;

2. The rosary aids in contemplating the mysteries of Mary;

3. The rosary is a way of assimilating the mystery of “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20); and,

4. The rosary is a way of praying for, and arriving at, peace in one’s life, family, neighborhood, and in the world.

In the same letter (Chapter 3), the pope observed that icons and other religious visual images can assist the human imagination to meditate and contemplate upon the mysteries of the Christian faith, particularly those of the rosary. Appealing to the Church’s traditional spirituality as well as that of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) in The Spiritual Exercises, the pope’s exhortation to artistic representations as aiding mental prayer imbues Chicago’s great bronze portals depicting the mysteries of the rosary with the authenticity of standing at the threshold between time and eternity and the sacred and profane.

The pope acknowledged that although all the rosary’s 20 mysteries can be termed “luminous” – that is, pertaining to mysteries of light – the five new Luminous mysteries fill the gap between the infancy and hidden life of Christ (i.e., Joyful) and Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Day (i.e., Sorrowful and Glorious).

The Luminous mysteries present five significant moments from Christ’s public ministry. Each of these mysteries, the pope writes, “is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.” (For more see- https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae.html).  

Chicago. University Village/Little Italy. East Bronze Door (detail, top), The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 12/2013 3.60 mb

Luminous Mysteries

1. The Baptism in the Jordan (top, left)

“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”‘ (Matthew 3:16-17).

2. The Wedding Feast of Cana (top, right)

“On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.”‘ (John 2:1-5).

5. The Institution of the Eucharist (center)

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.”‘ (Matthew 26:26).

Chicago. University Village/Little Italy. East Bronze Door (detail, bottom), The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 12/2013 3.48 mb

3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (bottom, left)

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

4. The Transfiguration (bottom, right)

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2).

 

Biagio Governali (Italy), Central Bronze Doors—The Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, 2004, The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, Chicago, IL.

FEATURE IMAGE: Detail (top portion) of the Central Bronze Door by Italian artist Biagio Governali. On the left are the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and on the right are the five Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Chicago. University Village/Little Italy. Central Bronze Door (complete exterior), Sorrowful Mysteries (left) and Glorious Mysteries (right) of the Rosary.The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 12/2013 4.61 mb

The exterior doors of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago visually narrate the twenty mysteries of the Rosary. These are the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous mysteries. The faithful can use each door panel as a meditation to pray each decade of the Rosary.

In Europe, most of the complete works of art that have survived undamaged and unrestored from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to today are bronze doors, most of which are in Italy.

Even when the Shrine doors are closed, the sanctuary calls to all passersby to look, ponder, and personally experience the Gospel that these doors present in its fine artwork of the mysteries of the Rosary.

The Central Bronze Door’s Artwork Explained

Sorrowful Mysteries (left panel) and Glorious Mysteries (right panel).

Sorrowful Mysteries

1. The Agony in the Garden (top, left)

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” (Matthew 26:36-39).

2. The Scourging at the Pillar (top, right)

“Pilate released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:26).

3. The Crowning With Thorns (center, left)

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!'” (Matthew 27:27-29).

4. The Carrying of the Cross (center, right)

“And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).” (Mark 15:21-22).

5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus with Mary and John (center)

“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ …It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:33-46). 

Glorious Mysteries

1. The Resurrection of Jesus (center)

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”‘ (Luke 24:1-5).

2. The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven (top, left)

“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19).

3. The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and the Apostles (top, right)

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4).

4. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven (bottom, left)

“Henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48-49).

5. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven (bottom, right)

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation12:1).

Chicago. University Village/Little Italy. Central Bronze Door -Sorrowful Mysteries panel (detail), The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 12/2013 1.55 mb

At the bottom of the Sorrowful Mysteries bronze door, the angels hold a tablet emblazoned with Latin text that contains statements on the rosary by two post-Vatican II modern popes. A translation of the text reveals the importance of the rosary to Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) and John Paul II (1920-2005), both canonized saints. Pope Paul VI: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul.” Pope John Paul II: “To meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary is to look into the face of Christ.”