A Sicilian romance

No, this post is nothing to do with Ann Radcliffe. I did read The Mysteries of Udolpho once, and, to slightly misquote Joel Cairo, my experience of reading Radcliffe was not such that I am anxious to continue it. No – this post is to share a few pictures from last week, which I spent with my better half in Sicily, hoping that this will both explain and excuse my rather long silence on this blog.

First, here is the Greek theatre in Siracusa (Syracuse), where Aeschylus himself is reputed to have performed.


And this is me waiting for the Oresteia to start. Or maybe it’s just the People’s Front of Judea.


I didn’t take any pictures inside Monreale Cathedral, as neither my crappy wee camera nor my crappy photographic skills could hope to capture the magnificence of the Byzantine mosaics. i would, however, recommend a google image search on Monreale Cathedral: some of the images really are magnificent. Here, however, is a view of the cloisters:


And here are a few of the magnificent Greek temples in Agrigento:


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And there’s Etna, of course. All week in Catania (where we were based), the clouds were low: we knew Etna was there somewhere, but it was out of sight. But then, on the last day, the clouds lifted, and we had a magnificent view of the smoking mountain. So here it is, taken from Catania Airport (do excuse the foreground):


I make no excuses for including among these pictures a snap of the bust of Verdi outside Palermo Opera House: Verdi is, after all, a great hero of mine.


And finally, there’s “The Burial of St Lucy” by Caravaggio, in the small church of Santa Lucia alla Badia in Siracusa. I had seen this picture in reproduction, but never, a it were, in the flesh. This is one of Caravaggio’s late paintings, executed while he was on the run: apparently, he fled from Siracusa, for reasons that we can only conjecture, as soon as he had finished this. And yet again, I find it difficult to reconcile the man who could have it in him to have painted so compassionate a vision of innocence and vulnerability crushed by the brute forces of violence, with the man who was himself a violent and murderous thug.

Dominating the lower half of the canvas are the gravediggers – two huge, monumental figures that even Michelangelo would have been proud of: this is, in effect, Merisi playing Buonarroti at his own game. But then, the eye is then subtly drawn to the frail corpse of St Lucy, lying on the ground between these two figures, her face turned slightly towards us, her foreshortened arm reaching out to us as if in supplication. And above it all, taking up some half of the huge canvas, is a dark void, a vast emptiness.

"The burial of St Lucy" by Caravaggio, courtesy of the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Siracusa

“The burial of St Lucy” by Caravaggio, courtesy of the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Siracusa

The theme of innocence violated and destroyed by brute forces of violence has particularly strong resonance in our own time; it could be argued, I suppose, that there has never been a time when it hasn’t had strong resonance. And it is hard to imagine a time when this painting, or that terrible final scene of King Lear, will cease to resonate. It is moving beyond words.

Well, that’s enough of holiday snaps. This blog will now be returning to its usual, mundane self.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by alan on November 3, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Don’t you mean the Popular Front?


  2. What a great place to be Himadri.

    I must visit Sicily one day.

    I think that Your observations on “The Burial of St Lucy” are accurate . This is a work of art that ironically and tragically, has always been timely.


  3. Posted by alan on November 3, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    At what angle is is the Caravaggio seen? Is it above above eye level?
    I imagine that lighting would have been important – I suspect that candle lit from below the difference between light and dark would be amplified.


    • It is above eye level, and at the altar – so you can’t get very close to it and see the brush-strokes. It was daytime when I saw it, and the inside of teh church was lit partly by daylight from the windows, and partly by electric light.


  4. Wow, oh wow!! I must now go visit Sicily for myself. I especially love the Greek columns. Verdi is also a favorite of mine. I would love to sit in an amphitheater and watch a Greek play. What a fantastic trip!


    • They still do Greek plays in that theatre, but only in the summer months, and only in Italian. But yes- Sicily is a great place to visit. The inside of Monreale Cathedral (which I didn’t take pictures of) and the temples at Agrigento were certainly highlights.


  5. Himadri – I expected your post to be about Ann Radcliffe, so what a pleasure to find out that it is about your own Sicilian romance. I barely missed you, as I’m just now back from a trip to Sicily myself. In fact, you might have seen me in any one of those photos had time been twisted a bit (there was no snow on Etna when we drove up it, so I’m guessing we preceded you there). What a tremendous island, rich beyond all imagining in terms of the treasures to be found around every corner. And how great that you chose to stay in Catania. A sloppy guide book I picked up on the cheap called it “by far the most degraded city in Western Europe,” so of course it turned out to be terrific.


    • Hello Scott, we were there all lastweek, and returned on Saturday 1st November. What a coincidence that you were there as well at around that time! We stayed in Catania because it was handy for coaches to different parts of the island – Siracusa, Palermo, Agrigento, etc. I don’t know about it being the “Most degraded city” – but itwas notthe prettiest, it has to be admitted. this is partly because most of the paving and the buildings have been made from volcanic rock, and its dark grey does look very grimy. But he people we encountered were all very warm and friendly, and the evening meals were things to look forward to! I’d love to return there, and see the various things I didn’t getto see this time round. And spend another afternoon at Monreale Cathedral!

      All the best, Himadri


      • I was in Sicily the first half of October then moved north to Naples around the 17th. So it sounds like we missed one another by a week or so.

        I tossed the guidebook away after that “degraded” comment about Catania. The black streets and charcoal grey walls were mesmerizing, and I loved the open, warm atmosphere of the city. I’d love to return too. I got the impression one could spend decades exploring Sicily and not even scratch the surface. And the food – unbelievable. I’m going to try to re-create a few dishes I had there but suspect that I’ll have about as much success as your average alchemist.

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