Alejandra de Argos by Elena Cué

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Steve Schwarzman 4 HiRes 

 Stephen Schwarzman. 

 

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative assets management firm, which you co-founded with Peter Peterson in 1985 with $400.000 start-up capital, is now worth $55 billion with $500 billion turnover. What do you think is the key to its success?

To begin, we had a really good strategic plan. One thing I have learned in life is that you need to know where you want to go and you need to have a good plan. You need to do something that nobody else is doing, something you think will become very popular and develop very big ideas. Our strategic plan had three parts. The first was to go into the Merge and Acquisitions Advisory business (M&A). The good thing about this business is you do not need any capital. Large corporations pay you millions of dollars to think and advise them. If they pay you, it is because you are doing it well.

The second part to our strategy was to go into the private equity business which basically consists of buying companies, improving them and making them grow faster, which in turn will make them sell better or go public. They will have more income and therefore double the profit. That way you have transformed the company into a much faster growing business and you will hire more people. It is very beneficial. You can end up making double the profit by investing in the stock market averages. If you double it, a lot of people will want to give you money so they can make double too.

Where does the capital come from?

Generally, we get our money from very big pension funds around the world, but we also receive investments from other institutional or individual investors. We thought this type of business would have explosive growth and it has. The key was finding people with talent in that area, a great investment potential. That was the third part to our strategy.

And how did you become the biggest Real “Landlord” in the world?

At that stage, we could not foresee what the areas of interest would be. Therefore, we had to wait and that is precisely how we ended up in real estate in 1991. We saw an opportunity in the real estate sector during the second US government auction in which a lot of bankrupt savings and loan types from banks were on sale. Now, we are the largest real estate owner in the world. We specialize in buying in places which have had difficulties so the price drops significantly and then with the normal economic recovery comes a large profit.

So they began to grow...

We invested in improving those assets in order to make them more attractive. That is the basis of how we built the firm. In 1986, we started by raising our first fund and now, instead of one, we have 50 funds in 50 different areas. We began in the United States, then expanded to Europe and Asia. We started with the highest returning products and now we have realized that products with less return and less leverage are also attractive.

In the last few years, you have invested €23 billion in our country. What lead you to invest in Spain?

Spain played an important role in Blackstone’s development. Our team discovered Spain was building so many apartment units they could have housed most of Germany and still had units left over. It was easy to predict that the construction sector would end up collapsing. At the same time our team in India informed us that land prices had multiplied by 10 in 18 months. The same was happening in the United States. Therefore, I told my team we had to sell all the assets tied up in residential housing around the world. It was clear what was going to happen.

It seemed like not everyone was aware of it...

Our business consists of gathering information and objectively assessing it. When Spain, as expected, went through a very difficult economic time and nobody in the country was buying real estate, we thought if we could buy properties at a low enough price and invest in improving them, we would achieve excellent results, as was the case in the United States. Indeed, that is what happened. Spain is a strong country despite having gone through a terrible time with the crisis. We believed in Spain and its ability to recover.

How would you evaluate the current economic climate in Spain and in Europe?

Spain has recovered very well. It has a good economy. Europe is experiencing a deceleration in terms of economic growth, as is every country in the world.

Some say another recession is on the horizon.

I am not sure we are going to have a recession in the United States, it is more likely to happen in Europe. The United States is doing better. There is full employment, the best rates since 1969. The American consumer is very strong. Wages are increasing faster than inflation so consumers have more money and they are spending it. That represents 70% of the US economy. That is the base. Even though manufacturing all over the world is decreasing, including in the United States, it only represents 11% of our economy, in comparison to 70% made up by the consumer, which is a vast difference.

 Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cue

Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cué 

 

In your book “What it takes” you talk about the mentors who shaped you as a person, such as, your father. Which values laid down the foundation of your career as an entrepreneur?

In the United States it is quite common to help others in their professional career. Most entrepreneurs are not completely alone, they often have partners, particularly in the field of technology, where most of the great companies were formed by various people. I was going to drop out of my MBA program at Harvard. I wrote a letter to the manager of the company I had previously worked for and he responded with six pages about his life. After reading it, I said to myself: “OK, I will continue studying”. That one decision changed the course of my life. There are many times when there is a point of inflection. You talk to other people and if they are intelligent, you listen to what they say and act accordingly. This helped me so now it is my duty to help others.

What are the most relevant attributes a person must have in order to join the Blackstone team?

Blackstone has always been what we call a meritocracy. It means that the people with the best values win; we are looking for born competitors. We keep producing new business lines so everyone can be in charge of something if they are qualified to do so. We are looking for people who are very intelligent, hard-working, non-political and good communicators. People who have a good understanding of what is happening around them and also possess solid analytic skills. Another attribute is they must be good people. When I was at Lehman, there were a lot of employees who left a lot to be desired in that aspect which lead to a very talented group of people suffering.

What would you advise someone who wants to start a business?

You should try to do something that no one else is doing, imagine something that does not yet exist but you think the market will want. If you limit yourself to opening the exact same type of business as others, there is no real reason why anyone should come to you. It becomes much less likely you will be successful, it is not bad, but it is not ideal. You have to time it right, without deviating much from what people want. When Walt Disney created his first theme park, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. No one else had done anything similar until then. There is always a myriad of setbacks, but moving forward and overcoming those problems is not as important as having a clear vision of what you want to do. The creative process is initially abstract; it is just a thought. Then you need to assemble as many financial resources as possible. If you have big dreams, the chance of them coming true is a lot greater.

In the book you explain how President Donald Trump asked you to form and manage a group of talented and knowledgeable individuals, no politics, who could tell him the truth. The Forum was later disbanded. It seemed to be a very good idea for any government…

Everyone who runs an organization should aspire to have as much objective input as possible. When you are the head of something, particularly in politics, you are quite isolated because when people around you criticize you, you usually stop listening to them. Forming a group of people, who are not political, who tell you what you are doing right and wrong, is a great concept. In a democracy, most people are not necessarily experts in everything, yet they are responsible for everything. Would it not be useful to have experts to guide you in the areas you are not familiar with?

You have served your country in many ways, including acting as the intermediate in trade talks between the United States and China. What is your opinion after the United Nations’ last General Assembly?

It is complicated because the Chinese have adopted an emerging market approach to their economy, much like the United States did in the 19th century when it was a developing country. At the time, we relied on significant tariff barriers that allowed us to develop our economy protected by those restrictions. China is experiencing the same process. Forty years ago, the average income in China was only a few hundred US dollars per person, whereas currently it is around $10,000 per person. Today, China is the second biggest economy in the world, after the United States. There is a big gap between China and other countries. Together the United States and China represent somewhere between 35% and 40% of the whole world’s economy, depending on the scale you apply. The United States and the developed world want China to remove some of these restrictions that confers them certain advantages over other developed countries. It is difficult for China because if you have always had an advantage, why would you change? In which case, they haven’t. It is not a coincidence that we have not signed an agreement with them in about 70 years. Now we are taking that very seriously.

The lack of trade agreements for such a long time is surprising. Could you explain some of the causes behind the lack of understanding between the United States and China?

There are two groups in Chinese politics: the reformists who believe China should adjust and change, and the intransigent people who are satisfied with what the country has done and do not want to change it. The reason why trade agreements are so difficult is because it is hard to know which part of China is going to control the country’s demands. At different points of the negotiations, the power shifts back and forth between the reformists and the intransigents. Negotiations between the two countries were about 90% complete in May this year but the Chinese then eliminated about a third of what was agreed and the negotiations collapsed. I think both China and the United States realize that decoupling the two largest economies on the planet is going to slow the world down and not just in the short term. It is probably in the best interest of both economies to establish their objectives.

How did China become important to you?

Actually, it all happened by chance. In 2007, when we went public, the Chinese government approached us to request to buy 3 billion dollars worth of stock, which represented 9.9% of the company. We offered them non-voting stock which meant they would not have a member on the board of directors. It was the first time since 1949, when modern China was founded, that China as a country, had bought a major amount of shares in a foreign company. Blackstone was the first. This had global repercussions because it was a sign that China had started to recycle its huge financial reserves and wanted to participate in the rest of the world. For us it was a complete surprise.

In 2016, you founded and built the Schwarzman Scholars College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which offers a master’s program helping to build a stronger relationship between China and the rest of the world. What was your motivation?

Current president Xi Jinping and his predecessor studied at Tsinghua University, the biggest politically connected university in China. It has an international advisory board formed by a group of CEOs from different countries, including a lot of prominent Chinese figures such as Jack Ma from Alibaba, Robin Li from Baidu, Pony Ma from Tencent and people from around the world such as Tim Cook from Apple and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, amongst others. There are also many senior members of the Chinese government. I could see that things were not going to remain the same between China and the rest of the world after the financial crisis because China continued to grow, whereas European countries and the United States went into a terrible recession and unemployment in Europe is still very high. That situation would lead people in the developed world to feel unhappy, particularly those who earnt between 40% and 50% of the average income and generally, that triggers what is known as “populism”. People in lower income brackets get angry with the wealthy and with business and financial people. Normally, as shown in history, they project their anger onto a foreign devil and I knew, in this case, it would be China because it was very important. China was doing so well both economically and financially. Therefore, I decided I wanted to address this problem of the Western world’s friction with China.

In June, your record donation of £150,000,000 given to the University of Oxford was announced and featured on the front page of all the major media sources. Can you explain the main reason for such a generous donation to the field of ethics in Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a new technology which will explode all over the world as it can do some incredible things. It can help enormously in the medical sector, in education and in the workplace. It is a revolution. On the other hand, AI can create problems. One area is employment. Machines will replace people, as they already did at the start of the industrial revolution but that took about 100 to 125 years, whereas AI will happen in the next 10 to 20 years. The idea that everything always works out is right but if it happens very quickly, you can have huge dislocations and much larger unemployment than society can absorb. Therefore, Artificial Intelligence ethics is just a code word for trying to figure out how to allow this technology to be introduced to society so we can reap the benefits, whilst maintaining enough control to ensure the disadvantages are reduced. This requires the involvement of governments, companies, research universities and the media so that you can introduce these regulations without eliminating the benefits of the technology which will enormously help all kinds of people. That is why I am supporting this. I chose Oxford which is a unique university in the study of humanities.

With a donation of $350.000.000 you have created a new space in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) dedicated to the study of Artificial Intelligence and Computing which will be opened this year.

The reason for creating the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT is to advance in the field of science but also to analyze AI ethics. Oxford is number 1 in humanities in the world, whereas MIT, depending on whose ranking, is number 1 or 2 in technology in the world. I dedicated a lot of time and financial resources into this because I think it is very important for humanity.

What does it mean to you to be the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.?

During President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in 1961, he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” In my generation, we were expected to help our country. When I was asked to take on the Kennedy Center job, I thought it would be a good thing, because I could help. I did not want to go into government full time. I had been asked to do that before but I did not want to.

In addition to the previously mentioned, you have also made other significant donations to the New York Public Library ($150m), Metropolitan Museum and Yale University ($150m), a football stadium... What is your understanding of philanthropy?

I am involved in different types of philanthropy. I like creating very large-scale projects that have never been done before, consistent with my book. I do the same with philanthropy. I ask myself if there is something I can create to help resolve a big problem. Actually, I do not really consider it philanthropy. I start by asking: “What is good for society?” before backing into important financial commitments. Together with my wife, Christine, we have ended up being the largest donors to Catholic schools in the United States. I am not Catholic but the schools are great. Only about 50% of the children who go to these schools are Catholic: 90% are minorities, 70% are on the poverty line or below and 98% of them graduate.

 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué

 

 

- Interview with Stephen Schwarzman -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

Let me start by highlighting what makes the 'Lorenzo Lotto. Portraits' exhibition such an exceptional project. Firstly, because never before has this subject been featured in a monographic exhibition; secondly, because this is the first ever time an exhibition of the great Venetian artist's work has been organised in Spain, which has only one of his paintings on display, here at the Prado; thirdly, because it comprises almost fifty works, some of them among his best; fourthly, because, although Lotto's main focus was, as the exhibit title would suggest, the genre at which he excelled ~ portraiture, a substantial complementary space has been added to showcase his uniquely personal and beautifully rendered religious painting; and finally, for its splendid presentation and staging at the reputable hands of Jesus Moreno. And as if all that were not enough, it is also worth mentioning with regards to the venue that this inauguration coincides with two other first-rate exhibitions, namely 'Rubens. Painter of Sketches' and 'In lapide depictum. Italian painting on stone 1530-1550", constituting a trio of internationally unmatchable calibre at the Prado.

Dr. Francisco Calvo Serraller, writing exclusively for Alejandra de Argos 
Professor of the History of Contemporary Art
Complutense University of Madrid 

Francisco Calvo Serraller 

 

 

 

 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto  

Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia (1530 - 1533). Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 110.6 cm. The National Gallery, London 

 

Let me start by highlighting what makes the 'Lorenzo Lotto. Portraits' exhibition such an exceptional project. Firstly, because never before has this subject been featured in a monographic exhibition; secondly, because this is the first ever time an exhibition of the great Venetian artist's work has been organised in Spain, which has only one of his paintings on display, here at the Prado; thirdly, because it comprises almost fifty works, some of them among his best; fourthly, because, although Lotto's main focus was, as the exhibit title would suggest, the genre at which he excelled ~ portraiture, a substantial complementary space has been added to showcase his uniquely personal and beautifully rendered religious painting; and finally, for its splendid presentation and staging at the reputable hands of Jesus Moreno. And as if all that were not enough, it is also worth mentioning with regards to the venue that this inauguration coincides with two other first-rate exhibitions, namely 'Rubens. Painter of Sketches' and 'In lapide depictum. Italian painting on stone 1530-1550", constituting a trio of internationally unmatchable calibre at the Prado. 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 3 

Portrait of Andrea Odoni (1527). The Royal Collection Trust, London


Moreover, Lorenzo Lotto's biography and subsequent destiny of critical acclaim are a constant source of interest. A native of Venice itself whose exact date of birth is unknown but is estimated by experts to be around 1580, our grand master's training and career start could not have been more brilliant, having as he did rolemodels such as Giovanni Bellini, of whom he was reputedly a direct disciple, along with Giorgione and Titian but he was also influenced by Antonello da Messina and Albrecht Durer, a manifestation of the great significance and variety in the configuration of his own particular style.

His early days as a professional in Venice were met with notable success and the promise of great things to come but the stiff competition with other local masters such as Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, all of whom were endowed with a more pugnacious and business-minded temperament than his, left him with no other alternative than to seek his fortune outside the closeted enclave of the Republic's capital, in the comparatively minor cities of Veneto and neighbouring areas. In this way, Lotto managed to make ends meet with varying degrees of success and, as can often happen in the course of anyone's life, with the passage of time his star waned, only for him to end up as an oblate in Loreto, not knowing where else to live out his last days.  

 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 2 

Portrait of a Young Man (1530 - 1532). Oil on canvas, 98 x 111 cm. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

 

Then and now, the reality is that very few artists are able to make a living from their work alone and fewer still if we look back at the past because, until recently, neither were there many other options if luck wasn't on your side. In this sense, Lotto's own personal frustrations cannot be taken as exceptional and neither can the fact that at the time of his death he had not received the recognition he deserved. In actual fact, recognition of his memory and work had to wait until the 20th century when Berenson revised and raised the profile of the hitherto disdained painting of 15th century Italy but, ultimately, he didn't receive proper public acclaim until the latter stages of the 1900s. And in some ways, this widespread recognition of his oeuvre is very recent indeed, as demonstrated by this exhibition which, as previously mentioned, is only the first ever in Spain as well as being the first in the world to monographically showcase his portraiture, a genre to which Lotto made outstanding contributions. These are evidenced in the only painting of his owned by the Prado, a novelty at the time in Italy for depicting a newly-wed couple, as can be seen in the various heraldic elements. Obliged on this occasion to use a landscape format, Lotto continued to do so with individual portraits which gave the subject much greater spacial freedom and the possibility of encompassing a wider horizon. In any case, what is so extraordinary about the quality of Lotto's portraits is not limited just to their format. There is also an effect on composition, psychological aspects, his astute judgement as to the symbolic use of circumstantial details to identify the personality, rank and office of the sitter, the beautiful way he paints hands, among many others. Whatever the case, the result is that Lotto's portraits seem so modern that their impact is perhaps greater now than when they were painted because they give us the impression that their physiognomies and expressions are the same as ours. Whilst true that during the first half of the 16th century, at the height of Mannerism, this type of painting that we are so fond of today proliferated, and notwithstanding other brilliant portraitists of the time, Lotto stands out. There are a selection of his best and most well-known here at the exhibition, for instance Portrait of a Young man with a Lamp (c. 1506), Andrea Odoni (1527), Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia (c. 1530-33) and Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1530-32) but there are also others of equally high quality albeit not as popular as the aforementioned, from the very early Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1498-1500), still heavily influenced by Bellini but with eyes and mouth that show a profound psychological insight, up to and including Bishop Bernardo de Rossi (1505), Portrait of a Young Man (c.1512-13), Lucina Brembati (1520-23), Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (c.1525), Portrait of a Gentleman (1535?), Portrait of a Man with a Beard (c. 1540), Portrait of a Man with a Felt Hat (h. 1541) or Portrait of an Architect (c.1540-42), to mention but a few of many outstanding pieces. 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 4 

Portrait of a Married Couple (1523 - 1524). Oil on canvas, 96 x 116 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

 

But in addition to this magnificent display of portraits, the exhibition also includes other genres in Lotto's repertoire and, in particular, his religious painting where delicate, stylised figures writhe in space as in a harmonious ballet, their body language dramatized in studiously-arranged twists and turns and the scene as a whole is wrapped in a chromatic sheen of glossy satin where colours contrast with each other in original and imaginative ways. This added bonus is an essential complement in a country like ours where the work of this Venetian painter is only being exhibited monographically for the very first time.  

 

Lastly, and in another contribution to the ensemble, there are display cases containing various textile and gold or silver objects that don't just illustrate the dress and jewelery of those memorialised in the portraits but also explain their function within the narrative, thereby demonstrating that we are not just viewing a presentation of Lotto's paintings, but rather we are seeing an interpretation of them, and in many cases a novel one at that.  It is interesting that, in this regard, the focus is on portraits where the subject is represented as an incarnation of the ideal of holiness, a burning issue at the precise moment in history when the ideological battle to control and censor images was at its peak.   

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 5 

The Assumption of the Virgin with Saints Anthony Abbot and Louis of Toulouse (1506). Oil on panel, 175 x 165 cm. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Asolo

 

This exhibition, which after its run at the Prado will move on to the National Gallery in London, has been curated by Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo y Miguel Falomir, in collaboration with Mathias Wivel. All of them deserve to be congratulated on their splendid work, along with the layout and arrangement of the pieces, not forgetting the beautiful and informative catalogue which, in this case, is an indispensable complement to the exhibition.

 

                                                                                                (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)  

 

 

- The wonderful rediscovery of Lorenzo Lotto -                                   - Alejandra de Argos -

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Nick Bostrom. Montreal 

Nick Bostrom. Photo: Allen McEachern

 

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.


Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.


What led you to create the World Transhumanist Association?

Well, it happened in the 90s. At that time, it seemed to me that there was no adequate forum to discuss the impacts of the emergence of future technologies and how they may affect the human condition. Back then, the emphasis was mainly on the negative. Most of the relevant topics were not discussed at all and the few discussions on academic bioethics always focused on the inconveniences, such as possible dehumanization by using technology to enhance human capacities. There needed to be another voice. The association was an attempt to create a platform which fulfills this demand.

And what about today?

I have not been involved for many years. In the early 2000s, these problems found a voice and were developed in the academic field. Thus, the organization was no longer a necessity.

There is talk about artificial intelligence attempting to develop a conscious intelligence in order to learn in the same way humans do. What can you tell us about this?

I think that a lot of the excitement over the last eight years is due to advances in deep learning; which is a particular focus of AI. This way of processing information is, in many ways, similar to how our human mind works. Excitement is created because it seems to be a more "general" way of structuring intelligence, a type of algorithm that has the general ability to learn from data (big data), learn from experience, and build representations from a pattern present in such data that has not been explicitly pre-programmed by humans. This new concept points to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

Can you give an example?

The same algorithm that can learn to play one Atari game can learn to play other Atari games. With small modifications, it can learn to play chess, Go, how to recognize cats in images and to recognize speech. Although there are limits to what can be done today, there are indications that we might be reaching the type of mechanism that provides similar flexibility to that of human intelligence, a type of general learning capacity.

Some voices are more skeptical.

If you look at the systems that are used in the industry, they are still a kind of hybrid. In some cases, these modern deep learning systems are specifically used for image and voice recognition, but many other systems employed by companies continue to be mainly expert systems with a domain specific purpose while following the old school model. This contributes to the confusion.

When do you think molecular nanotechnology will exist, making it possible to manufacture tiny machines that could be inserted into our organisms and thus eradicate many diseases and prolong life?


It's a good question... I believe that nanotechnology will probably be viable after the development of artificial superintelligence. The same goes for many other advanced technologies, which could be developed by using superintelligence for research and development. However, there could be a scenario in which molecular nanotechnology is developed before artificial intelligence takes off. In that case, the first applications would present risks that we would have to survive and if we succeed, we would have to survive the risks associated with superintelligence, once it is developed. Therefore, if we were to be able to influence the order of the development of both technologies, the ideal goal would be to obtain superintelligence before molecular nanotechnology.

Another way to prolong life would be through cryonics. More than 300 people have their bodies cryogenically frozen or their brains preserved in nitrogen. You registered for this service, what prompted you to do so?

Actually, in the interactions I have had with the media, I have never confirmed I did. My stance has always been that my funeral arrangements are a private matter. I know there have been speculations in a newspaper two years ago... It is also true that some of my colleagues are cryonics clients, and they have made it public, like Dr. Anders Sandberg, who is one of our researchers here.

With cultural diversity and different moral codes worldwide, how can we reach a global consensus on ethical limits in genetic research?

For the moment, humanity does not really have a single coordinated plan for the future. There are many different countries and groups, each one pursuing its own initiatives.

From what you say, foresight is essential.

If you think about the development of nuclear weapons 70 years ago, it turned out it was hard to make a nuclear bomb. You need highly enriched uranium or plutonium, which are very difficult to get as you would need industrial sized power plants in order to make them. In addition to that, a huge amount of electricity is needed, so much so that you could see it from space. It is a hard process. It is not just something you could do in your garage. However, let us suppose that they had discovered an easy way to unleash the energy of the atom; that might then have been the end of human civilization as it would have been impossible to control.

It is worrying to think.

Yes, it would be in these cases that perhaps humanity would have to take steps to have a greater capacity for global coordination in case such vulnerability arises or a new arms race emerges. The more powerful our technologies are, the greater the amount of damage we can cause if we use them in a hostile or reckless manner. At this point, I think this is a great weakness for humanity and we just hope that the technologies we discover do not lend themselves to easy, destructive applications.

Recent studies have shown that graphene can effectively interact with neurons. What do you think about the advances in the development of brain-machine interfaces (communication zones) that use graphene?

It is something exciting from the point of view of medicine and people with disabilities. For patients with spinal cord damage, it has several promising applications such as the neuro-prosthesis. However, I am slightly skeptical that it enhances the functionality of a healthy person sufficiently to make it worth the risks, pains and problems of a surgical intervention.

Do you think it is not worth it for a healthy person?

It is quite hard to add functionality to a healthy human mind that you could not get, in a similar way, by interacting with a computer outside of your body, simply typing things on a keyboard or receiving inputs through your eyeballs by looking at a screen. We already have high bandwidth input and output channels to the human brain, for instance, through our fingers or through speech. It is much more relevant to find a solution to how to access, organize and process the vast amount of information available with the limitations of the human brain. That is the bottleneck of the problem and it is where the focus of the development should lie.

In your book Superintelligence you comment that the artificial intelligence research project begins at Dartmouth College in 1956. Since then there have been periods of enthusiasm and regression. At present, it seems that the biggest advocate for the creation of a post-human AI is Ray Kurzweil, founder of Singularity University and financed by Google. Do you think they will achieve their objective this time?

I do not think Ray Kurzweil is the leader in research of AI. There is a big global research community with many important people making significant contributions and I do not think he plays a significant part in most of them.

Would such research be aimed at replicating the human brain including consciousness?

Artificial intelligence is mainly about finding ways to make machines solve difficult problems. Whether they do so by emulating, assimilating, or drawing inspiration from the human brain or not, is more of a tactical decision. If there are useful insights that can be extracted from neuroscience, they will be taken advantage of, but the main objective is not to try to replicate the human mind.

I thought a posthuman project already existed…

If you are referring to the Human Brain Project, then yes. It might be a little bit closer to trying to emulate various details and levels of the human condition. I have the impression that it initially began with a very ambitious vision and probably excessive expectations, with very detailed models of a cortical column. However, after several dissonant voices, it has become a funding channel for several neuroscience projects.

You mentioned that with superintelligence (on a human level) we can obtain great results but at the risk of human extinction.

I think superintelligence would be a kind of general-purpose technology, because it would make it possible to invent other technologies. If you are super intelligent, you can do scientific or engineering work much faster and more effectively than human scientists and engineers can. So imagine all the things that humans could achieve if we had 40,000 years to work on them; perhaps we would have space colonies, upgrades in our organism, cures for aging and perfect virtual realities. I think all of these technologies, and others we have not thought of yet, could be developed by machines of superintelligence and perhaps within a relatively short amount of time after its arrival. It gives us an idea of the vast amount of potential benefits.

What would be the “existential risks” we would face with artificial intelligence?

I see two types of threats. The first one arises from a failure to align objectives. You are creating something that would be very intelligent and powerful at the same time. If we are not capable of finding a way to control it, we could give rise to the existence of a super intelligent system that might prioritize attaining its own values to the detriment of ours. The other risk is that humans use this powerful technology in a malicious or irresponsible way, as we have done with many other technologies throughout our history. We use them not only to help each other or for productive purposes, but also to wage wars or to oppress each other. This would be the other big threat with such advanced technology.

Stephen Hawking called for “expansion to space” and Elon Musk’s company Space X expects to send people to Mars in the near future. What do you think are the reasons we will be forced to migrate to other planets? Could humans live on Mars?

At this moment in time, Mars is not a good place to live. A meaningful space colonization will happen after superintelligence. In the short term, it seems very unattractive; it will be easier to create a habitat at the bottom of the sea or on top of the Himalayas than to do it on the Moon or Mars. Until we have exhausted this type of places, it is difficult to see the practical benefit of doing so on Mars. However, in the long term, space is definitely a goal; Earth is a small crumb floating in an almost infinite expanse of resources.

 

 Nick Bostrom 92 

 Nick Bostrom 

 

 

- Interview with Nick Bostrom -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  IMG 9032 

Photograph: Waltraud Forelli

 

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.    

Anselm Kiefer is one of the most relevant artists of today.

 

I come back from the amphitheater extremely impressed. In fact, I am overwhelmed by everything. I will need a lot of time to assimilate it all. 

The amphitheater developed in the same way a painting does. I had a big wall where all the big paintings are, and I thought, why not have a little grotto inside. So, we made some containers, we put them together to form a niche, we continued one floor after another and it worked just like a drawing, step by step.

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue anfiteatro 

Amphitheatre. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were born in 1945 in the twilight of World War II.

I was born in the cellar of a hospital. That is where my mother gave birth to me and that same night our house was bombed.

Your toys were ruins and bricks, which you have gone on to use in your work, both as materials and as concepts. Are you still playing with those ruins?

Ruins are the most beautiful thing and because children do not judge, they just take them and play with them. They are for me not an end but a beginning. Sometimes, I knock down a tower by dismantling a piece just to watch how it falls. It is beautiful to see a tower, from which the keystone has been removed, reflecting if it wants to fall, how it hesitates; then everything goes very quick and with great noise to the ground. The feeling is comparable to that of starting an airplane. Full throttle is engaged. The airplane quivers with the power that wants to bring it forwards while the brakes still hold it in place, the machine, getting faster and faster, finally lifts itself into the sky. 

At a time when Germany was spiritually and materially devastated, what were the values you grew up with?

I had a very authoritarian education because my father was an officer. On one side there was the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church and on the other, that of my father who was also my teacher. But my father also showed me the painters that were ostracized during the Third Reich and, in the earliest years of my childhood, lead me to painting and drawing.

You said that  building Barjac  was something that rebelled in retrospective. First was the experience and then the concept...

If you mean whether my work follows a thought out concept then the answer is: of course. I always have a concept, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to start. However, during the work and over the course of days, weeks or years, the concept changes. The concept is necessary but not important.


What do you feel when you look at La Ribaute?

I feel it is unfinished. 

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue La Ribotte 

La Ribaute, Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What particular need led you to build something so unique in Barjac?

When I moved to France, my idea was to no longer have assistance from anybody. I didn’t want an office, I wanted to simplify my practice and to do everything on my own. I wanted to make very light paintings that I could roll and take anywhere. I wanted to work by myself, without any assistance. It was like a cultural revolution. Leave everything behind you, stop painting and start over again!

Here architecture, paintings, sculptures, and even music concerts come together. Are you trying to recreate Wagner’s concept of Total Work of Art?

I do not use the word “gesamtkunstwerk”. It has an uncomfortable connotation. I would rather speak of a work in progress. The most important is not the result but the ephemeral, the ever flowing, that which does not come to an end.

In 2011, you designed the scenography for the opera Elektra at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Do you intent to collaborate on another opera?

Yes, when the right piece, and a director with whom I share an aesthetic, come together. Klaus Michael Grüber, with whom I collaborated on Oedipus at Colonus at the Burgtheater in Vienna and Elektra in Naples, was for me a great match. He, unfortunately, passed away during pre-production.

You have said that in your childhood boredom helped you become a philosopher. Do you think that a state of boredom could be really creative?

Boredom is the beginning of philosophy. If you are active, you do not reflect. Heidegger has a lecture series on boredom. He says when you are invited to an event and it is a little bit boring, you become aware of the fact you are. It becomes clear what it is to be.

Which philosophers do you identify with?

Roland Barthes, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Martin Heidegger, Leibniz, Carl Schmitt, Gustav Radbruch, Feuerbach…

What is it that normally forces you to think and create?

I do not paint because the canvas is empty or because I have nothing else to do. I start painting when I have a shock. When I am overwhelmed by something that moves me, something that is greater than me. It can be a real experience with a person, a landscape, a music piece or with a poem. Critics say that I aim to overwhelm but in reality, I am the one who is constantly overwhelmed. That is what happens when I start to work. If you are not feeling overwhelmed, why are you alive? We are here to be overwhelmed otherwise, there is no reason to be.

Where does your inspiration come from?
If you ask writers, they will tell you that all the material they have comes from their childhood. The same is true for me.

You said that you have always been drawn to the impossible. How many times have you tried to achieve the impossible?

You cannot achieve the impossible. You can only dream of it and try it. The word achievement is difficult because it is always a process. I could never say something is an achievement; it is only in our heads.

Your work is full of mythological references from Germany, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and Kábbalah, among others. Have you found an element of unity between them?

Yes, all mythology is connected. For example, the Norse legend of Wayland the Smith, who was captured by the king and could not escape. That same legend exists in Egypt and Northern Germany. You can find connections in all of mythology.

You have been labeled as one of the biggest representatives of neo-expressionism. What does this artistic style provide that others do not?

I am fundamentally against style.

 Anselm Kiefer La Ribotte Foto Elena Cue  

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What motivated you to include figurative objects such as submarines, sunflowers, tulips, etc, in your work? Why did you begin to combine painting and sculpture?

It is a question of reality. When I introduce an object, I do not create any additional illusion. What I make is what it is. Sometimes I want to be direct. Objects have their own spirituality.

Why did you choose painting instead of writing?

I cannot say that it was a conscious decision. It came to me this way. Throughout my career I have always had moments when I thought about writing a book. I have a lot of book concepts in my diary but I cannot say I have decided on one.

Then, is it a balance between writing and painting?

Yes, but it is not writing, it is rather experimenting with oneself. I do not write fiction or poetry. Poetry is something different; you arrange the words in a certain combination that has never been seen before.

What about painting?

It is recreation as well.

Do you reflect yourself better through painting than through writing?

Writing helps us analyze what we have done. Besides, it is a form of self-assessment.

Do you ask yourself if you are satisfied?

All the time.

How do you feel when you read your own work?

My writings are for me a way to remember. The new arises from memory.


And when you look at your paintings in retrospect?

Exactly like Paul Valery, sometimes I think they are marvelous, at other times they make me feel desperate. 

 La Ribotte. Barjac Anselm Kiefer Foto Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

You have said that art is closest to the truth. Could you explain this concept?

Art is even closer to the truth. It is truth.

Do you think that through art you are able to express who you really are?

I am not important. I am sometimes me and then many others.

The Holocaust is very significant in your work. It is depicted through a wide range of symbolism. What is your objective with the representation of the darkest moment in your country’s history?

When I was growing up, the Holocaust did not exist. No one spoke about it in the 60s. I felt that there was something hidden. By accident, I got a disc with the voices of Hitler, Goebbels and Goering. It was made by Americans in order to educate Germans. I was so fascinated by Hitler that I began to study. I wanted to know what it was all about.

Was it necessity or curiosity that prompted you to investigate it further?

It was curiosity. When you begin to study what happened during those times it is so horrible that it is hard to imagine. Only in 1975 in Germany did they finally start showing exactly what had happened during the Holocaust. Ever since then the Germans have been quite good at revealing it. The French are still hiding a lot of it. At the time, Austrians wanted no relation with anything German. An Austrian journalist complained to me that I put Austrians and Germans in the same category. Back then Hitler was surprised as he thought he would have to fight Austria in order get an unification. It turned out they all wanted it already. They were even more efficient and accurate with their Jewish lists than the Germans. The French forcefully sent about 100,000 people to work in the German weapon industry. I never believed that there was a point zero. Democracy was first brought by the Americans.

During the keynote address of your lecture series at the Collège de France, you said that you learned most about art through reading The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet. Could you explain why?

I was so overwhelmed by his writing. He literally turned everything upside down. He would take the most honorable thing you could do and stick it deep in the swamp, whilst the most horrible thing, for example, to kill someone, he considered a piece of art. He turned everything upside down and this was fantastic to me.

You said: “The alchemy of transforming the abject into art is the true magic”. Why are you so attracted to alchemy?

Alchemy is the first step to science, chemistry and physics. It is the teaching of transmutation. It is also a spiritual movement. People always say that alchemists try to turn lead into gold but the real alchemists do not want to do that. It is a picture to transform yourself on another level. Alchemists are the first natural scientists.

 Anselm Kiefer la Ribotte Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were photographed dressed as a woman for the work Jean Genet. You depicted women in  Les Femmes de la Révolution, Les Reines de France, Les Femmes de L'Antiquitié, en Margarethe y Shulamith. What do women represent in your work?

I am always overwhelmed by women and I think they are more connected with the roots of earth. They are more powerful than men.

You say that art should be subversive and disturbing. What do you think about the relationship between art and society?

I am going to refer to Jean Genet again. He is subversive because he preaches that stealing and killing are the best things; that you have to become a traitor. Art can never be moralistic. Art cannot be a judgement of society because morals are connected to the times. Let us go back to the times of Greek democracy. In those days you could have slaves. Even Aristotle said that in order to be a good philosopher you have to be rich and have slaves. It is all connected with certain times. Artists should not be connected with a specific moral behavior.

You have spoken extensively about the artist being a destroyer and a creator. It is key in your work. Could you elaborate on this concept?

The artist is an iconoclast, he or she destroys all the time. There is art and anti-art. If the artist is not an iconoclast then he is not really an artist. You can see it through the history of art. I destroy what I do all the time. Then I put the destroyed parts in containers and wait for the resurrection. 

The idea of infinity is implicit in your work and provokes a sense of the sublime. Do you intend to do so?

Eichendorff in his poem, sends his soul out in the world and then it comes back to him. It is a never-ending circle. I follow the philosophical system which includes emotion, will and reflection. Eichendorff describes a globe as a sphere; a kind of a sphere that gives immunity. Before you are born, you share a sphere with your mother, you are connected in the womb. This is the first sphere. Then the sphere gets wider as you meet more and more people. The romantic sphere is endless. It goes to the infinite and comes back.

 Anselm Kiefer. Elena Cue las mujeres de la revolucionjpg 

The Women Of The Revolution. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

The landscape with your figure in the middle of the Les Femmes de la Révolution room reminds me of Friedrich's landscape and the concept of the sublime. Do you look for the sublime?

It is not really my world. Who invented the word sublime?

The first to use that term was a Greek from the Hellenistic era, but it became popular at the beginning of our time, and among others Kant who wrote a book about the beauty and the sublime.

There is a wonderful quote by Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Are there things that have come to the surface through your work that you would have preferred to keep hidden?

No. There is so much that is hidden. You can reveal as much as you want and still never get to the center.

What is your opinion of the first Documenta and Nazi Degenerate art.

I looked through all the Nazi paintings and architecture and did not find a decent painting. I studied them all. I thought that there might be something hidden but they were all nonsense. However, architecture was different. It was not Nazi architecture per se, it was the architecture of the time because it was connected to tradition. You can see the same type of architecture in Paris and Rome. People wrongfully view that type of architecture as Nazi. For example, they say architecture should not overwhelm people. But why not? We are overwhelmed all the time, look at the stars, for instance. An architect must show this. I like Karl Marx Allee in Berlin.

 

 Anselm Kiefer elena cue LIBRERIA 

Library. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What is your relationship to books? What significance do books have in your life and work?

Books I have made represent sixty percent of my work. I still have most of my earlier books as they were never really for sale.

And in relation to painting?

A painting is different from a book because you can stand in front of it and see an impression of something. When reading a book, you turn the pages; it is connected to time. I like to write books because I can show the process. When I do a painting, I always have a war in my head. At each stage of the painting I have a hundred different possibilities to choose from. For instance, when Picasso was stuck during the creative process he used to tell his wife, Francoise Gilot, to copy his painting so he can come up with a different outcome. When you are painting you always have to make decisions. As you make a choice to go a certain way, you give up a hundred other possibilities.

 

 

 Elena Cue entrevista a Anselm Kiefer 

 Anselm Kiefer with Elena Cué. Photo: Waltraud Forelli

 

                                                                                                                                                          (Introduction translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 

- Interview with Anselm Kiefer -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

Coliseum director Dr Rosella Rea accompanies ABC Cultural on an exceptional visit through some of the recently restored, but as yet unopen to the public, areas of this prodigious monument . Back in Madrid, we consult with Pritzker prize-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. “You need to close your eyes to imagine this gallery ... Archaeologists have found coloured, stuccoed areas and many frescoes. We know now that the interior of the Coliseum was red. Only the exterior was light, the colour of limestone travertine. Ancient architecture was always painted in bright colours and to forget this is to veer from reality", says Dr Rea, as we walk through a gallery whose restoration began in 2012 - thanks to a €25 million funding grant from luxury brand Tod's – and, although now completed, is still absolutely out of bounds to the public.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 Coliseo 1 

 

The Colosseum's Archaeological  director Dr Rosella Rea accompanies ABC Cultural on an exceptional visit through some of the recently restored, but as yet unopen to the public, areas of this prodigious monument. Back in Madrid, we consult with the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.


“You need to close your eyes to imagine this gallery ... Archaeologists have found coloured, stuccoed areas and many, many frescoes. We know now that the interior of the Colosseum was red. Only the exterior was light, the colour of limestone travertine. Ancient architecture was always painted in bright colours and to forget this is to ignore reality", says Dr Rea, as we walk through a gallery whose restoration began in 2012 - thanks to a €25 million funding grant from luxury brand Tod's – and, although now completed, is still absolutely out of bounds to the public. "We are in the highest reaches of the building, in an intermediate gallery that connects the third tier with the fourth and fifth. It was meant for the commoner. It is the only covered gallery preserved in its original state, with its frescoes, graffiti and ancient inscriptions."

 

 coliseo 2 

 Intermediate gallery connecting the third tier with the fourth and fifth. Colosseum (Rome). Photo: Marina Valcárcel


In this low-ceilinged, curved, narrow gallery the crowds would throng between lit torches or small windows of daylight, with shouting and screaming and the smell of food, dirt and latrines injecting the pure adrenaline of blood and death into the 100-day spectacle of festivals inaugurated by the Emperor Titus in 82 A.D. in his new Colosseum of Rome.


Robert Hughes insists we abandon the virtual images of TV series and video games portraying an "all-white Rome": white marble, white columns, men dressed in white togas looking very grave. "The real Rome was actually the Calcutta of the Mediterranean: crowded, chaotic and filthy," he writes in his book “Rome”.

 

 

  Coliseo 3 

View from the fourth tier. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

From this vantage point you have, by virtue of its height, the most impressive view of the Colosseum. We have a bird’s eye view of the huge skeleton of this stone beast with its open channels, its ribs of subterranean passageways, its arches jutting into the sky, the dark empty eyes of its vomitoriums, the rough skin of its concrete and its dark travertine covered in black scars, a wasp’s nest of square-shaped holes where metal clamps used to hold the stone blocks together before they were ultimately torn out and melted down.


From up here the Colosseum comes back to life in all its old colour, power and glory as it returns to the 1st century and 50,000 spectators enter the stands. Eighty arched entrances topped with 150 bronze statues and 40 golden shields at the attic level commemorate military conquests; senators and magistrates sit nearest to the arena, the commoner man on wooden benches in the top tier and the women and slaves in the "gods"; the roar of the amphitheatre becomes deafening, the grandstand is festooned again with marble and garlands of flowers. Above the windows of the highest level, the decorated beams hold the velarium that unfolds, manoeuvred by a special unit of sailors from the Miseno fleet to cover the amphitheatre with tarpaulin sails that protect spectators from the sun and shower them with water, steam, perfume and rose petals. The emperor, his family, the Vestal Virgins and the Roman priestesses sit on the podium while, through the Porta Triumphalis, the entourage of gladiators, musicians and hunters makes its entrance; opposite, through the Porta Libitinaria, their mutilated bodies will exit the arena ...


The words of the Dr Rea make perfect sense: "What impresses the visitor is not so much the visit itself as the fact of being here and living this experience."

 

 

 Coliseo 

View from the fifth tier and the buttress. Photo: Marina Valcárcel


So how are we to understand the secret to this feat of architectural engineering? The Flavio Amphitheatre, completed in the year 80 AD, reaches a total height of 52 metres; the major axis measures 188 metres and the smallest 156 metres. The total area covered by sand is 3,357 square meters. The Romans used slave labour, without which many of Antiquity's megalithic constructions, from the Egyptians to the Assyrian empire and Rome itself, would not have been viable. But how was it possible to build a monument capable of accommodating 73,000 people in eight years and without mechanical compactors, rotary mixers or any of today's motorized tools? Who invented the system of ramps and passageways that allowed the ingress and egress of the public in just 15 minutes? This system of mathematical accuracy is one that endures today in most of the football stadiums of the world and, of course, in all the bullrings that dot the geography of Spain in small amphitheatres. The Romans took so much from Greek art that they are sometimes considered mere continuators. As regards art, however, as important as the one who creates it is the one who passes it on. The Romans did indeed absorb Greek architecture and sculpture but they also endowed it with the gift of utility, multiplying it in terms of engineering and technical capabilities and, above all, political capacity. Roman art is understood better than ever from this high point of the Colosseum and it is an indescribable propaganda machine of imperial power. And the machinery’s cogs were activated by two generating factors - innovation in architectural materials and the very nature of the shows themselves.


Unrepeatable arquitecture


"The Colosseum, the Pantheon and even some Gothic cathedrals are examples of our architectural past that no modern architect would dare to build today. In the same way it would be difficult to reproduce the tempering of some Renaissance swords today, even though modern steel has great properties," Rafael Moneo points out in our conversation about the Colosseum back in his Madrid studio. "Roman architecture, and the Colosseum in particular, has that complete strength of definition that at times demands an architecture with a resounding constitution and huge dimensions. In this respect, the Colosseum, unlike the Pantheon, simultaneously resolves something very beautifully: the problem of form and use. It is an architecture that comes from Greek theatre; Greek theatres not Greek temples, because it’s understood that the problems of form are linked almost directly to the use that things are put to. In the case of the Colosseum it goes further still, with that slightly oval-shaped level, those specific measurements and that double focus of the ellipse set against the stricter, tougher condition of the circle", adds Moneo.

 

  IMG 0453 

Interior view of the Colosseum, access gallery to the stands. Photo: Marina Valcárcel


Roman architecture was first and foremost practical. It fulfilled its propaganda function - to spread mini Romes throughout the empire - with military rigour. They would all have their forum, their basilica, their aqueduct, their amphitheatre... "The history of civilization is not understood without Rome, without the empire and without the Church. All of that has become architecture. Culture is deposited in architecture and that is the lesson of that city," concludes Moneo.


To this end, Rome relied on two revolutionary discoveries: concrete and the spread of brick. Greek architecture was based on the straight line: pillars and straight lintels. The genius of Roman architecture was that it built curved structures. This could not be done, at least not on any magnitude, in carved stone. A plastic, malleable substance was needed, and the Romans found it in concrete. With it they erected aqueducts, arches, domes and roads. It was the material of power and discipline. It was strong and inexpensive, allowing very large structures to be built. And size had a special appeal to the Romans when it came to building their empire. But also, with the production of bricks, the Romans came to generate a material at an almost pre-industrial level. Each colony of the empire had its brick factory, each with its own local peculiarity. "It was like amphorae in that each city had its own typology: those of Bética were big-bellied and narrow-mouthed, and so the oil that arrived from Andalusia was distinguishable from the rest that arrived at the port of Ostia from elsewhere in the empire", explains Dr. Rea.

 

No known author


It is not known who the architect of the Colosseum was. We can only imagine him through Alma Tadema's painting in which he is depicted as a mature, thoughtful man stroking his chin with his left hand while drawing a rough sketch of a very large building in the sand with his right. It is as if the Dutch painter had wanted to honour Architecture through the drawing that this imagined artist presented to Vespasian and which would seem to hold all later architecture within it: from St. Petersburg to the Capitol in Washington; from one  magnificence to another.


"The overlapping of classical styles on the facade of the Colosseum became an inspiration for the constructive art of the Renaissance. All later palaces have their origins here," concludes Dr. Rea.

 

 Coliseo 4 
"The architect of the Coliseum", Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

 

Subterranean Hell


Barbara Nazzaro, the Colosseum's Technical Director, now joins Dr. Rea and both suggest we end this visit with a "descent into hell". The basements, about six meters down, are a humid-smelling web of blackened stone tunnels with water underfoot and here we recall the dark legend of the Emperor Nero whose spectre seems to inhabit these dungeons. Nero had the artificial pool of his Domus Aurea built here in the Colosseum's valley. His suicide in 68 AD and posthumous damnatio memoriae - a kind of historical anti-memory law - only served to bury the imperial residence but the emperor ended up giving his name to the beast. Colosseum does not mean 'gigantic building' but 'place of a statue', in this case of him, 35 metres high and cast in bronze that presided over the esplanade of that folly of extravagance that was Nero's residence.                                

 

 Coliseo 5 
Artist's impression of the bronze statue of Nero for the esplanade of the Domus Aurea


The basement was the secret machinery powering the spectacles taking place above in homage to the glory of the emperor: full-scale re-enactments and performances with lavish scenery, artificial forests and special effects. They housed everything from the dock where the ships anchored for mock seafights to the hunting extravaganzas. Exotic animals dazzled the crowds awed by the greatness of their empire: lions, panthers, leopards, tigers and elephants brought from Africa; wild boars, bears and deer from Germany. From  the tunnels crammed with cages and by means of freight elevators, the beasts ascended to the arena in a matter of minutes. Down in this labyrinth, the stench of animals mixed with the smell of slaves and smoke from the torches. Metal supports and beams that reinforced the service lifts were operated by a system of winches operated by slaves. At first there were 28 elevators. "We are talking here about it taking more than 200 people to get them up and running," says Dr Rea. Later, 32 more lifts were built. Trapdoors would be raised for the animals to enter the arena. About one million wild animals were killed in the Colosseum during the time it served as a place of entertainment for the masses, according to Dion Casio. The different plants that grow today between the stones of the Colosseum ruins constitute a legacy from these animals. They were the ones who brought the seeds from distant lands, populating the Colosseum with plant species left in peace to bloom throughout the building. 

                    

 

 Coliseo 6 

Replica of one of the lifts from the basements of the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

 Coliseo 7 

Dock in the interior of the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

From the first centuries after Antiquity and during the Middle Ages, the amphitheatre belonged somewhat to whoever appropriated it: monks from nearby country and vineyard monasteries settled there, as did aristocratic families - like the Frangipani - who fortified it, ordinary people who made it their refuge, their business, their home in which they ate, slept and cooked. The Colosseum is  unlike any other known building typology: it is not a temple, nor a palace, nor a church. As the centuries passed, this indeterminacy took on myriad contours: it would serve as a quarry for the construction of other churches - the travertine of its facade would become the stairs of St. Peter's in Vatican City, it would be filled with aedicules for the Via Crucis and it would be incorporated into the architectural projects of Bernini and Fontana who dreamed of building churches out of its sand and bringing its stories of martyrdom back to life.

“Quamdiu stat Colysaeus stat et Roma, quando cadet Colysaeum cadet et Roma, quando cadet et Roma cadet et mundus” ("As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world."). This epigram, attributed to the Venerable Bede (672-735), would now seem to have been a prophecy endowing the monument with a fundamental responsibility and centering it as a testimony to the survival of history, as the mirror of Rome and, in turn, the mirror of the world.

 

 Coliseo 8 

Entrance gate to the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

 (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- The Colosseum, the engine of Roman power -                      - Alejandra de Argos -

Life is art and art is life ..... or are they just two sides of the same coin?  It is figures such as Salvador Dali who bring much-needed light to this shady, eternal question. The Catalonian artist from Cadaqués, one of the most globally important in art history, made himself and his life a joint work of art that has endured over time, complementing his magnificent visual oeuvre and revealing one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. “The uniform is essential in order to conquer. In my entire life, rare have been the occasions when I've demeaned myself by wearing civilian clothing. I'm always dressed in my Dali uniform”. The artist reflected on these comments in his book Diary of a Genius, where his patent self-love jumps out from the page ~ an egocentric attraction that made him many enemies.

Dali: art, egocentricity and provocation

 

Salvador Dali Reina Sofia Madrid 1458764115 299849 1300x731

Portrait of Dali with signature. Poster for the exhibition "Dali" organised by the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid in 2013 c/o Telemadrid.es

 

Life is art and art is life ..... or are they just two sides of the same coin?  It is figures such as Salvador Dali who bring much-needed light to this shady, eternal question. The Catalonian artist from Cadaqués, one of the most globally important in art history, made himself and his life a joint work of art that has endured over time, complementing his magnificent visual oeuvre and revealing one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. “The uniform is essential in order to conquer. In my entire life, rare have been the occasions when I've demeaned myself by wearing civilian clothing. I'm always dressed in my Dali uniform”. The artist reflected on these comments in his book Diary of a Genius, where his patent self-love jumps out from the page ~ an egocentric attraction that made him many enemies. 

 

Salvador Dali jesucristo noticias totenart 768x1024

Christ of St John of the Cross (1951). Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow c/o Totenart.com

 

Controversy, mystery and genius were Dali's constant companions. As an artist, he left an immortal legacy; as a person, he gifted society his unforgettable persona; and as a writer, he produced an extraordinary, intimate and recently-revindicated  body of work. Today, people queue around the block at exhibitions all over the world and any news concerning his life provokes huge interest. Dali collaborated with and/or had links with greats such as Garcia Lorca, Picasso, Buñuel and Hitchock, creating images and works that remain in our collective subconscious to this day. Accompanied and awed by the powerful character of Gala, his muse and wife til the day of her death, Dali forged his own particular, spectacular imagery that has passed the test of time and become an integral part of contemporary culture, generation after generation. 

 

 

figura en una finestra

“Figure at a Window” (1925). Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid c/o Museoreinasofia.es

 

Early years: mediocre student and budding artist 

Salvador Dali was born at the turn of the century in Figueres (Girona) on 11 May 1904 to parents Salvador Dalí Cusí and Felipa Domenech. His education began in 1908 in the local state school but his father enrolled him at the Hispanic-French Immaculate Conception College four years later. Dali turned out to be a mediocre student but, after coming into contact with Impressionism through the works of Ramon Pichot, his life takes a different turn. In conjunction with attending school, in 1916 he also begins drawing classes with the painter Juan Núñez.

In 1919 and at the remarkably young age of fifteen, Dali takes part in his first exhibition at Figueres Town Theatre. Unbeknownst to him, this was a moment that would eventually come full circle and  culminate in the transformation of the building into the Dali Theatre-Museum, inaugurated in 1974. He also takes his first steps as a writer, something he was absolutely passionate about and that he often gave more relevance to than his plastic art.  

 

 

 el gran masturbador

“The Great Masturbator” (1929). Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid c/o Museoreinasofia.es

 

From Figueres to Madrid: the Academy years

The father figure remained omnipresent in Dali's work throughout his whole life and it was his father who allowed him to train as an artist, on condition he studied at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving at Madrid's Royal Academy of Fine Art. Dali willingly accepted. His mother's early death in 1921 saw her presence relegated to the background as his father remained the most important influence on his life. Their relationship was always plagued with confrontations, disagreements and subjugation but was also marked by Dali's profound admiration for his father.  

 

During his training in the Spanish capital, Dali moved in the same circles as intellectuals, filmmakers and writers of the standing of Buñuel and Garcia Lorca, among others. In 1923, he was expelled form the Academy and returned to his birthplace, where he studied engraving techniques. In under a year, the budding artist had returned to Madrid and participated in his first exhibitions there. During this time, he renounced the avant-garde and pursued traditional Spanish and Italian painting. In 1926, he was expelled definitively from the Academy, returned to Figueres and devoted himself entirely to painting.  

 

  

Film ~ “Un chien andalou” (1929)

 

Lorca and Gala: two people, two influences

The relationship between Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca has generated countless articles, speculation and controversy in equal measures. After the first few years of friendship, Dali begins to distance himself from Lorca for fear of being associated with the poet's political stance and his widely-known homosexuality. In 1929, Dali travels to Paris and comes into contact with Surrealist artists, which was to be a pivotal moment in his career. He immerses himself completely in a movement that alligns perfectly with his runaway imagination, his egocentricity and his impeccable pictorial technique. A year earlier, his film collaboration with Luis Buñuel, "Un chien andalou" was released in Paris, cinema being one of his passions and an art form to which he would return repeatedly in subsequent years, collaborating with revered names such as Alfred Hitchcock.

The summer that same year saw a decisive incident in the artist's life. He meets Gala, married at the time to Paul Eluard, when they stayed with him in Cadaqués. Gala leaves Eluard for Dali who would continue to show his deep devotion towards her for the rest of his life.

 

“I am surrealism”: the embodiment of a movement

 la persistencia de la memoria dali32

 The Persistence of Memory (1931). Museum of Modern Art, New York c/o Artesubastas.es

Dali's commitment to surrealist philosophies and manifestations brought him success from the outset and he quickly became one of the leading exponents of the movement on the world stage, going so far as to proclaim that "I am surrealism". This was not, however, that far removed from reality: Dali had begun to transform his character, his surroundings and his physical presentation into a multi-layered, ever-changing work of art that would continue right up until his death. He even came up with his very own surrealist technique that he dubbed "the Paranoiac-Critical Method" and defined as "a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena."

Over the following years, both Dali's personality and his art would become influenced by two great figures: Pablo Picasso, who he met around 1935, and Sigmund Freud, who he interviewed in 1938 thanks to writer Stephan Zweig's intervention.

 

Boom and bust: the years of decline

TentaciónSan Antonio Dalí 

“The Temptation of St Anthony” (1946). Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels c/o Arteac.es

 

In the 1940's, Dali's work was beginning to enjoy worldwide recognition. This success distanced him from his old, compromised friendships but won him the favour of General Franco's dictatorship which welcomed him with open arms. His paintings and sculptures then began to show signs of repetition, as Dali renounced innovation in favour of what he knew full well worked for him and the public. His cult-of-self became another of his obsessions and, during the Swinging Sixties, he concentrated on creating his own museum in Figueres, convinced of its historical relevance. Also, from 1965 onwards, Dali began compulsively signing sheets of blank paper for future lithographs and his work became more confusing and disjointed. It was in 1975 that the artist's decline, in health and old age as well as his art, left no room for doubt, a fall culminating in Gala's 1982 death and Dali's seclusion first in Pubol Castle and later in the Galatea Tower.     

 

 

 Teatro Museo Dalí Figueras. Abraham Lincoln

Interior of the Dali Theatre-Museum (Figueras), with the painting "Abraham Lincoln" c/o Wikipedia

 

Since the 1980's, any Dali exhibition, anywhere in the world, in the greatest contemporary art museums and galleries (such as the Pompidou Centre, Paris or the Tate Britain, London) have attracted huge crowds of visitors. The artist himself, however, was no longer interested in art and, ultimately, succumbed to the worst of his fears, death, and passed away in 1989.

 

Exhibitions

Exhibitions of Salvador Dali's work are events that spark international interest and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. Since his first solo exhibition in 1929 until the present, the world's most important museums continue organising retrospectives showcasing the most intriguing facets of his life and work.   

 

Salvador Dali (2012-13)

 

 

November 21st 2012 saw the inauguration of a Dali anthology exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris which sold over 760,000 tickets, making it the second most successful ever recorded in the museum's history, after the previous Dali retrospective of 1979 which had attracted 850,000 visitors.

 

Dali (All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities) (2013)

 

 

In 2013, Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum opened what was considered one of the Spanish capital's most important exhibitions of the year: Dali (All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities). The retrospective comprised over 200 works and was one of the most extensive ever dedicated to the artist. In the words of Manuel Borja-Villel: “as opposed to the anecdotal character, we wanted to return to the essential Dali, the artist who is a fundamental figure in 20th century art."

 

Media: Dali (2015-16)

 

 

In 2015, the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation managed to bring the Catalan artist's work to China in the form of a grand retrospective comprising over 200 multi-media pieces relating to Dali's life and work and including twelve paintings. It was to be the most important Spanish cultural event of the year in a country where surrealism was still largely unfamiliar to its curious audience.

 

Dali (2016-17)

 

 

China was not alone in the sights of the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation. The 2016 Tokyo exhibition "Dali" gathered together pieces, many of them rarely seen before, from the world's three most important collections (The Dali Foundation in Figueras, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida) along with other works lent by Japanese institutions. 

  

Books

 

“The secret life of Salvador Dali”. Salvador Dali, 1942

Dali combined two of his passions in several of his books: writing and the cult of his own personality. This "false" autobiography centres on certain moments in his childhood and adolescence with much irony but not much respect for the truth. Dali recounts the journey from his early years as a student and teenager up to his fame as a world-renowned artist, imbibing each and every page with his inimitable personality. 

 

 “Les diners de Gala”. Salvador Dali, 1973

First published in the 1970's, “Les  diners de Gala” is an absolute gem that Taschen Books decided to re-edit in 2016. Its pages contain a total of 136 surrealist recipes illustrated with photographs, drawings and collages by Dali. The recipes reflect the artist's powerfully vivid imagination, peppered with erotic references and with excess as their main ingredient. Dali's passion for food is evident here, reflected in the paraphernalia of the exotic dinner-performances organised by Salvador and by Gala.


 

 “The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali”. Ian Gibson, 1998

Without a shadow of a doubt, Ian Gibson's biography of the persona and life of Dali is the most in-depth and exhaustive of those published to date. The Irish author's research brings to light a huge amount of hitherto undiscovered details as he constructs a complex narrative fabric that reveals vast areas of the complicated personality of the Catalan genius. Featured in its pages are the likes of Garcia Lorca, Freud, Picasso, his wife Gala and many other characters close to Dali, thus creating a fascinating, once in a lifetime mise-en-scène.

 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

- Salvador Dali: Biography, Works and Exhibitions -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

This could be the beginning of a novel: Poseidonia, 5th century BC, and tragedy befalls a family from the local aristocracy. The lifeless body of their only child, a son initiated into Orphic rites, is returned to them from the Wars of Sybaris. The mother covers her son's eyes with Poseidonia's first roses in flower, their praises sung by Virgil for their perfume and twice-yearly blooms. The mother then lays her musician son's lyre, its soundbox a turtle shell, on his breast. As dawn breaks, the father leaves the city walls to commission the most opulent of burials for his son. He seeks out the most gifted painters, those able to create the most moving scenes ..... This article pertains to the story of a burial: an element as intrinsic to the human condition as our own mortality.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

  Tumba nadador 

 

2018 marked the fiftieth anniversary since the discovery of the enigmatic Tomb of the Diver. Now on display at the Museum of Paestum in Campania, its 37-year-old archaeologist director Gabriel Zuchtriegel - yet another German director of an Italian museum - curates the Autumn exhibitions celebrating this ephemeris.

 

*******

 

This could be the beginning of a novel: Poseidonia, 5th century BC, and tragedy befalls a family from the local aristocracy. The lifeless body of their only child, a son initiated into Orphic rites, is returned to them from the Wars of Sybaris. The mother covers her son's eyes with Poseidonia's first roses in flower, their praises sung by Virgil for their perfume and twice-yearly blooms. The mother then lays her musician son's lyre, its soundbox a turtle shell, on his breast. As dawn breaks, the father leaves the city walls to commission the most opulent of burials for his son. He seeks out the most gifted painters, those able to create the most moving scenes ..... This article pertains to the story of a burial: an element as intrinsic to the human condition as our own mortality.

A tomb was - then and possibly still now - a sacred place where, as believed among initiates in the Orphic mysteries, the transmutation of death into resurrection, the moment when the soul was liberated from the body, took place. And for that to occur, a perfect setting was required. This is why Egyptian tombs concentrated all their magnificence and all their condensed artistry on the inside. This is why perfection was sealed up and hidden away. And this was because there was a mystery contained within them.   

 

In Ancient Greece, as a partaker in the mystery religions rather than in terms of its Olympian beliefs, the tomb also became a sacred place. They were a kind of magnificent time capsule, decorated almost to perfection, a little chamber that led to another state of being.  

 

On 13th June 1968, the Italian archaeologist Mario Napoli is carrying out excavations at a small necropolis about a mile south of the city of Paestum - the Ancient Greek city of Poseidonia - on the Gulf of Salerno in Southern Italy. As evening falls, he starts work on a fourth tomb that, when finally dug free from the earth, looks surprisingly intact. With the sun setting, the box is opened and, after 2,500 years of darkness, light floods the interior of the tomb once more, bringing some astounding paintings back to life.

 

 

Nadador

 

Slabs from The Tomb of the Diver, in their original positions

 

The four sides and cover of the sepulchre consist of five slabs of local limestone, while the base is dug into the ground. The slabs are neatly bonded together and form a chamber about the size of an adult male. All of the slabs are painted using the 'true fresco' technique but the fact that the one forming the ceiling is also painted is somewhat unusual. Mario Napoli sees for the first time the scene that will ultimately give the tomb its name: a young man diving towards the curling waves in the waters below. The Tomb of the Diver has just been discovered, the only extant example of Greek painting with figurative scenes from the Orientalizing, Archaic or Classical periods to survive wholly intact. Among the thousands of Greek tombs known of at this time (700 - 400 BC), this is the only one decorated with frescoes depicting humans. It is, in this sense, a revolutionary one. The great paintings of Zeuxis, Apelles and Parrhasius have only come to us through narrative tradition and historians but we have never seen them. They exist only in fragmentary form and, of course, in the richness of the amphorae.  

 

Inside the grave and near the body - probably that of a young man - are two objects: the shell of a turtle, once the soundboard of a lyre whose wooden casing had long since rotted away and an Attic lekythos vase in black-figure technique, as used around 480 BC, which helped to date the year of the tomb to around 470 BC. The lateral frescos surrounding the body depict symposium scenes of a traditional Ancient Greek banquet: bare-chested young men wearing laurel garlands reclining on sofas, partying, dancing, drinking wine, playing lyres and games and being in love.

 

 

La tumba del nadador

The Tomb of the Diver. North Wall (banquet scene detail)

 

However, it is the ceiling slab, the one facing the gaze of the dead man, that has been the still-unresolved focus of much contentious interpretation. It is this segment that encapsulates the mystery and the rivers of ink written in archaeological research: a scene bordered by a black ribbon with palmettes in each of its four corners. In the centre, a naked man suspended in the air, diving into the river below. On the right are three stone pillars, presumably his diving board, and on either side are the bare outlines of two trees. And then, nothing. Just the white background, nothing else.   

 

 

Tumba nadador

The Tomb of the Diver. Ceiling slab. 

 

In Ancient Greece, neither swimming nor diving were activities the elite indulged in. The swimmer depicted in this tomb, isolated against the sky, symbolizes - the jury is still out on all the hypotheses - the intensity of the moment of death. This man and his leap are the visual metaphor for the transition to eternity from earthly life.

At that time, Greece was living the tradition of its Olympian beliefs, with its bored, mountain-dwelling gods, impervious to earthly needs toying with, for pure entertainment, and torturing mere mortals. For them, the vision of life after death was extremely pessimistic. Without exception, without differentiation, without judgement on the righteousness of their previous life, the souls of all mortals were condemned to Hades, a dismal place where they eked out a miserable existence envying the living.  

 

However, around the time The Tomb of the Diver  was constructed, for those living in Magna Graecian cities, new ideas from other Eastern belief systems would come and go in their everyday lives as if by capillary action: the mystic or Orphic cults, for instance, whose occult rites were based on the hope for some kind of life after death. As Pythagoreanism and Orphism spread, only those who had been initiated through a series of secret rituals could aspire to these other-worldly hopes.

 

And it is precisely this aspect that makes our tomb so special: the metaphysical message it communicates through visual language. Because it is the case of The Tomb of the Diver that the paintings seem to be portraying the central ritual of initiatic, religious practices entailing a banquet in which, through orgiastic stimuli, a state of exaltation and mystical fervour is invoked in the participants. This state recalls the passion of the God Dionysus and his presence inside an animal that was ripped to shreds, its flesh and blood  consumed by Titans in a ceremonial banquet. The intense fervency attained enabled participants to feel the force of the soul within the body and this anticipated the experiencing of its liberation from the body which could only happen after death, once the soul had finally departed the body.

 

Incidentally, this idea of life after death was being propagated in Greece a full five centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, Judea. We have here an early precedent for Christianity that would seem to be its replica projected backwards. 

 

It is believed that our young man, who died long before his time, would have been an initiate of these rites. In his tomb, the image of death as a rapid passage through water would remain forever above him. And his body would be surrounded by scenes from a banquet that would never end and in which he would participate for all eternity, playing his lyre with his musician friends.

 

But who was the young man buried there? What kind of life had he led? How did his parents commission his tomb? What of the two artists who painted it? What did they do with their son's body on the days when the tomb's walls were being cut out of rock, plastered, dried out, chiselled to outline the drawings and then filled in with vivid colours? And again, why paint a magnificent tomb to be seen at the precise moment of burial only to seal it up immediately, never to be seen again?

 

An invisible image

 

An invisible image is a challenge. What happens when an image, painted 2,500 years ago never to be seen again, bursts onto our contemporary, traditional, cultural landscape where being comprehensible is the equivalent of being visible?

 

One thinks of other images in art history with encrypted messages, from Malevich's Black Square or the mysterious Romanesque frescos of San Baudelio de Berlanga to the prehistoric Altamira Cave bison and the inscriptions on the earliest Christian catacombs and Banksy.

 

Perhaps what's puzzling about The Tomb of the Diver is not so much the impossibility of deciphering its meaning but rather our attempts at coming to terms with the powerfulness of an image's intrinsic ambiguity.

 

The temples of Paestum and The Tomb of the Diver

 

On this October day, the grassy area surrounding the temples of Paestum is empty of visitors and full of autumn roses. The three Doric temples appear erect and severe in their golden Campania stone, about 90 kms from Naples and the shade of Vesuvius. The Temple of Neptune (460 BC), thus called but wrongly attributed to Poseidonia's protective divinity, is, for many scholars, the best preserved temple in Greek civilization. It is not easy to describe the powerful impact of seeing its facade, devoid of any decoration whatsoever, not even holes in the stone that might have allowed us to imagine there once being a statue clamped into its tympanum, nothing resembling the Pantheon or Phidias's statues of gods, horses, warriors, ..... This temple was conceived of to be bare and stern, even in its triglyphs and the metopes between. No goddesses on horseback. The tension is achieved solely by its monumentality, by the magic of its proportions, by its second row of intact columns, with its fluted pillars high as a forest and its orientation towards the East.   

 

 

The Temple of Neptune. Paestum

 

In the 8th century BC, the Greeks were sailing the Tyrrhenean Sea around the mining regions of the Etrurian coast to buy metal. They settled near Ischia and so began their campaign of colonisation. Around 600 BC, sailors from the city of Sibaris founded the colony of Poseidonia, making it one of the northernmost extremes of Magna Graecia. It was then conquered by the Lucanians and finally, in 273 BC, fell under Roman rule and was renamed Paestum. The discovery of Paestum came in 1752 when King Charles VII (the future Charles III of Spain) ordered the construction of a road which would cut across the city. From then on, European intellectuals doing the Grand Tour, amazed by how well-preserved the temples were, made it their reference point for classical architecture until Athens was added to the European cultural itinerary. It was specifically in Paestum that Greek architecture achieved supremacy over the Roman and where the Greeks regained their "tyranny" over Europeans enamoured with their monuments. Winckelmann (1758), Piranesi (1777), Goethe (1787), John Soane (1779) and almost all the great architects of the time came here to see, study and measure the purest of all Doric temples. In 1758, the architect commissioned to build the Pantheon in Paris, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, found inspiration in the temples of Paestum, making the Neoclassical style so popular in France it would end up replacing the Barroque.

 

National Archeological Museum of Paestum

Vía Magna Graecia, 918

Paestum

Italy

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Una imagen invisible: la tumba del nadador -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

 
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