loren Eric Swanson: Trent to Rome--Day 5

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 5

Sunday, June 25, 2006

After much anticipation today we saw Florence—the very cradle of the Renaissance. But we’ve got to get to Rome so we have only four hours in Florence before we need to get back on the bus. What do we see? Because we are traveling pilgrims with the Lambs we decide to see David at the Galleria dell'Accademia. I think I would have preferred to go to the Ufizzi Museum but I suppose I agree with the rest that we can’t visit Florence without seeing Michelangelo’s David. Before driving to the city center we drive to an overlook of the city of Florence. It is magnificent—looking as much like it did in the 1500’s as any city in Italy—the Duomo, the Baptistery, Giotto’s Tower, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge lined with houses and shops. I can see it all quite clearly through my binoculars.

The line is long and the day is hot, giving a new meaning to what it means to be under the Tuscan sun. I’m sweating as profusely as one of the desert fathers. We are told it is over one hundred degrees. Perhaps the heat has prevented some from standing in line so after one hour we are able to get into the museum. After passing through a barrel vaulted nave (this museum is laid out like a cathedral) filled with six of Michelangelo’s unfinished “prisoner” sculptures (originally for the tomb of Julius II), there is David, bathed in light filtered in through the domed room built especially to house this masterpiece. He is magnificent—representing the best of the human ideal with his slightly oversized head (representing intellect), and oversized hands (representing man’s works) The statue was completed around 1504 and put on display in front of Palazzo Vecchio. If you look closely you can see that the statue shows some signs of weathering.

Other parts of the museum are less impressive. To the left of David are a few paintings and tapestries that lead into what looks like an outdoor garden supply store with plaster casts of works of 19th century Tuscan artists. Its time to move on.

We walk down to Cathedral Square—Piazza San Giovanni and gaze at the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Riore)(cathedral). What is most impressive is the dome (copula) of the cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built in 1434. I am anxious to see the doors of the Baptistery that I have been learning about. The Baptistery is the oldest building in the Square—going back to the 5th century. The shape is octagonal, symbolizing (I read) the “octava dies” or “eighth day”—the time beyond the earthly measurement of seven days…the time of the Risen Christ. This symbolism was intended to give hope of eternal life to these early believers. There are three sets of paneled doors leading into the Baptistery—two designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and the other by Andrea Pisano. This type of bronze-cast design was revolutionary for its time. The inside of the Baptistery was magnificent. It’s hard to imagine what a 15th century commoner might have thought to enter into such a spectacularly gilded room. It’s time to go, so we head for the Arno River toward our rendezvous at the Ponte alle Grazie with Greg and Charmaine Lillestrand, whom I have known for many years. After meeting up we head over what they call “an Aussie bar” for lunch. The burgers are exceptional.

Greg stepped down from a national leadership position with Campus Crusade in the states to take a position as National Director of Italy for Campus Crusade. They have been here around nine months, learning the language and are still trying to figure things out. One area that is not ambiguous, however, is why they are here. They are not about maintenance or interested in partnering with those believers and organizations that simply want to hold their ground. What captivates them is the possibility of spiritual renewal in Italy. There are many signs of hope. On a recent project with students in Southern Italy, they saw nearly 40 Italian students make first-time commitments to Christ. Naturally they were keen to hear about what was happening in Italy with Focolare. They have currently identified 14 couples that could give strong spiritual leadership to bringing change to the spiritual climate of Italy.

We meet at bus at 2:30 and start our trip to Rome. As part of my personal preparation for the trip I’ve been watching a 36 part series on Renaissance art that has washed over into our time here in Italy. I ordered the DVDs from a company called “The Teaching Company” (http://www.teach12.com/) which recruits the top 1% (so they claim) of professors from Stanford, UCLA, Oxford, etc. to tell us what they know on their field of expertise. I’m not disappointed in the quality of this class. On the bus ride I watched a couple of sections on Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel but also of other’s works that include large landscape features. From my window I see those same landscape features, for which renaissance art is known.

We arrive at 7pm and have dinner with Wobbe and Sally Leeuwarden, Juan Bravo, Chris Martin. We talked about what we had seen today. Wobbe said the art and beauty caused him to look afresh at his commitment to Christ, reflecting that these artists and sculptors had experienced a depth of God. We also had a discussion on what made the renaissance the “renaissance.” Chris (who is a priest in the Church or England) talked about the painting in the back wall of a former church of his that he looked at while he was preaching…of people climbing a ladder to heaven and evil-looking demons trying to pull people down. “It was quite a motivation to get my preaching right.”

We end our evening with John and Nancy Lamb for a debrief time and prayer.


The Renaissance was a pivotal time in history for a number of reasons. I read a book recently where the author pointed out that up until the Renaissance art was “flat.” You could tell the story through art and derive meaning from the paintings but it was without emotion. Think of the Byzantine art that dominated this world—flat, expressionless eyes…no movement. Renaissance artists discovered how to paint with perspective and convey emotion, movement and time. How did they do this? How did they get so good? There are a couple of theories. One is popularized in a book called The Medici Effect--Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures by Frans Johansson. He posits that the banking family, Medici, brought together in Florence the finest architects, sculptors, painters, mathematicians, writers. It was their cross-pollenization of ideas and practices that caused the Renaissance. A second theory is the role of competition. Up until the Renaissance, an artist could work a lifetime on a cathedral, painting or repainting as needed or desired. In the Renaissance things were different. Great artists like Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, etc were employed by the highest bidder. Patronage was everything. In 1401 Brunelleschi (desiner of the Duomo’s copula) lost the competition for the second door of Baptistery to Lorenzo Ghiberti. They were both asked to create one panel on the sacrifice of Isaac. Talk about a competitive environment! A third theory has to do with distribution of talent among a population group. In other words, for every one million people born, so many will have a talent for math, for words, for art, etc. So when one particular disciple (such as art) is given lift as a high value, all the people from that discipline show up to be sponsored and trained.


Today was a great day. And we needed such a day since we’ve been starting early and finishing late for the past several days. Personally, I love Johansson’s theory of the “Medici Effect;” it is the cross-pollenization of ideas where the breakthroughs occur. This mirrors a process that I try to employ with the Leadership Communities for Externally Focused Churches and the Global Learning Community that I’m engaged with. We try to create an environment where passionate and talented practitioners can be in the same space for 3 or 4 days and put their minds around common challenges. The results have been accelerated progress on all fronts. I think there is also something healthy about “competition” that brings out the very best in people’s abilities (though maybe not in their personalities). A couple of months ago I had a leadership community (12 churches, 50 leaders) meet with John Handy, former VP of design for Mattel Toy Company where he supervised 160 designers. He really stresses that competition brings out the very best design—especially when there are deadlines. Now the rub comes by bringing competition to the church. It’s not that it doesn’t currently exist—think of pastors who are “called” by another (most often larger, better paying or in a better location). Churches are competing for the best personnel…but no one calls it that. Well, we might have to wait on that one.


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