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Old 20th December 2011   #7
Senior Member
Join Date: November 2008
Posts: 417
Default Re: John Martin: Apocalypse

Originally Posted by renata
The comparison to the Frauenkirche is apt, given that the Dresden church was left as nothing but a mound of rubble and fragments after its barbaric destruction in WWII.


Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the article about the restoration of the painting is that the Tate...considered rendering the restored section in an abstract (i.e., modern) manner.

This would have been a travesty: cramming a modern, abstract section into a great historicist masterpiece...It's such a grotesquely modern idea that I'm amazed that wiser heads prevailed and that Martin's great painting was spared this indignity, which would have been typical of present-day resentment-driven, deconstructionist thinking.

Renata's concern is entirely legitimate. Dresden's Frauenkirche was lovingly restored after the war, but other historical masterpieces were not so lucky.

To see an example of just the kind of travesty that Renata describes, consider the fate of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Chuch) in Berlin. Before the war, it was one of the most beautiful churches in the city, a 19th-century, historicist masterwork, with a noble spire and imposing Neo-Romanesque masonry.

Front view:

Back view:

From overhead:

Like most of the historical treasures of Germany, it was bombed during the war, but it actually emerged with less damage than many comparable churches. It was badly knocked about, but it was clearly repairable.

The colour in this remarkable photograph from shortly after the war's end is original. It shows the exact condition of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, as seen from the back view. It was damaged, but certainly restorable.

An overhead photograph shows that much of the exterior structure was intact. It was in a far better state than the Frauenkirche.

But in an act that can only be described as cultural vandalism, the postwar occupation forces had the majority of the church eradicated, bulldozed out of existence, leaving only a decapitated fragment of the main portal and spire.

But the greatest indignity was yet to come. The church had to endure a brutalist modern spire being erected right alongside it, in a gesture that can only be described as a raised middle finger to the past.

The final insult was that a new, modernist church, looking more like a Stalinist prison, a Kafkaesque cell block, than a chapel, was erected directly in front of the surviving fragment of the original church.

Thus, not only was the historic church shredded, but it was boxed in on both sides by ugly modernist structures - as if the past were being walled in on both sides. It's as if no one could be permitted to see the beauty of the historic church, even in its ruined condition, lest they recognize the superior beauty of past eras and wish to recover the cultural values that gave birth to such beauty.

By contrast, as has been described on this forum before, Dresden's legendary Frauenkirche was merely a pile of rubble after the war, with just two remaining fragments. It was in much worse shape than the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

But it was lovingly recreated, true to the original in every detail, and with the extant fragments seamlessly incorporated into the new structure.

Thank goodness that John Martin's painting was restored in a reverent, faithful manner, like the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, and spared being turned into a half-modernist pastiche, a Frankenstein mishmash designed to humiliate the past, as was the case with the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche.
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