Harpes et Luz

I kept a few choice cuts back from my last post on Canto XLV for today’s post. I wouldn’t take it personally if you just wanted to read the whole thing at once, and you can if you want: here, http://2bcreative.org/?page_id=299 , for example, where there are some illuminating notes on some of the poem’s references.

This time I’m interested in what you could call the ‘harps and lutes’ sections of the poem – after the quotation from Villon ‘Harpes et Luz’ – which describe the effect of usury on a society’s ability to create and appreciate works of beauty:


with usura

hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall

harpes et luz

or where virgin receiveth message

and halo projects from incision,

with usura

seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines

no picture is made to endure nor to live with

but it is made to sell and sell quickly

Pietro Lombardo

Came not by usura

Duccio came not by usura

Nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura

Nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted.

Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,

Came no church of stone signed: Adamo me fecit.


What do we get, then, instead of beautiful Renaissance paintings and sculptures, instead of grand churches of stone? We get Damien Hirst, favourite of hedge fund art collectors, whose hideous, inane sculpture (‘crafted’, if that is the word, not by his own labours) ‘Verity’ stands at the harbor in the formerly picturesque Devon town of Ilfracombe. And we get the Shard, commissioned by millionaires for millionaires, and completely unrelated to the architectural and cultural heritage of London. We get art and architecture that is bombastic, expensive and, to the tastes of the majority of people, and by any worthwhile standards of beauty, worthless and ugly.

Blimmin’ usura!


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