Jerzy Grotowski, a Polish theater innovator of the 20th century, once said that best human endeavors appear to be Janus-like, resembling the Roman god that simultaneously looked back to the ancient and looked forward to the new (Schechner 245). This twofold nature of the brightest human endeavors may well serve a selective basis for compiling the list of human achievements in the Arts and other spheres. In other words, the best samples of human endeavor should be chosen on the ground of their relevance to both future and past of the humanity. Besides, they should effectively reflect the nature of human beings and facilitate understanding of what humans are.
This paper aims at discussing the objects of artistic and social importance that have been a result of human endeavor. The choice of the latter has been determined by the criteria of their relevance to both future and past generations, as well as their value in relation to mirroring the nature of a human being.
Before identifying the objects to be included into the list of the Human Intergalactic Committee, the meaning of the human nature needs to be explained. While the selected objects should well reflect the nature of humans, the question arises what this nature is.
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It seems, the nature of a human being is as Janus-like as many human endeavors. Commenting on the attempts of philosophers and psychologists to define the nature of a human being, Mark Abraham argues that these attempts are futile. He explains that humans hardly have one “fixed and definable” nature that effectively characterizes them. For example, a docile individual may out of a sudden become violent in uncharacteristic manner; a professedly well-brought and intelligent individual may give way to entirely unintelligent actions. Hence, Abraham concludes, “to seek a definable human nature to encompass the entire human species within this mix is indeed, naïve.” (Abraham 200).
The nature of a human being was identified as twofold in the ancient times. In the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the books of the Old Testament, the human nature is described as twofold. It is believed to consist of a soul and a body. While both were created by God, they are in dichotomous relationship (Hall 326). The soul is immortal and impassible and the body is mortal and only temporal.
This view was further developed in Christianity. For example, St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Our nature is a double one, a combination of mind and sense (flesh)” (Hall 326). Similarly to the author of Ecclesiastes who asserted that mind should rise above sensation, St. Gregory of Nyssa opined that the inclinations of the self should be overcome by “intelligible things”, so that the body keeps submissive to the soul’s rational part (Hall 326). This is the way to ensure that the human nature is not at war with itself. Here St Gregory of Nyssa speaks about the necessity of moral progress, which is seen as a guarantee for maintaining the integrity of the human nature. The latter is based on the principles of Christianity, according to St Gregory of Nyssa.
In Ancient Greece, human nature was believed to be foundation of virtue, since impulse towards good was thought to be the part of the human nature. In particular, Aristotle regarded that human nature along with reason and habit served the foundation of virtue. The Aristotelean approach to human nature, which placed the soul as the most important principle of the human body, got developed by St Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century. Aquinas explains his vision of how the soul operates based on Aristotle’s account, but parts with the latter in the question of immortality. Essentially, using his Christian background, Aquinas focuses on the idea that a human soul is capable of existing outside the human body after its death (Zupko, “Philosophy of mind”).
Thus, the human nature is a complex phenomenon. Being of twofold origin, the human nature is a combination of the soul and the body. The intentions and desires of these two may differ, but soul essentially rules the flesh. It does this through moral laws. The body is mortal, while the soul is immortal. As it can easily be seen, these views about the human nature are rooted in religion. This is not accidental, since religion vastly addresses the problem of human nature and strives to solve it. Therefore, religion itself may well be considered a human endeavor, though it is not purely human, of course.
Having established the importance of goodness in understanding the human nature, as well as the role of the soul and body, one may explain his/her approach to selecting the objects representing the richness of human endeavor. While in the Arts the human nature has always been fixed in the most effective manner, it is also true that the art that is considered truly remarkable appeals to what we understand as human soul. Since souls are immortal, the arts, if they get their message across effectively, receive a touch of immortality, too.
The three objects of artistic importance that serve a reflection of the immortality of the human soul and goodness of human nature and at the same time are a result of human endeavor are the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed (St. Basil’s Cathedral) in Moscow, the mural painting The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
In this part of the paper, the justification for each of the selected items will be given accompanied by a detailed discussion of its unique reflection of the human nature. First of all, the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed in Moscow, Russia, has been selected for its artistic and symbolic value. As an outstanding work of architecture and a powerful symbol of human spiritual growth, the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed well reflects the efforts of humanity to be linked to the Creator and to use the resources of the nature to embody their search for beauty through the arts (Picture 1). Besides, the Cathedral effectively demonstrates the mastery of architects as well as the proficiency of ordinary builders who took part in its erection back in 1555-1561.
The Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed on Red Square in Moscow.
The Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed has a shape of a bonfire that is rising high into the sky. This design is unique in both Russian and world architecture. Shvidkovskii, a well-known researcher of the Russian architecture of modern time, says, “St. Basil’s Cathedral is wholly extraordinary (…) Nothing similar is to be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to the fifteenth century” (Shvidkovskii 124).
Architecturally, it is quite weird, but impressive. According to Shvidkovskii, the Cathedral’s architectural features are unexpectedness and complexity, since numerous details in its design interweave in a dazzling manner. The Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed may be described as a harmonious combination of a few chapels that were joined into one beautiful church. Designed by the architects of Russian origin, Postnik and Barma, chapels got filled with magnificent icons, medieval walls exceptionally painted, and sophisticated artwork inside and on the very top of their domes which come in the shape of onions.
Overall, the Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed presents an abundance of peculiarly shaped cupolas as well as arches, both gilt and polychrome. This joyful and at the same time monumental design helps the building to speak its architectural language in a successful manner. Ideologically, St Basil’s Cathedral was to demonstrate the might of the rising Moscow state. It celebrated the victory of the tsar Ivan the Terrible over Kazan Khanate and its conversion to Christianity (Shvidkovskii 138). At the same time, it established Moscow as the city of Jerusalem.
Inclusion of the Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed into the list of the objects of social and artistic value will help to demonstrate the power of human spirit and the mastery of human hands in people’s longing to live in harmony with the Creator. Its unique architectural design also reminds of the manifold structure of human life, full of sophisticated forms, shapes, and pictures, and sometimes really fairy and amazing.
The next artistic work on the list is The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. This is a mural painting that depicts the moment from the New Testament when Jesus Christ exclaimed “One of you shall betray me” (Crowther 3). It was completed at the end of the 15th century in the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan, Italy. The painter shows a variety of poses and facial expressions of the astonished disciples, some of whom are fraught with paralyzing dismay. For example, Peter is shown as he drew his knife in an attempt to defend Jesus, while James is depicted with his arms outstretched and gasping in astonishment or consternation. Also, Judas is depicted, who has already received his payment for betrayal, is clutching the bag with money. He has just spilled the cellar full of salt by his elbow.
The inclusion of The Last Supper into the list of the most prominent artworks created by humanity is justified by several reasons. First of all, it depicts emotions that are typical for humans in the pictures of the disciples. Also, it realistically portrays the event of the Last Supper, since Jesus and the disciples are portrayed as real people. Besides, the mural painting is a recognized masterpiece in terms of its technological value. Each element of The Last Supper makes onlookers look directly at the mural’s midpoint. This is the head of Jesus Christ. This one-point perspective well demonstrates the mastery of the genre by humans. Finally, it glorifies the Christian religion that is based on the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the sake of love to people. So this is a monument to love that is inherent in humans.
Finally, Michelangelo’s Pieta should be on the list of the most effective samples of human endeavor in the world of art. La Pieta, completed by Michelangelo Buonarotti back in 1499, is thought to be a distinguished sculpture of the Renaissance art (“Ten Greatest Work of Art of All Time”). It portrays the body of Jesus Christ after the Crucifixion, in Virgin Mary’s lap. The statue is made of marble and is pyramidal in its shape. Located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican, it obviously symbolizes the union between the man, with his weaknesses, and God, who despite of these weaknesses loves the man. Most notably, it is a hymn to Mother’s love. Impeccable artistic mastery, profound symbolism and depiction of mother-and-child relationship, which is crucial for the world progress, are three major reasons that justify the inclusion of the statue into the list of prominent artworks.
In conclusion, the three works of art that represent the biggest artistic and social value for humanity included into the Committee’s list are the Cathedral of St Vasily the Blessed in Moscow, The Last Supper mural painting by da Vinci, and La Pieta by Michelangelo Buonarotti. These artworks mirror the major achievement of the humanity – recognition of the necessity to live in harmony with the Creator and the universe. They promote love and compassion, as well as address the highest feelings within a human soul. Besides, they show identify how humans feel and act, and serve the embodiment of human feelings common for all generations.
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