Resistance is fertile

John Berger’s experience at the National Gallery highlights the zeitgeist of the age of GWOT.

The novelist and art critic recalls an Easter visit to the National Gallery and a strange and violent encounter with an attendant

I was in London on Good Friday, 2008. And I decided, early in the morning, to go to the National Gallery and look at the Crucifixion by Antonello da Messina. It’s the most solitary painting of the scene that I know. The least allegorical.

In Antonello’s work – and there are fewer than 40 paintings which are indisputably his – there’s a special Sicilian sense of thereness which is without measure, which refuses moderation or self-protection. You can hear the same thing in these words spoken by a fisherman from the coast near Palermo, and recorded by Danilo Dolci a few decades ago in Sicilian Lives (1981):

“There’s times I see the stars at night, especially when we’re out for eels, and I get thinking in my brain. ‘The world is it really real?’ Me, I can’t believe that. If I get calm, I can believe in Jesus. Badmouth Jesus Christ and I’ll kill you. But there’s times I won’t believe, not even in God. ‘If God really exists, why doesn’t He give me a break and a job?’”

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