Nigel Spivey takes on one of the greatest taboos in Western culture in this brilliantly original work of cultural history: why is so much pain depicted in the art of the West? Beginning with a meditation on Auschwitz, the prizewinning author then takes us on a journey that encompasses the stone-bound screams of classical sculpture, the many depictions of the Crucifixion, the Massacre of the Innocents and St. Sebastians pierced with arrows, self-portraits of the aging Rembrandt, and the tortured art of Vincent van Gogh. Exploring the tender, complex rapport between art and pain, Spivey guides us through the twentieth-century photographs of casualties of war, Edvard Munch's The Scream, and back to the recorded horrors of the Holocaust.
Beauty and disfigurement, violence and thrill, horror and comfort—these are pairings fostered throughout Western art, for causes as various as religious martyrdom, judicial torment, artistic virtuosity, and erotic gratification. The ancient Greeks invented tragic drama: but how far was pity for tragedy's victims tempered by the notion of just deserts? The first Christians preached Christ Crucified: why then did it take some five hundred years before images appeared of Christ on the cross? The Massacre of the Innocents was an event that never happened: for what reasons were artists of the Italian Renaissance so eager to show it convincingly?
Enduring Creation reveals the amazing power of art to console, to warn, to prepare the viewer for the harsher experiences of life, raising intriguing questions: Can pain be beautiful? Do we always pity suffering? Are sainthood and sadomasochism linked? This compelling study concludes with a positive message of hope for the enduring human spirit.
Nigel Spivey is Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His publications include the prizewinning Understanding Greek Sculpture (1996).
"Spivey writes with conviction both about art and about human experience and with an obvious pleasure in language. The opening account of a train trip to the Auschwitz Museum sets the tone for what is always, explicitly or implicitly, more than merely another art historical account."—David B. Morris, author of Culture of Pain
"A general tour de force of erudition. [T]he book is very well-written [and] accessible to the general reader."—Alexander Nemerov, author of The Body of Raphaelle Peale
"The prose is lively and the insights thought-provoking. There is also an engaging, at times moving, personal touch to the book. [I]t will appeal to a wide audience of specialists and nonspecialists alike."—Buchanan Sharp, Department of History, University of California, Santa Cruz