Advent Calendar – Door 24: A doorway to peace

Aldo Capitini
Fondazione Centro Studi Aldo Capitini (CC0)

Another chance discovery I made while browsing the Europeana Collections: When I first saw this photo, I immediately felt I recognized that doorway, though I couldn’t quite place it. But just looking at the picture brought back an almost physical memory of being somewhere high above the ground. Then I remembered: This is the platform high up on the unfinished facade of Siena’s Duomo Nuovo, a popular lookout point for visitors to the city. Well, that’s the architecture covered, but who, you may wonder, is the man in the photo?

As it turns out, he is Aldo Capitini (1899-1968), an Italian philosopher, educator, antifascist and pacifist. He played a key part in establishing the non-violence movement in his home country and is therefore sometimes dubbed “the Italian Gandhi”.

The picture of the young Capitini in Siena belongs to a large collection of images from his family’s private photo albums, provided by the Fondazione Centro Studi Aldo Capitini in Perugia and also available through the Europeana database. The material seems to span the period from the late-19th to the mid-20th century, and, as you’d expect from such a private collection, it includes everything from holiday snapshots to posed family portraits, offering sometimes intimate glimpses into the lives of long-deceased strangers.

Unknown relatives of Aldo Capitini
Fondazione Centro Studi Aldo Capitini (CC0)

But there are also more formal images of Capitini in the database, pertaining to his role as a public intellectual and educator. Also included are photos documenting one of his most enduring achievements, the Marcia per la Pace [Peace March] from Perugia to Assisi, which he organised in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. The March has since become a regular event, held every two or three years, and to this day marks an important date in the calendar of the Italian peace movement…

Marcia per la Pace (just outside Perugia’s Porta San Pietro), 1961
Fondazione Centro Studi Aldo Capitini (CC0)

As you may know, in the Christmas story according to the gospel of Luke, the angel’s message to the shepherd’s reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [King James version]. No matter what you think of the first, “heavenly” part of that message, I do believe that, in any case, its second, “earthly” part is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. In this spirit: Merry Christmas!

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Advent Calendar – Door 23: The Entrance to Luther’s Chamber

Georg Konrad Rothbart, Entrance of the Lutherstube in the Veste Coburg, c. 1844
Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg (CC BY-NC-SA)

A view of the Lutherstube [Luther’s Chamber] in the Veste Coburg, an important fortress in Upper Franconia. The chamber takes its name from the fact that Martin Luther stayed there for almost half a year in 1530. In the painting by Georg Konrad Rothbart (1817-1896), though, we only catch a glimpse of the room through the Gothic revival door of the adjoining Reformatorenzimmer [Reformer’s Room]. All we see of the Lutherstube is just a bit of the floor and part of a window niche with an old-fashioned upholstered chair in it. Framed by the elaborate doorway, the empty chair takes up the centre of the composition and becomes the focal point of the viewer’s attention. Given the painting’s subject, the chair almost seems to become a stand-in for the chamber’s former occupant, its emptiness a visual sign of Luther’s absence in the painter’s own time.

But Luther is actually present in the image, too: His portrait can be seen in the top left corner, on the wall of the Reformatorenzimmer in the foreground. Through the juxtaposition between the portrait and the empty chair, the painter creates an interesting tension between presence and absence. Rothbart may not have been the greatest artist of his generation, but in this case at least, he finds a rather brilliant solution to the task of depicting a room which is now basically just an empty space, but somehow still preserves the memory of an important historical figure.

P. S.: The slightly blurry portrait of Luther visible in the painting is actually one of several historicizing portraits of Reformers decorating the Reformatorenzimmer – and was painted by the very same Rothbart in 1844. Here is a full view of it:

Georg Konrad Rothbart, Martin Luther (Reformatorenzimmer, Veste Coburg), 1844
Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg (CC BY-NC-SA)

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