Rooftops, Italian style

2012 May 14-Milano by InkSpot's Blot
2012 May 14-Milano, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Believe it or not, this is a roof top. Granted, it isn’t just any rooftop. These ornate sculptures blossom from the flying buttresses that support the vertical structure of the famous gothic cathedral in Milan. From the ground level, you can hardly see the roof past the towering walls populated with sculptures of the saints, and stained glass windows. Even from further away, at least for me, there is an overwhelming sense of vertical movement. The church pours against gravity, up into the sky. A steam punk spaceship. There was no hint the cathedral is adorned from toe to head. Only when I emerged from the dark stairwell onto the stony surface of the roof, and saw the first ornate gargoyle did I realize what was hiding up there.

At the time, I was thinking, holy crap. This is a shit-ton of detail. These decorations on top of the buttresses are only a snippet of what’s up there. More sculptures stand, sentinel-like, over the city. Cherubs and sweeping floral motifs carved out of rock line the staircases. All this effort for a place most people will never see.

My practical, logical side sees it as an excess. Sure, it has purpose, a way for the Church to flex its power, flash its wealth. But they could have done that with a plain rooftop and an interior dripping with semi-precious stones, velvet and exotic woods and marble. My romantic, touchy, feely artistic side, sees the need. Acutely.

Enter one of my current internal debates. Need versus want. It seems simple on the surface, but human nature makes it difficult, especially in American culture, where we live in a 24-hour, on-demand society. Anything we need, everything we want could be.

So how do you really define need versus want? For example, I need affection. From friends and family of course, but I’m talking specifically in reference to a “significant other” type person. At first I thought it was a want. It seems like a frivolous thing, as long as other expression are conveyed, one could (maybe) do without affection. Frankly not having it was driving me mad. And not in a good way. I had to learn that this wasn’t a “oh, that’d be nice to have”, but a need. Layers can confuse the issue, past experiences and personal stigmas, not to mention other people’s definitions of need and want.

The Duomo roof does not need to be decorated like a queen on her birthday to function as a roof. However, there is a need for a vision to be materialized (eg. for the architect). Maybe the craftsmen felt a need to give their god a gift, something beautiful to look upon. According to John Keat (famously in Ode to a Grecian Urn), the need could be as simple as existing for the pure sake of existing.

About these ads

75 thoughts on “Rooftops, Italian style

    • Wow I enjoyed this so much. I was enjoying reading about the roof, and then you got to want versus need which is something I”m thinking about a lot lately too, and then when you got to affection I just thought “get out of my head, lady!”
      I read some of your previous posts and enjoyed them too. It sounds like you’re on an interesting journey, as am I. I’ll be coming back to read your thoughts for sure.
      Jennifer

      • I’m a stalker like that ;-)
        But seriously, thanks for taking a read. I feel for you. I’m sure our journeys will lead us to wonderful things. We just have to get out of the swamp first.

  1. So how do you really define need versus want? For example, I need affection. From friends and family of course, but I’m talking specifically in reference to a “significant other” type person. At first I thought it was a want. It seems like a frivolous thing, as long as other expression are conveyed, one could (maybe) do without affection. Frankly not having it was driving me mad. And not in a good way. I had to learn that this wasn’t a “oh, that’d be nice to have”, but a need. Layers can confuse the issue, past experiences and personal stigmas, not to mention other people’s definitions of need and want.

    THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW. Can I quote you in my blog? Hang on, I think I’ll just reblog this post!

  2. I love the detail…
    in an age of digitally replicated art, each part of the roof is an individual, which kinda blows the mind…
    with each detail unique, my brain cells can only take so much creativity at a time :)

  3. I loved your description of the rooftop desgin. Architecture is amazing in Italy and every building took my breath away. Literally too, because after I climbed to the top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Florence, I was out of breath! Now I want to go visit again!

    • That I have not done. I might just have to see what it’s like. I do recommend going up to the ramparts at the Duomo in Siena. Exquisite views of the Tuscan countryside. [commence travel planning]

  4. Well now, your post just took me on more than one journey….thanks. What I wouldn’t give to witness such amazing craftsmanship of times long ago. Works like these stand the tests of time, however, significant others – not so much. At least not as often.
    As for the world we live in today, finding that special heart connection proves to be more and more difficult but if we respect and love what came before us, I think we open ourselves for better things to come our way.
    Nice post, interesting and a joy to read.

  5. I really like the roof of the Duomo. I took some really neat pictures both of the roof and the different ornamental structures, but also of the surrounding area. It was a great experience. Thanks for sharing.

  6. i miss that our modern architecture doesn’t have these kinds of ornate structures. sure, often there’s no real practicality, but it’s amazing to look at and take photos.

  7. Such details exist for people like you to notice. Don’t you feel the pleasure of noticing other people are oblivious to? ;)

  8. Such details exist for people like you to notice. Don’t you feel the pleasure of noticing details other people are oblivious to? ;)

  9. Pingback: Rooftops, Italian style | Buy Art. Gift Art. Sell Art.

  10. Found your blog via freshly press and just wanted to say thanks for this fab image and your thought-provoking commentary on the cathedral’s hidden details. I have a friend who always tells us to look up at old buildings at home, the way we do when visiting somewhere new, because it’s so easy to take familiar places (or people!) for granted, and forget how beautiful and complicated they are.

    • I agree. I was in Downtown LA this weekend. Amidst all the glossy high-rise buildings are little gems built in the early 1900s, veiled in the mystique and mystery of the style of their time. The newer ones can be interesting, but it’s these ones, with mosaic entryways, which give me pause.

      And many thanks!

  11. I liked you immediately after I read the, “holy crap” in your post. I lived in Italy, as a child, for three years because my dad was stationed there. You are surrounded by so much beauty in Italy that it influences who you become. Americans can learn from that. Congrats on the FP.

    • Aw, Sharon thank you!

      I’m so happy that you were able to live there and be infused by the people, the culture and the beauty firsthand. It makes a difference to realize what we consider the norm is maybe just habit, and there are many ways to see and experience, to do and to be.

      • I agree. I think it’s why Italians are much more laid back than we Americans. They can sit around drink wine, eat great food, or drink espresso and soak in the beauty. We zip around on hideous freeways frantically getting from point A to point B, as if the getting there is what’s important. I hope to take my kids there one day. Thanks for following my blog :)

  12. Pingback: Rooftops, Italian style | elvinagaev

  13. Hey there, I would like to start off by saying great job on the post. Cong rates you made it to the freshly pressed section of word press. The creative roofing done by the images are just amazing. Very well crafted and stylish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s