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.