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Issue 11 – Trinity 2022


Delegated Jurisdiction

On Politian.


One of the very few delights of the internet is the ready availability of classic television. With a few clicks, you can watch shows like Fulton Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living or the BBC productions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People. Recently I turned my father on to old episodes of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line by insisting that the episode with a very belligerent Jack Kerouac is a highlight of American television. But, for me, the real jewel is Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series. It is very easily described: an English art historian walks around Europe and talks about art and architecture from the Middle Ages through to the nineteenth century. But that description leaves out a lot, not the least of which is Clark’s personal charm and lightly worn erudition. 

My favorite episodes are the fourth and fifth, Man: the Measure of all Things and The Hero as Artist, which focus, in the main, on Italy during the Renaissance and Rome shortly before the Reformation. Clark’s love for the subject is, as the scholastics of the day would say, diffusive of itself. One easily can imagine strolling around the Pazzi Chapel or the cloisters of Santa Croce, discoursing in a very witty way about the various figures of the age. And the I Tatti Renaissance Library makes it remarkably easy to indulge this fantasy—up to a point. While I am proud of Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Bedford, Indiana, I have to admit that it is not, notwithstanding its many virtues, quite the Pazzi Chapel or Santa Croce. Even if I cannot find the same pleasure in the architecture of Bedford as Clark did in Florence, I can find, thanks to the I Tatti volumes, at least some pleasure in the monuments of the intellectual life of Florence. There are few figures that loom larger in that life than Politian.

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Patrick Smith

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