Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rome Day 2 – Palazzo Barberini

Palazzo Barberini

Rome’s Palazzios are huge defensive buildings designed to exude power from the outside and show off your spending power on the inside. Barberini has a Borromino spiral staircase and a huge Salon with a Cortona frieze on the ceiling (curiously the walls are scraped clean and grey). You can lie back on the couches to explore the huge scene. The other rooms have a great collection of paintings, hung so that there’s at least one masterpiece per room. It starts with Raphael’s La Fornarina, her naked torso, ring and arm band revealing his infatuation. There are several Mary Magdalene’s with her flowing hair., a Henry Viii by Holbein, and others.

Good to see that the gypsies are still trying to rob people using the young child in arms, cardboard and pickpocket technique. I’ve never been to Rome without getting accosted like this. I know that I should be upholding liberal values and trying to understand the plight of the Gypsies, but I still don’t understand why they resort to simple theft, when it so obviously backfires. Any sympathy you have for their predicament or poverty fades when you’re robbed by a mother flashing a baby to distract you while her sister dips your pockets.

Interesting chat at evening meal in Tavestere on aesthetics. The sexual selection theory, first developed by Darwin but, it has been argued, largely ignored by prudish Victorians, then revived and recently elaborated I terms of the costs of survival. Perceptual biases may also play a role here, leading to preferences for high contrast stimuli in terms of colour, brightness, loudness and so on. Self expression and variability in art forms can be explained by the advantages afforded by amplifying aesthetic differences. This has interesting consequences for art as, for example, the worth of a work of fiction may not have much to do with its correspondence to truth, but it’s ability to impress potential mates with one’s intelligence and productivity. The sexual selection hypothesis also explains the difference in productive output between males and females as males are competing more intensely than females.

Geoffry Miller is a contemporary proponent of sexual selection as the key driver in aesthetics, part of a general theory that sees reproductive success is the key driver in evolution and not, principally, natural selection. It is sexual selection, he claims, that shapes many of the apparently bizarre ornamental, physical phenomena in species. He also claims that aspects of human cognition have been shaped as sexual ornamentation. The brain has all sorts of aesthetic biases, as our goal is often to be sexually attractive, rather than rational and truthful. This does explain the extraordinary effort that Renaissance art puts into ‘sin’ with acres of naked flesh and fabulous collections as expressions of power.