Angels without wings

Of all the people we met in Florence, the one with the most impact was Peter Porcal, the resident art historian for the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Now in his early sixties, Peter has led his “children” for more than two decades. That’s Peter pictured at the top of the blog adroitly holding a spray of peppers. Click on the photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

Every Wednesday morning, he takes successive classes of students somewhere in Florence to see Renaissance art. He also leads day trips and weekend excursions to the antique sales in Lucca, the wonders of Rome, the contemporary art fair in Bologna, and on and on. Fantasy in Florence would be a poorer book without Peter’s encyclopedic knowledge of art history. He also speaks six languages but until I visited OCAD this past weekend I never knew how well Peter could write.

Peter penned a farewell to the most recent group of students at the time of their final exhibit in Florence in April 2007. When the show was remounted at OCAD this fall, his words were again associated with their art. Read these four paragraphs, titled “Angels Without Wings,” and marvel at his feeling and the phrasing.

“You may already not remember, but we have seen this year two famous examples of angels represented without wings. The first image was the beautiful Byzantine mosaic from the late sixth century in the church of San Vitale in Ravenna. In this mosaic we see Abraham surprised in his home by three beautiful young men. Without hesitation he sits them at his table and treats them with lamb and wine. He does not yet know that these three young men at his table are angels. They do not have wings.

“The second example of angels without wings we saw is famous: they are Michelangelo’s angels in his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican; but now that you are leaving, I am thinking rather about Abraham’s angels. Young, gentle, beautiful as you all are.

“It has now been more than twenty years that I have been with OCAD students in Florence. Year after year, hundreds of students. One can not remember now all their names even if I would like to remember them. One can not remember all of their faces even though some of them suddenly surface in my mind’s eye. Although what I do remember is that they were equally young, gentle, beautiful.

“They say here about Abraham that when the three youngsters left his house, not having any visible wings, Abraham, suddenly and for a long time still, did hear in the silence of his home, flapping of wings. Good flight, children!”

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