Monday, 31 March 2014

Sad News

Peter Porcal, the legendary art historian and professor for 20 years with OCAD's Florence program, died suddenly late last week of complications from surgery after apparent heart troubles. It has been nine years since I last saw him, and at that time he had just celebrated his 60th birthday. His funeral was yesterday in Florence at the Chiesa Santissima Annunziata.

There are so many things to recall about Peter, and only those who met him would appreciate them. His memorial in Toronto will be full of stories told by former students - his "children". But the power of Peter was his ability to captivate us, to make history real. He conveyed the passion and the fire that motivated some of the most important artists, patrons, politicians, and muses in European history. And even though his stories must have been told by rote after 20 years, and even though all of us knew we were being seduced, it worked year after year. Our art practices were changed and richer for it, mine included.

I came across a piece of writing that Peter wrote about his students in 2007. Sandy McQueen was in the program the second year I lived in Florence, and her husband Rod is a writer. It is from his website that I found this. Peter's words seem especially poignant now that he is gone:

"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!"