Every adult knows that the matter of God is a serious one, quite unrelated to the case of Santa Claus, who is a harmless invention for children.
Kate and I saw a millennium-scale version of this disparity on display this week in hall after hall of the Prado. Half the paintings of the Renaissance seem to depict stories of the Christian holy family and the saints, and the other half, stories of Greek and Roman gods and mortals. In the first category, we have for example Fra Angelico’s beautiful “Annunciation”, which shows Mary being dazzled by a sunbeam of gold, symbolic of God impregnating her. This led to the birth of Jesus, who was both god and man. In the second category, we have Titian’s beautiful “Danaë and the shower of gold”, which shows Danaë being dazzled by a cascade of gold coins, symbolic of Zeus impregnating her. This led to the birth of Perseus, who was half god and half man.
I doubt one Prado visitor in a hundred notices how indistinguishable the Christian and Greek/Roman stories would be to the proverbial Martian. Even then, to make the parallel feels boorish and simplistic. One is tempted to think, well, that’s very clever, but of course, the two cases are completely different. Everyone knows those Greek and Roman stories are just stories! When in doubt of your doubt: remember Fra Angelico’s Mary and Titian’s Danaë.
[3 April 2016]