Other Modern: The Bishop's Chapel, Trieste

Every once in awhile you come across an example that typifies something almost perfectly. Many times the question is asked, "what is 'other modern' exactly?" The best way to summarize it is that Other Modern is a form of art and/or architecture which, while presenting distinctly modern qualities, also preserves distinctly classical qualities, blending the two into a single harmonious whole. Put another way, it doesn't seek rupture with the past but rather to organically build upon it.

The bishop's chapel in Trieste, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, presents an exquisite example of this genre. Officially I believe this is classed as being within (or at least closely related to) the Viennese Secessionist movement. The chapel was designed by the Slovenian architect, Ivan Vurnik (1884-1971) -- a student of Otto Wagner -- between 1912-1915 for Bishop Andrej Karlin.

There is an Art Deco like quality to this, which is hardly a surprise given the timeframe we are speaking about.

Photo: Miran Kabmic (Source)
The first point of note is how the design of the altar and reredos integrate into a seamless whole. The design leads one's eye first to the altar, then to the wings of the magnificent angels which focus one on the tabernacle, the symbol of the Holy Ghost and the crucified Christ. From there one finally sees the image of God the Father who is veiled by two angels -- and that veil in turn leads one back down to the altar and tabernacle through Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This is a great example of how design can (and should) inform a hieratic visual narrative.

Let's take a look at some of the details a bit closer.

You can see how the gold gilt work catches the light nicely, emphasizing the various shapes and patterns of this work. The altar candles are nicely proportioned for this altar and the two matching vigil lamps for the tabernacle complete the symmetry. 

A detail of the crucified Christ. Note how the blood from the side is even gilt. Also take note of the various patterns and shapes here; the crosses for one, but also the other shapes. Details like these are often what help make a piece truly exceptional and finished. This sort of detailing is something we need to focus more on capturing today.

I'm not often a fan of the adoring angels statuary that many Victorians (and their modern day ancestors) put by tabernacles, but this sculptural relief approach really works in a way that emphasizes the altar and tabernacle. The stylized angels wings are particularly exceptional and, once again, the repeating geometric patterns of the clothing work very well. 




Not readily visible in the other photos are the images of the four evangelists on the tabernacle doors
The Holy Ghost
God the Father. Unfortunately you cannot see it clearly in any of the photos but two angels on either side of the image of God the Father hold aloft this veil with Greek crosses on it; only the head of God the Father appears and you can also see an intimation of his knees pushing out from behind the veil as well. This veil unites the Trinitarian figures and eventually leads one's eye back down to the altar and tabernacle. 
The bishop's throne.  There is a place for two assistants which is appropriate for the celebration of the Pontifical Low Mass -- which is what would have been celebrated here. 
Even the bishop's arms are made to stylistically fit within the whole of the chapel. 
Framing the throne are various medallions with alternating images within them. 
Ceiling
Detail of the ceiling medallion
And one final look back at the whole:


What Other Modern should remind us of is two things:

The first is the foe in our day is not modernity; the foe is rather rupture. The second, related to the first, is that modernity can be done in a way that is harmonious with our tradition, which is noble and which is beautiful. What's more, modernity mustn't mean minimalism -- a too usual interpretation of what it means to be 'modern.'

This particular chapel does an excellent job at incorporating modern stylistic elements with elements of the tradition in a way that is comprehensible and accessible.  I suspect if modernity were approached this way as the rule rather than the exception, one would see a great deal more acceptance of it as a legitimate development.

Photo Source: Trieste – Di Ieri e Di Oggi
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