A Spider, a Masterpiece, and Canova's Heart
Have you ever felt insignificant in the presence of a great masterpiece—a sculpture by Michelangelo or an equation by Einstein? Ever felt anything you might make or do—writing a novel, a theorem—will be paltry against the history of creative accomplishment? Have you wondered how long anything you make might last? Or how “great” it could ever be compared to such masterpieces? I did. But a spider changed all that when I visited 800 year old Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.
Frari Basilica has renaissance paintings and sculptures. Immense vaulted space lit by jeweled windows of stained glass. Titian is entombed there, and so is Canova’s heart. I stood awed by 800 years of glory. Then, high up in the air, something glimmered. One silken spider thread spanned the glory of vaulted light.
What could be more ephemeral than a spider's web? The startling contrast of eternity and the present made me come alive, made the bell inside me ring and ring.
Suddenly how long and how great no longer mattered. Only ascension to the now, to the here. The great history of creative endeavor and accomplishment is like Frari Basilica. And anything we try to make or do belongs there simply because it is a participation in the age-old creative glory of the human spirit.
I don’t need my work on a church wall. Don’t need my heart entombed when I die. I need to live now. I need to be a spider and soar into that vaulted glory, spinning out any gossamer beauty I might make. And should one person look up, see it, and stand transfixed for even a moment, that is masterpiece enough for me.