This last trip to Europe was completely puzzling to me because I could see two current social phenomena at the same time: on the one hand, the imminent breakup of the European Union that is being precipitated by the departure of Great Britain and, on the other, the rapid disappearance of the old role of the most famous European museums in displaying the wonderful contributions of the Renaissance especially to the visual arts and architecture. But perhaps the political phenomenon is the one that is most visible because the dangerous migration from the African subcontinent and the Middle East to the rich European countries has led to numerous deaths of children and young people of the next generation, a sort of resurgence of the worldview of the old religions, a vicious escalation of xenophobia and a growing fear that the Fascist phenomena of the early twentieth century could be repeated.
It is obvious that European nations that are subsidized by the European Union, such as Greece, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and most communities in Eastern Europe will be the ones most hurt by this breakup of the EU, but there is no doubt that the world will have to go on and that these nations will find new mechanisms to survive and improve their current situation. Removed from this new political and financial crisis in Europe are the Nordic countries, including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, whose governments have managed to maintain a high tax rate for their taxpayers and who therefore have excellent security measures, social spending and education, and their economies are still strong.
Meanwhile, France and Germany will continue to be the main leaders of the European Community, will keep their main taxpayers working and maintain an optimal level of wages that facilitates the development of a large middle class comparable to the best in the world. Nations such as the Netherlands, Belgium and small countries that live off their tax haven status, their casinos and their gaming industries will go through a very difficult time in the coming years. Beautiful Italy, in the meantime, despite its corrupt leaders will continue to survive with its high tourism figures that continue to grow and its great fashion apparel and general design industry.
Returning to the world of visual arts, for the main museums in France, such as the Louvre and Orsay, as well as Florence’s Uffizi Gallery in Italy, the picture is bleak; institutions that control these cultural facilities have very different standards and operate as sources of tax revenue, with absolutely no concern for the huge scope of their museums, in both the artistic and the historical sense. While Paris has efficient management of revenues from its main museums, which enables excellent maintenance of its streets, its public services and its incredible national monuments, Florence depends entirely on what the big design firms are willing to transfer to the municipality, provided that they carry out the work in places where their main luxury shops are located. For its part, the city of Rome is run by public servants who are a set of rascals and the city is in chaos, so I won’t talk about it.
We could see in Florence that although there are excellent works of pre-Renaissance art in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa María Carmine and of Gothic and Baroque art in the Temple of the Holy Spirit, both located on the north bank of the Arno River, plus magnificent architectural work inside Santa Croce, none of them has the appropriate mechanisms for a hassle-free visit, and there are no parking areas nearby to stop or get a proper snack. But that’s because the big merchants of fashion apparel and luxury items who control tax revenues have not yet decided to set up their shops around these areas, perhaps because of how costly it would be for them to connect the communication links to the other side of the Arno river, especially now that things have become very complicated with the collapse of nearly half a kilometer of the storm drainage system on the south bank of the Arno.
A very different scenario is found at the Louvre and d’Orsay in Paris. At the Louvre there is a Pharaonic range of artworks going back to the first appearance of humans on the planet, and it is impossible to do a quick visit in four or five days, even without going out to eat. The Orsay Museum houses the best work of the Impressionists and the great French painters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the facilities are very poor and no one can enjoy any of the great classics without being displaced by a bunch of Asians who only want to take pictures of the most famous artwork to show that they were there.
Addendum: With regard to the geopolitical aspect, there is no doubt that Europe will be, as it has always been historically, the first region in the world where the major changes of an era occur, with the exception of the Persian kingdom which, although it was in Asia, was associated in some ways with the Greeks.
With regard to the visual arts, it is a terrible but undeniable reality that new imaging technologies, such as photography, film, television and sophisticated virtual arts have led to the almost total neglect of those Renaissance giants who discovered the third dimension in space, volume in the human body and the incredible ability to express their emotions.