GH (5 3 38 / leipzig)

Feet Of Clay

While cut stone reveals each error,
terra cotta shows the fire
of the artist whose caldera
causes patrons to admire
shapes that coming from the furnace
seem far closer to divine
than God’s image that would burn us
if we saw its dark design.
“In Our image let’s make man,
sculpted in no marble quarries, ”
God said, where the water ran
slickly though the clay in slurries,
terra cotta not, but cruda,
terra of unfired clay,
helping Serpent who was shrewder
to expose his protégé.
What God made from clay that’s wet
was no draft for stone or bronze,
destined therefore to upset
applecart of His eleisons.
Had He fired what was wet,
or had sculpted man in stone,
He’d have made mere marionette,
lacking muscles on his bone,
but since man was made with water,
from wet soil deprived of heat,
erring he must ask for quarter
from the Lord, soft clay his feet.

Grace Glueck reviews an exhibition of terra-cotta models at the Metropolitan Museum, “Playing With Fire: European Terra-Cotta Models,1740-1840” (“Rough Drafts, Ravishing and Enduring in Themselves, ” The New York Times, February 6,2004) :
TERRA COTTA is a lovely name for baked earth; it almost sounds like an Italian dessert. Whatever else the Renaissance did for art, it elevated this fragile reddish substance, fired for longevity and used for buildings and their decoration since ancient times, to a sculptural material. In the 16th century, terra cotta (its counterpart, unfired clay, is known as terra cruda) became the chosen modeling medium for neo-Classical artists devoted to visiting the Greek and Roman past and who worked close to the antiquities in Rome that served as their inspiration. They used it extensively for making bozzetti, or sculptors' rough drafts for larger works in stone or bronze, modeling in clay the way a painter might do a preliminary sketch on paper. As the artists' practice of using terra cotta over other modeling materials, like wood or wax, spread through Europe, collectors were not far behind. The training and graphic eloquence of neo-Classical sculptors encouraged the idea of owning creations so close to an artist's original concept; sometimes the model possessed more life than the larger finished work in stone or bronze.


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Langston Hughes


Comments (1)

Clever and punchy. 'Applecart of His eleisons' (what are 'eleisons'?) needs a syllable less for it to scan. Love, Gina.