The Haggerty Museum of Art will host “The Tower of Babel,” a choral performance presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Image in Dispute: Dutch & Flemish Art from the Haggerty Museum of Art’s Collection,” on Friday, Sept. 29, at 5 p.m. The event will feature Marquette University’s chorus and chamber choir.
The story of the Tower of Babel resonated throughout the cultural life of the Low Countries in the 16th century, finding expression in the art of Pieter Bruegel and many of his contemporaries. As the region’s cities were swelling with new people, ideas, and wealth from around the world, perhaps it is not surprising that thoughts turned to God’s assessment of these ambitions. Certainly, some believed the traumatic cleaving of society in the later 1500s — the division between Southern and Northern Netherlands, between Catholic and Reformed Christians, between factions within families — was divine judgment.
The book of Genesis describes the origins of urban civilization as a cooperative, if troubled, project. Noah’s descendants, recognizing the benefits of dwelling together, began to build a city with an imposingly tall tower intended to “reach to heaven.” The biblical text tells us that God viewed their ambitions as prideful and confused their ability to understand each other’s speech in order to thwart their efforts. The site became known as Babel, “because there the language of the whole earth was confounded.”
Adversity, though, spawned enormous creativity and resilience. By attending to deep affinities within the culture, there was hope that differences could be bridged and competing agendas set in harmony. In a similar spirit, we anticipate this multi-language choral performance by the Marquette University Chorus and Chamber Choir, presented as part of the University’s Homecoming festivities.