Another Trip to the Met

I spent Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum (in NYC) with two friends. I’d gone there specifically to see and study this painting, the “Crowning of Apollo.” It depicts the castrato Marc’antonio Pasqualini (one of the foremost singers of his day) being crowned with laurel by the God of music Apollo, with Marsyas the satyr bound in the background. I’ve written about this before, analyzing the story of Marsyas and Apollo and that whole piece is largely a visual representation of that article.

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The singer depicted, M. Pasqualini was a member of the Sistine Chapel Choir, a composer in his own right, and the leading singer in numerous operas. Andrea Sacchi was a baroque painter of some note who received regular patronage from the Vatican. He had a flourishing school and his style was noted for its exuberance.

I wanted to see this painting in person for two reasons. Firstly, I honor the castrati as a group in my own ancestor practices and secondly, I wanted to study the painting as an artist.

It’s a huge painting, and quite dramatic. Pasqualini stands looking directly at the viewer, his hand resting lightly on a harpsichord (decorated with an image of Daphne turning into a Laurel and another bound satyr). Apollo is radiant, standing naked save for a crimson wrap and caught in the act of placing the laurel crown of the victor atop Pasqualini’s head. Marsyas writhes in the background, a testament to the sacrifices necessary to achieve excellence in one’s art. Apollo’s virility shines through in His pose, His image, and His very prominent phallus whereas the castrato’s virility is given over and through to his music completely and through that sacrifice he has been elevated to the attentions of this God. It’s a stunning piece and a powerful story.

Usually it’s difficult to see actual brush strokes in this style of painting. It simply wasn’t the norm, as one of my artist friends recently commented, for painters to betray their craft in that fashion. Here though, there are a couple of places where the brush strokes are apparent:

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Pasqualini is robed in a leopard skin, linking him symbolically with the God Dionysos. At the bottom of that skin, one can see the masterful brush strokes hinting at a lace pattern of his robe.

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Then there is the blue lacing on Apollo’s slipper. Blue is the rarest color in nature and is often used in art of this time to convey some connection to the Heavens, to the Holy, to God or in this case Gods.

I rather like the cold defiance in Pasqualini’s eyes as he stares down the viewer. Castrati were revered for their phenomenal voices, elevated to the status of rock stars at certain points in history, and yet condemned for the very physical mutilation that made those voices possible. They were mocked for being less than fully men yet apparently, this castrato at least was man enough to win the accolades of a God.

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A Visit to Boston for Botticelli

This weekend my husband and I took a mini-vacation. We went to Boston, MA to see the Botticelli exhibit currently ongoing at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. It’s a different experience looking at a painting when you paint yourself. A couple of months ago I made my first visit to the Metropolitan in NYC since I became a painter. It was rather mind-blowing. Suddenly the brush strokes seemed alive and engaging visually was a completely new experience. This made me all the more eager to see the Botticelli exhibit as he’s one of my favorite painters. Sadly, I was rather disappointed.

The exhibit is small and the day we visited the museum was sweltering. Apparently, the air conditioning was off or broken (a store clerk told me it must be broken) and it was hot enough that it nearly made me ill. That alone would have been enough to ruin the experience for me – if you care about your patrons (not to mention the art –heat isn’t good for paintings), you don’t subject them to this level of discomfort. It was quite nauseating. More to the point though, the exhibit itself was poorly done. There are a number of paintings by Botticelli’s teacher Lippi, and several from some of his students. That was a positive as it allowed the viewer to see the continuity from generation to generation. However, and there are two significant howevers, the Botticelli paintings chosen were not his best. They tended toward his later period, and with the exception of his Venus, boti benuswere largely uninspired. More importantly, the commentary at the exhibit ignores completely the impact the insane Christian Savanarola had both on Florentine art in general and Botticelli in particular. He’s mentioned in passing, but what isn’t mentioned is that Botticelli burned some of his artwork and afterwards, turned away from classical subjects and his lush style. His work post Savanarola is quite simply dreary and uninspired. It really marked a step back for the painter. I don’t usually come down on the side of setting people on fire, but with Savanarola, I’d be first in line to light the match.

That being said, there were other things in the museum that caught my eye and made the trip more than worthwhile. They had a full room, for instance, dedicated to Dionysos. It had all sorts of figurines, vases, wine cups and items related to Symposium. We spent a great deal of time in that room.

Hyacinthus and Zephyrus

This ^ is perhaps one of my favorite attic vases ever. It shows Hyakinthus in the erotic embrace of Zephyrus, mid flight. 

There was quite a lovely collection of Roman statuary, including this Eros statue.

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Many of the items were quite quirky, at least I found them so.

Venus with a snap

(Venus with a snap)

They even had a few interesting Madonna with child images.

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This Jesus is fabulous. (I love the expressiveness of Mary’s face here)

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This ^ one will mess you up. Lol.

I haven’t processed all the photos that I took, but over the next week, I’ll try to do so and post some more here.

We also hit up two bookstores, Brattle bookshop and Commonwealth books, which I absolutely recommend. Check out our book haul. ^__^.

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There’s a lot to do in Boston and I’ve really enjoyed my last couple of visits. I think next time, I want to come up when it’s a bit cooler and visit all the historical sites. So far, I’ve not had time to do so and it’s a city with such a rich history.

We stayed at the Langham. It’s a lovely hotel. I know some people don’t care about their hotels, figuring that when on vacation one doesn’t spend much time there, but for me, it’s an important part of the travel experience. I stayed here years and years ago with my adopted mom and it was every bit as nice as I remembered. (My only complaint, both times I’ve stayed, is that their in house massage therapists are just awful. I think the worst massage I’ve ever had was on this visit. The hotel I rate four stars, the massage negative four. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a local school turning them out. I get massage per doctor’s orders at least three times a month and have for years. Of my top three worst massages ever, two were at the Langham so stay at the hotel, enjoy it, but for the love of the Gods, skip the spa).

 

(all photos mine unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without my express written permission).

Evil Putti Having a Bit of Fun LOL

Years and years ago I studied for two summers in Berlin. While I was there, I visited Charlottenburg Castle. It’s a nice day trip and quite lovely. Being a photographer, I took a few photos for a book I eventually published,Numinous Places,” and now, as my husband is working on his next book of Dionysian poetry, putti…little cupids…keep coming up, both in his poetry and just in conversation as he’s been writing. It made me think of this particular photo, a close up of a bit of the molding in the ballroom at the  Castle. It looks to me like these putti are having some fun that’s not quite safe for work. lOL. 

Anyway, I’ll shortly be making this image into greeting cards so I figured I’d give y’all a sneak preview here. 

evil cupids from charlottenburg copy

Story Magic

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All this year has been about story, its power, and Story as a living thing. There’s a Greek word μῦθος, from where we get our word ‘myth’ that captures something of it’s nature: it is something worth being recorded, remembered, and retold. But even that falls short in true. Story is what sustains us. It’s what provides continuity throughout the triumphs and nadirs of our lives. It’s what connects us with everything and everyone that has come before. It’s what enables us to connect to those in our world now; and yet, it is so intensely personal.

I’d burn down the world to preserve the tales I tell myself. They’re that important to me, the stories I weave in the darkness of the night when I’m lulling myself to sleep, or the tales that enfold me, spinning out from day dreams. I have come to cherish my Stories enough that I’d sacrifice just about anyone or anything to preserve their integrity. It doesn’t matter how seemingly irrelevant or simplistic our stories are, they are precious and sacred.

I’m not talking about religious experience. I’m talking about our imagination’s ability to engage with storytelling, to experience through words another life, to be moved emotionally by another’s words, to create in our minds doorways to other places.

I value my interior life deeply. I always have. There is nothing more precious that I could share with someone. There is nothing more important save the Gods and the work I do for Them that I share. It has a value that goes well beyond the here and now, these threads of imagination and creativity that sustain like nothing else. They are, like the arts, the best part of our humanity.

We can remake ourselves through the stories we tell. This is partly why it’s so incredibly important to steep children in fairy tales and fantasy and literature. It provides nourishment on a fundamental level. Years ago I remember an argument with a fundamentalist Christian relative. She was dead set, adamantly so, against children being allowed to read any type of fiction especially fantasy. Imagination might free them from the chains of their monotheism of course. I was viscerally horrified at the mental and emotional paucity of what she would have encouraged in children, a type of prison for the mind, a crushing of the spirit. We need our stories to enable us to survive in the world.

Story has the ability to teach us. We gain power through their telling. It is an arena where we can fail and learn and grow and hopefully succeed gaining knowledge, power, and healing that we can bring back to this world to transform our lives. Story is how we pass on the knowledge and wisdom of the ancestors. It is how we forge connections to them to our Gods, to ourselves, to our world.

This is in part why I share my stories with very few people and why I grow so enraged when I’m reading and someone, however well meaning, insists on talking to me. I may not show my anger – usually it is either people who are lonely and want to connect or people who themselves don’t like to read who do this. I do my best to be patient and respond with kindness however painful the interruptions might be. When I am about to lose myself in another world, to crawl into another world where I can live and breath, love and thrive and someone forcibly drags me back to mundanity, it’s a very special kind of agony.

So tell your stories. Fall in love with certain books. Write your fanfictions. Keep a poetry journal. Take a stab at nanowrimo. Day dream. Become the hero or heroine of your own tale. Fall in love with words. It’s important. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

QOTD

I was very depressed about my art last week. I’m getting much, much better but I still don’t paint the way I would like to and I am very critical of my work. I had a couple of days where I just felt completely overwhelmed by life and by all struggles but especially the struggle to create bits of art. After a particularly bad day, I came home from the studio to find that my husband sent me this quote. It helped and so I’m posting it here so I’ll always have it at hand, and maybe it will help some of you as well.  

“It seems that two qualities are necessary if a great artist is to remain creative to the end of a long life; he must on the one hand retain an abnormally keen awareness of life, he must never grow complacent, never be content with life, must always demand the impossible and when he cannot have it, must despair. The burden of the mystery must be with him day and night. He must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy. Many lesser poets have it only in their youth; some even of the greatest lose it in middle life…But more often the dynamic tensions are so powerful that they destroy the man before he reaches maturity.” – Humphry Trevelyan

Another Day at the Met

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I had to pop by school today to drop off a paper (profs wanted both hard and electronic copies) so my friend A. and I decided to spend the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. It’s a quick trip from the uni and we had a blast.

I had two goals going in: to see a 14th century pilgrim badge from the shrine of Thomas Beckett, and to see the reliquary of Mary Magdalene said to hold her tooth. For once, I was actually successful at seeing what I planned! My friend A. wanted to see the fashion exhibit “Manus x Machina,” so we did that too.

I’ve just finished taking a class on Medieval Pilgrimage and one of the last things we looked at was Thomas Beckett’s shrine at Canterbury. Pilgrim badges were mementos that pilgrims could purchase after having completed their pilgrimages (I have one from the shrine of Mary: the Loreto, in Prague from my trip there last summer). In this instance, these Canterbury badges are of special importance. Henry VIII ordered the original shrine to be melted down, its gold and gems once given in offerings to the saint stolen to enrich the coffers of the king. This was not uncommon. Protestants desecrated and destroyed many relics and shrines during their Reformation.(1) Badges like this one

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provide the only visual reference we have for what Thomas Beckett’s shrine originally looked like. This was once one of the most well-known and popular pilgrimage sites in Europe. The original shrine was elaborate and lush. As you can see in the image above, it had its own attendant who, ostensibly for a fee, would pull a rope that lifted the top of the shrine to reveal the body (which, from the looks of the badge, was visible in situ in the shrine anyway). The shrine was also said to possess what was then the largest ruby in England if not Europe. It disappeared after the original shrine was destroyed. You can just see a mark for it in the badge above.

After looking at the pilgrim badge, I finally went to see Mary Magdalene’s relic. It’s stunning. I’m actually really, really bothered by the fact that it’s in a museum where proper veneration cannot be paid (I feel this about certain Pagan statues as well). It belongs in a church, but if it were in a church I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see it…so I’m torn. I also find the Met’s labeling practices incredibly incomplete, sloppy, and irritating. Take Magdalene’s relic, for instance. There is the central and huge bit of rock crystal holding the tooth. That is clearly marked as Magdalene’s. But above that there is a disk holding relics of St. Francis, Clare, and possibly other saints as well but this is nowhere marked on the label. It’s frustrating for those of us who are researching such relics. I noticed half a dozen cases where the labeling was equally incomplete and in some cases, it was impossible to tell if the reliquary still contained the relic or not. The Met really should do better.

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Anyway, this particular relic dates from the 14th and 15th centuries (different parts of the relic were made in different periods).(2)

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After a brief stop for lunch in the American wing (they have a nice café and while there, I ran into a fellow student, which was cool. We had taken a pedagogy seminar this past semester together so we talked literature and art for a bit), A. and I went to the fashion exhibit. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it but oh my Gods it was WILD. There were even a few pieces 3D printed. I couldn’t look at them as dresses, but rather sculpture and that’s how I engaged with them. Some of them were particularly lovely (my favorites were a pink Chanel cloak covered in flowers and a dress from 1928, also flowered that looked like 1928 smashed into 1728—it had friggin’ panniers. It was awesome). There were unusual materials, and dresses from the mid 1800s, all the way up to the present from major design houses and unnamed women forgotten in the flow of history (an 1870 wedding dress of hand crochet lace was particularly memorable).

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The Met page about this exhibit has some videos that will give a glimpse of the dresses.

That was it. The drive home was a nightmare and took us four hours (traffic and every witless wonder in NYC on the road at the same time apparently) but the day was a good one and we plan to visit again soon. I’m leaving the Classics program to begin my studies in the Medieval Studies department at my uni (a decision I’ve long been pondering and one that will hopefully lead eventually to Theology) so I have a summer to acclimate myself to my new field before classes resume in the fall. Lots to learn, always.

 

Notes:

  1. See “The Stripping of the Altars” by Eamon Duffy for a good overview of the damage and desecration the Reformation caused in England to holy sites.
  2. See this site for a little bit more info.