So where was I? Let’s see… boss thought we kicked ass waterfronts are gross two-headed calf revolting saltshaker eat with a mallet… oh yes, going to see Roman Art from the Louvre at the Seattle Art Museum.
OK, well, by the time we left The Crab Pot, I was, shall we say, a tad disgruntled. I didn’t really enjoy the side of cow and had to endure continual nervous jokes from my companions as they attempted to make light of the decision to eat at such a place when it was well-known three people in the party hated seafood. I was so irritated, in fact, that I had lost the desire to go to the exhibit and only went because I had ridden with someone else and thus had no other option. I had done my best to maintain a facade of cordiality all through lunch and I think by the time we were all standing around with our tickets waiting to enter the exhibit, the illusion was starting to fade. The nervous japes had ceased. A couple people asked me if I was feeling all right. Looking back, I really wasn’t well at all. I was pissed off and feeling guilty about it. I felt like an ungrateful jerk and yet couldn’t let go of my resentment. It was all I could do to mutter a reply that I was "fine".
There is something very powerful about antiquity. The idea that a work of art has lasted for centuries is amazing; that it has lasted several millennia is nothing short of awesome*. The effect is, of course, greatly magnified by such exquisite artisanship as that displayed in the Louvre’s Roman art collection. I am deeply moved by great beauty, whether in man-made art or in naturally created forms, and as I stood looking at the very first piece in the exhibit – an enormous bust of Lucilla** – I found myself so taken by it’s artistry and grace that I literally felt all the negativity wash out of me as it was replaced by what can only be described as stupefied awe.
There is a scene in the film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off where we see Cameron standing in front of Georges Seurat’s famous painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. As soft and lovely music plays, the camera focuses on the painting, then on Cameron’s contemplative face. Then back to the painting, closer this time. Then Cameron’s face again, also closer. The camera switches back and forth between the two, getting closer and closer to its subjects with each change of view. This continues until we are seeing the painting so closely that the overall image is completely reduced to random colored blotches. Every time I watch this scene, I feel my throat tighten with emotion – not because of the scene’s significance in the film, but because of Cameron’s deep consideration of the artwork before him. He stands there, rigid and still, staring so far into the impressionist’s painting it’s as if he’s trying mentally to climb into it.
That’s sort of the effect all artwork done with this level of mastery has on me. (Shame that I didn’t remember that during lunch.) I can lose myself in it; be taken somewhere else with seemingly more efficiency than that delivered by any drug or somnolent business lecture.
I stared at Lucilla for a good long time. She was beautiful, even carved out of marble. I listened to the story of the colluded plot to kill the Emperor Commodus and Lucilla’s subsequent banishment to Capri. She was a jealous woman and I could almost see that in her eyes and the way she was holding her mouth. A year or so after her banishment, she died at the hand of a soldier sent by Commodus. The striations in the marble suddenly looked a lot like tears to me. When I finally left the bust of Lucilla, I really had no recollection of the terrible lunchtime experience.
I eventually joined a guided tour mainly because it’s far better to listen to a knowledgeable and charming tour guide than hold a sweaty, phallic earpiece to your head. The tour didn’t touch on every work in the Roman exhibit, but rather focused on the larger, more significant busts, bas-reliefs and mosaics. I happened to learn some very interesting things that I’d like to share with you:
♠ The ancient Romans actually painted most of their sculptures in garish colors. Talk about masters of irony.
♠ The mother of the Emperor Claudius was such a bitch, she would frequently insult a person’s intellect by informing them they were “dumber than my son Claudius”.
♠ Women who had lost both their husband and their father were the freest, most liberated women in ancient Rome. They got it ON!
♠ Despite how comfortable it looks, the toga was a spectacular pain in the ass to put on and wear. So much so, that only rich men and female prostitutes wore them.
♠ Caligula was a spoiled little fucker.
♠ Photography is forbidden in the Seattle Art Museum. This was specifically expressed to me by a guard, but not before I had acquired several cell phone snaps, shown below.
As always, thanks for dropping by. If the Roman Art from the Louvre exhibit happens to come to your town, I encourage you to go see it. It's breathtaking and really drives home the value and necessity of having art in our lives.
*And I mean that in the least 1980s way possible!
**Second daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.