Posts Tagged ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art’

Let us now praise famous toes.Famous squooshed toes, that is.

Why is Eirene’s little toe deformed? It’s 360 BCE. Nobody was wearing narrow pointed high heeled boots in Athens at the time.  How did the sculptor come up with the idea of hammering such a crooked little toe out of his marble block?
ToesGSThe Greeks were famously obsessed with perfection and in the visual arts that meant the Golden Section. As an example, you can see that Eirene’s peplos drapes at about the line dividing her body into the Golden Section. But the little toe? Now, granted the Athenians had lost the war with Sparta in 404 BC and were understandably demoralized. They stopped writing juicy drama and instead produced brittle philosophy. Maybe their obsession with perfection gave way to a sense of humor. I was startled by the sight of this toe. It’s funny. Should it be? Can this be explained? Has anyone written a monograph on Athenian toes? Or will I have to live through this coming year distracted by this weighty mystery?
Sappho1I walked on. Heading towards the Café next to the sculpture court at the Met, I was tripped up by yet another set of toes. Here’s a tense, heroic Sappho wiggling her toes as if playing the piano and, look, her little toe is puny and out of line.


What’s going on here? This sculpture is from the 19th century. Could it be that for two thousand years sculptors have been encoding their deepest existential gloom in little toes and nobody’s taken notice!? The little toe cries out for recognition. The little toe needs to be understood. The little toe demands scholarly attention. The little toe is the elephant in the room.
Ahem. I know three things about toes. 1) only men have foot fetishes, no women do; 2) ballerinas do their best point work if they have the most toes in a straight line; 3) our evolution may dispense with the little toe (and little finger) altogether, over many more eons.

So, my first thoughts of the new year are on solid ground, on an uneven footing and draped in mystery. I like it already.
An uneven, alert 2015 to us all!
Marble statue of Eirene (personification of peace), Roman, Julio-Claudian period circa 14-68 CE. Copy of Greek bronze statue, 375-359 BCE. By Kephisodotos
Sappho. Marble, 1895. By Compte Prosper D’Epinay (1836-1914)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Monet is popular because of his use of color.  In l967 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, under its new director Thomas Hoving,  acquired Monet’s La Terrace à Sainte-Addresse for  1.4  million. Monet had painted it in 1867, at the age of twenty-seven and had sold it for pittance because as a new father he needed the money.  But I digress.

Hoving fought to get the painting for the museum.  When he saw it in the dingy quarters of its eccentric owner, the Swedenborgian pastor Theodore Pitcairn, in a suburb of Philadelphia, he was so overcome by the painting’s beauty that he ”sat down on the bed and stared at it for what must have been an hour.” In his book, “Making the Mummies Dance,”  Hoving talks only about the exquisite colors in this painting.

Well, now, as is our custom in this blog, let’s have another look.  Colors, yes, but what about all this geometry.

I immediately notice two things in the geometry:  1) the two flag poles, making me suspect a Golden Section and 2) a dominant line at the lower right.

The Golden Section (1) is right there, defined by the flag poles and the center of the umbrella and the eye of the man in the hat, the beholder of the scene, and therefore one of us the viewers. (The bright green lines).

The dominant line (2) is the strong line dividing the pavement from the garden. (The pink line)  This line, in the Western tradition, is read as going down.  Hm, down.  Here’s this cheerful scene, which Hoving describes as pure joy, and what we get is this dominant line directing our eye down, down, down.    If you don’t immediately see the down-effect of this line, just flip the

image over.  Now, the line goes up.  When that line goes up, the joy loses all gravitas and turns the image into a tourist bureau advertisement.  Doesn’t the optimism in the flipped version become facile and trivial?

The picture within the picture that frames the man, the woman and the black sails through the use of the flag poles (3) is clearly intentional especially since the man in the hat is looking at that scene.  A few days after the birth of his son, the penniless Monet wrote to his friend Bazille: “Everything is fine here, work and family;  were it not for the birth I should be the happiest man alive.”

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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