Three hours. That’s all we got to soak in the most of Goya, Rembrandt and Paul Rubens. That’s just a tiny portion of the exhibits at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Short of time, we whizzed past some of the Egyptian mummies, and Indian gods. I clicked the photos of some, and some, I tried to save in memory (fail idea). Two days later, I tried to recall the museum walk, and made a list of the only ones that stayed in my mind from the thousands that I rushed through.
The boy in red (That’s not the actual title, but let’s call him that)
Some obvious questions…
Who is the kid?
It’s a long name. He was called Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga. He passed away when he was just eight, and it is believed by some that the painting was done by the well-known Spanish painted Goya after the child’s death.
But who is he?
He was an important kid, the son of the Count and Countess of Altamira in Spain. Google Altamira caves, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is best known for the paleolithic art on its walls.
What’s with the bird on a leash?
It’s a magpie, and it symbolizes innocence. If you look closely, the magpie is carrying a card. Goya’s calling card. There is also a cage full of colorful tiny finches. There are three, yes three (you can hardly see them in this picture), cats staring at the birds. They look almost ready to attack the harmless birds. Art historians say the cats are metaphorical to the evil that would eat up the innocence of childhood in due time.
How old is the painting?
It’s 230 years old! It was first exhibited in the Met in 1928. Phew.
2. Lot and his daughters
Yes, it is what you think it is.
Who is Lot?
According to Torah (traditional Jewish learning), Lot was an honorable family man living in the city of Sodom, with his wife and daughters. Until one night, when two angels visited him. They were disguised as travelers. Lot offered them a place to stay. But soon, an angry mob surrounded the house and asked him to surrender the angels to their lust. But Lot, driven by idealistic principles to protect his guests, instead offered them his own daughters. (whaaaa!).
The angels were impressed, they stopped the mob, protected his daughters, and also warned him that the city will soon be destroyed and he and his family should run to some place else and save themselves. Remember: whatever it is, don’t look back — they told Lot’s family. And so they fled. But at some point, his wife turned back to check if Lot was following, and got turned into a pillar of salt (angel’s curse!). So it’s just Lot and his two daughters now.
You see where this is going.
Anyway, they found shelter in a cave. Most of the city was destroyed. His daughters realized that there was no surviving man in the city to give them any kids, so they did the unthinkable. They got their dad drunk and seduced him into impregnating them. Yes, cringe-worthy.
But why did Peter Paul Rubens decide to paint this story?
Apparently, he found a connection. His dad was involved in a sex scandal, back in 1577. He had an affair with his employer, the Princess of Orange (south of modern-day France), and was imprisoned. Art historians believe that this past might have prompted him to paint that scene.
Not many have seen this piece.
This is the first time it is being exhibited for the public. Till 2016, it was privately owned. And then was sold at a whopping 44 million pounds in Christie’s auction.
3. Two children teasing a cat
Poor cat. Evil kids.
Who are they anyway?
Not sure. Art historians say that Annibale Caracci would have probably drawn a rough sketch of the kids in haste and then worked on it from memory. Apparently, while cleaning the painting in 2010, the MET discovered that the cat was painted in a different position initially, and later, with skillful strokes, Annibale corrected it to the position it is seen today. TMI?
Never mind. On to more important questions. Why torture the cat?
It’s a renaissance art thing, really. To elaborate, back in the 1500s there was an artist called Sofonisba Anguissola. One day, she sought advice from Michelangelo on one of her paintings of a child laughing. Mike said that it would have been even better if the child was crying. Sadist much. But he had a better reason. Apparently, back then, the work that required more hard work automatically got more praise. And since it is tougher to paint a child crying than laughing, Mike’s was an earnest suggestion. So Sofonisba went back, and did a painting of her sister offering a basket of crayfish to her younger brother. In it, the little boy is seen crying as the pincer of the crayfish is fastened on the boy’s finger. The sister stands there laughing at him.
That’s just mean.
Annibale, in this painting, has consciously placed the little girl’s hand close to the cat. At some point, the cat is going to be annoyed enough by that crayfish that the boy is dangling at it, and scratch the girl’s hand. The smile on her face is going to vanish, and she is going to cry out. Annibale wanted to bring out this looming sorrow, which cannot be seen, but is just round the corner.
That’s sad. Also, too much thinking.
Here are some dancers to cheer you up.
4. Rustic Dancers
Adorable, aren’t they?
Btw, they are really old. Centuries old! They were made between 25 to 220 AD, and belonged to the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. The idea of fun hasn’t changed much over the years, has it?
Okay, the last one.
But before that, when did you last get your hair done?
5. Portrait of a young man
Let’s get straight to the point – what’s with his hair?
It has a name. Like quiff. Or Ducktail. This gentleman’s hairstyle was called a zazzera. A very sought after hairdo in Venice, in the 1480s and 90s.
Who’s the guy?
Nobody knows. But it is said that Jacometto was commissioned to paint a portrait of him. And since Jaco was a popular artiste back then, to have him paint your portrait, you had to be of a certain stature. So guess, he was just a rich guy with soft gold locks.
I intend to go back and do a second tour soon. In the meanwhile, if you have been to the Met, is there any exhibit that caught your attention?
P.s. The Met has an excellent directory of information about the exhibits. The facts for this post have been sourced from the Met Website.