Gods, goddesses, girls and boys (and birds)

Welcome your duck god overlords.

These towering slit gongs of Vanuatu are among the largest freestanding musical instruments in the world.  When struck with wooden clubs, they resonate with the voices of the ancestors… according to the information provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we saw these yesterday.

The museum does a wonderful job, especially in large galleries like this, of not having too much on display at once to overwhelm (unlike Times Square). Then you can enter an airy gallery, observe things handmade, man-made, and be struck (like a gong) by the fantastic, the beautiful, the strange, the divine.

His hair was perfect.

Life-size bronze bust of a young Roman boy, A.D. 50-68 (early imperial/ Julio-Claudia period). It is a portrait of a real boy, but they’re not sure who. His name is lost but his likeness lives on in Gallery 166.

I adopt him as a museum favorite; I take him home with my camera.

Young Woman With Ibis, Edgar Degas

Originally conceived as a depiction of a pensive woman overlooking an oriental metropolis, the picture assumed a mysterious air when Degas added the two red ibises around 1860–62.

Like a finished and saleable picture by a skilled artist and then someone (a mischievous doppelganger of Degas) came along after, looked, and said, “I know just what this needs,” and slapped on a couple of scarlet ibises. Voila! Genius.

Leda and the Swan, carved from limestone by Michel Anguier in 1654

A human encounter with the divine. She appears to have the upper hand in this version of the story. (That swan seems oddly furry.)

My first encounter with this mythological motif was through a poem by W.B. Yeats. I was so young it was hard for me to read between the lines and know exactly what had happened, but the words and images were strong and lyrical and I had an intimation (as I do with a lot of good art still) that one day I would understand more, better.

The Sun Vow, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, 1899

During visits to several Native American tribes in 1895, he heard of a rite of passage that captured his imagination: before a boy on the threshold of manhood could be accepted as a warrior of his tribe, he must shoot an arrow directly into the sun. If the chieftain judging the boy’s prowess was so blinded by the sun’s rays that he could not follow the flight of the arrow, then the youth, here identified as a Sioux, had passed the test.

Be (a) brave and look into the sun.

Mad holy Joan in her moment of divine revelation in her parents’ garden.

Jules Bastien-Lepage painted St. Joan of Arc in 1879, just after the Franco-Prussian war perhaps to cheer up the French (who had lost Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans) with their national heroine.

His depiction of the saints whose voices she heard elicited a mixed reaction from Salon critics, many of whom found the presence of the saints at odds with the naturalism of the artist’s style.

But isn’t that part of what makes this painting worth looking at? Her godstruck eyes are wide open, pale and staring; she is at a still point between normal, natural human life and her burned-at-the-stake, sainted, eternal, iconic future.

Ready for take off.

I can’t find this on the museum site to provide a more thorough description (perhaps it is on loan from somewhere else), but I’d say this is Artemis (Diana), goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wild places, the moon, childbirth and virginity. We like it.

She is inside four walls in a grand, teeming city. But she seems a wild, free thing anyway.

10 thoughts on “Gods, goddesses, girls and boys (and birds)

  1. Amy,

    Just one second whilst I rid myself of that green gremlin witch named <bEnvoy !

    There!!! —

    What a joy that must be. I am particularly drawn to the faces of the two Sioux (Lakota, I am assuming), man and boy, tracing the line of flight of his right of passage into the sun.

    Once or twice on every hunting trip we make out onto the plains, seeking deer and antelope, I am shadowed by visions of such faces; wraiths of Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe hunters.

    We hunt south of Cheyenne Wells along the drainage of Big Sand Creek. It was there on 29 November 1864, that one Colonel John Chivington led a 700 man force of Colorado Militia on an arguably, unprovoked attack against a friendly encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Natives.

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_Creek_massacre )

    These high, open plains still call to my aging old being. Its one of the few times I truly relax.
    I love the art and culture (and modern conveniences) of cities…..However, the larger they are, the more of that frenetic undercurrent of “busy-ness” 24/7 hounds my old soul. If I were to visit NYC, or Boston, I would only go with a friend, a knowledgeable guide firmly in hand!

    You can turn me loose in the mountains or plains or desert…..and I am good to go. Big cities give me the willies. Every year now, Denver is growing more and more foreign to me…a 3rd generation native.

  2. The sculpture gallery with the Sioux, in the American wing, may have been my favorite. But we only saw a fraction of what there was to see. My husband is not a four walls guy either. Someday I’ll go back!

    Wonderful description of Western hunting. I guess Artemis would be the Greek deity for you.

    I’m not a city person, for many of the same reasons you name. But there is a lot in New York that makes putting up with the other stuff worth it. Even when very crowded, it seems like there’s still room – there is an airiness (where we were) that maybe has to do with fairly wide streets (esp compared to Boston) and all the buildings mounting up into the sky but never really too crowded together. Plus there’s Central Park! And many public spaces with trees and art.

  3. OK, I visited! It’s hard to argue against feelings and inchoate frustrations. I’m not sure it does any good unless people have some personal experience or revelation. Just reading other people’s opinions usually isn’t enough.

    I share many of the frustrations that are said to be motivating Occupy and those in solidarity with the movement – I just don’t think Marxism, anarchism, collectivism, giving one man (the president) more power to “change” things, forced redistribution of property, etc etc are the solutions. The undefined nature of the movement allows people (who may not be paying a lot of attention) to imagine it is what they think or want it to be. Because the American anarchists and Marxists and socialists and redistributionists are not in power, they have the luxury of imagining how good and fair and just they would be if they were in power. But of course truly we already know from others’ experience what Churchill said in 1947: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

  4. Yah know,

    Thank you both. I’ve worked way too hard…..(ask my back and shoulders) as a free enterprise artisan for these last 40+ years to think some lil’ miscreant shite who feels they are “entitled” to three hots and a cot from some nebulous governmental entity to take over any frikken city center.

    My thought…. Turn the Surgeon General and the CDC loose. These tent cities are a clear and present danger the the health of every city they inhabit. The governors of each state have the authority to call up the National Guard.

    And, in my humble opinion, it’s well past time. This movement has become a threat to our national health and security.

    (Like that is going to happen under the current occupant of the White House!)

  5. And, it is a sad, sad commentary on the spawn bred from Roosevelt socialism, reaching back to Teddy’s reign. Franklin only expanded the bureaucratic wasp’s nest.
    Sorry to say that both Dwight David and the boy from Brea, CA, Richard Milhous, only exacerbated the madness.

    We lost a chance with Goldwater. We were blessed with Reagan….and in some ways, that philandering arsehat Clinton, helped turn the tables.

    Only time, God’s good grace and our prayers and involvement will turn the tide.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now…..

    Bless y’all.

  6. “I’ve worked way too hard…..(ask my back and shoulders) as a free enterprise artisan for these last 40+ years to think some lil’ miscreant shite who feels they are “entitled” to three hots and a cot from some nebulous governmental entity to take over any frikken city center.” – made me laugh!

  7. We had been looking at lots of sculpture and didn’t much time left. I said to my husband: “I just need to see a few big paintings before we leave,” and that very moment we came around a corner and saw Joan. It does make at impression!

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