Today we became students of history, as gathered by the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. The exterior itself is imposing. Long glistening corridors, multi-height ceilings, willing staff, hundreds of art pieces organised for visitors to do their own thing. So I made up my unresearched story, trying to imagine which images I would like to reflect upon, say 10000 years from now.
I touched the pillars of the Egyptian Temple recreated in a big hall and the Egyptians ages, flashed by pharaohs, males and females, elaborate burial grounds, headdresses and necklaces. All those that we have seen so many times, in so many films. Where was Egypt now? Where did the purpose go? Why have their Gods deserted them ? As I moved down the corridor, I took away only one image – the pain on the face of a tortured slave.
The aim was to see the sculptures and paintings and I knew I won’t be able to see the Michaelangelo collection which MET had displayed 6 months ago. But there were many Europeon artists on display – Corbet, Carpeaux, Lippi, Ghirlandaio, Rodin, Velasquez, Goya and more.
The special treat today was “Visitors to Versailles” theme. Scores of paintings carried the description of the Versailles Palace, the French Royalty for whom the palace was built and lavishly maintained, in particular Marie Antoinette – the Austrian who became French Queen I glanced at her portrait and chose to remember her for her support to American Revolution while becoming a prey to French Revolution. Could the Americans have prevented the royal executions?
Absolute monarchies were a dying species with the success of the American experience. She tried to be a daughter, a royalty, a mother and had to manage multi-pronged relationships with opposing teams. A leader’s nightmare. There was very low chance of pulling through the sea of changes.
I will remember her from my readings of Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers) and Hugo (Les Miserables).
With Marietta’s death, the French Revolution reigned till another outsider, Emperor Napoleon, rose from the ambitions of a bygone era. Nothing seems to change radically. We abhor change and like to taste the old wine in modified bottles. And humans are always in search of leaders; a genetic disease of being led and driven. Czarist, CEO and dynastic structures are current versions of a tested formula.
The bust of Medici family triggered the memories of the Europeon warrior Popes – religion and war! I have never understood wars in the name of religion; crusades in the name of Christ and jihads against dissenters. I took with me the memory of the marble piece of Christ’s body being lowered into the hands of St. John under the anguished gaze of Mary Magdalen. Here was a clear purpose – live for others at any cost. All wars, acquisitive instincts, suppressing tendencies are simply the result of man fighting to become man; here was courage and a will to fight the genetic shackles.
All Art Pieces have the stains of blood. I took away that self-created statement for reflection.
I stopped at the busts of Herodotus, the historian and Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor. A Greek and a Roman patiently waited for visitors. I took the picture of another outstanding Roman, Augustus. But rightly, a man of so many contradictions had only half his face retained. I chose to live with the memory of the broken image of Augustus. For 40 odd years he ruled, conquered and laid the foundations of doing, skilfully telling what is done and motivating disparate communities to aspire to be a Roman. I see his manoeuvrings, his ferocity and ego in many subsequent leaders who made a difference.
When it comes to romance, the French excel. A French artist’s depiction of a teenage couple running for shelter in rainstorm, using the heroin’s overskirt as an impromptu umbrella, drew all with a heart. And of course, I had my heart in safe custody for over three decades. I took this image of The Storm for my long distance travel and was certain that human heart and eye will always capture this innocence and thrill.
Photograph by Devang Desai