Unexpected Connection April 6, 2015Posted by Ubi Dubium in Wow.
Tags: Altar, Ancient Rome, connection, Metropolitan, Museum, New York City, Vermeer
I recently spent a weekend in New York City, and had quite a bit of free time, just on my own. So I was able to do something I don’t get enough of, and that’s wandering at my own pace in a great museum. In this case I picked the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It looked lovely from the outside in the snow:
Since the last time I was there I had pretty thoroughly done my favorite part (Ancient Egypt) I started this visit with Greece and Rome. I had no idea there were so many Grecian Urns still in existence, and my eyes started to glaze over after room after room of of black on red and red on black. But then I found an atrium full of Roman Statuary. And tucked along a side wall was this:
Not a spectacular statue. A smallish Funerary Altar, where someone could make offerings on behalf of the deceased.
What struck me first was the carved relief. Not a powerful statesman, or a noblewoman with elaborately styled hair. No, this is a small boy. A pudgy little boy with funny ears that stick out, and he’s playing with his dog. I had to stop and look more.
The inscription reads:
L Ivlivs Gamvs Pater Fil Dvcissim
I had four years of high school Latin, and still remember enough that I didn’t need to read the guide on the pedestal to translate this. To the spirit of Anthus. L. Julius Gamus, Father. Sweetest Son.
Oh, man. I just stood there for a few minutes because this hit me so hard. Then I moved on, but stopped and went back again. No political statement here, just the grief of a parent who lost a beloved child. I was connecting emotionally to an unknown parent who lived a couple thousand years ago. Someone who wanted to preserve an image of his son just the way he remembered him. And now I can remember him too.
Later that day I spent some time in the galleries of the Old Masters. And here is Vermeer, making an ordinary moment into something luminous and amazing.
I realized then that I was the only person in that room of the gallery. Vermeer painted this over 400 years ago, and for a brief moment I was the only person in the whole world looking at this painting. Across time, one human connecting to another human. Something so simple, but so much more meaningful than all the religious claptrap I have ever sat through. Wow.