On a recent trip to New York City, I was determined to be as unscheduled as possible with the exception of a couple of must do activities. One was to have a pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side – seriously, just do it, it’s really that good! The other, absolute must, was a visit to the Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the world with a collection ranging from ancient to modern. It is a cultural mecca for visitors from around the world who could easily spend days wandering its hundreds of galleries and not see everything.
I never pass up an opportunity to visit an art or cultural museum. I love to be able to literally walk through thousands of years of human activity in a few hours. Equally interesting to me is the cross section of humanity roaming the exhibits. I must confess, for a person in my line of work (ancient art and archaeology) I may actually be the worst museum visitor in the world in that I have an notoriously short attention span in exhibits. I am not a person who must read every single placard on every single piece in every single case. I look at what I like and move along. (Don’t even get me started on the headset brigade…) I fake it really well when I bring students to a museum though!
On this trip I found that I was much more focussed than ususal because I had an expressed purpose of seeking out Richard Armitage in the Met. Hold on, hold on, – no need to call out the APM Guard – I was not looking for the man in the flesh, but rather his image amongst the classical works. The seed that became this blog was planted shortly before I went to New York. I thought at the time: What better place to start my search for Richard Armitage in the classical tRAdition than the spectacular Greco-Roman galleries of the Met? As I walked up the stairs to the entrance, I swear, the clouds parted and I heard a choir of cupids singing:
When I planned for this mission, I had a particular image of Richard Armitage in my mind’s eye – one that had always struck me as quite classical in compostion:
The partial profile, the contemplative gaze, the overall compostional quiet of the image all reminiscent of the art of classical Athens (particularly that of the 5th century)
I have to admit a certain amount of intial overload as I entered through the Geometric galleries – nerd alert! I must give my travelling companion credit for having the wisdom to just stand back when I began to bounce back and forth between cases like a pinball – I love this stuff:
As much as I love the material of this period and the one just before it (for which almost nothing is on display – not entirely surprising – I call it “pottery only a mother could love”) I was not going to find many reflections of Richard Armitage among the stylized figures that are characteristic of Geometric vase painting, so we headed off to the classical galleries. I was not disappointed, I found a number of interesting examples, especially in the study collection, that will eventually appear here, but I found a particularly striking image when we reach a special exhibit on Sleeping Eros:
The image depicts the king of the gods, Zeus, seated on a throne with a tiny Eros flying in to place a wreath on his head. If we zoom in a bit closer, we can see the remarkable similarity of Zeus to several bearded profiles of Richard Armitage:
I love the long, straight line of the nose and slightly stern brow. The hand lifted near the face is noteworthy as well. The real kicker for me though, has been a subject of considerable chatter in Armitageworld over the past week: chest hair. This vase painting shows a shirtless Zeus with clearly defined chest hair…not remarkable among adult males of the human variety, but definitely not common in Greek vase painting representations of the same. It was clearly meant to be that I find this one tiny fragment of a vase in a enormous collection of whole vases…like the gods knew I was coming or something. 🙂