Looking for Richard Armitage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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:

Metropolitan Museum of Art - NYC Entrance to Greco-Roman Exhibit

Metropolitan Museum of Art – NYC
Entrance to Greco-Roman Exhibit

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:

ra pink shirt

Recognise Magazine by Keith Clouston (14 June 2011)
Photo Courtesy of http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

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:

Krater, second half of 8th century b.c.; Geometric Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop Greek, Attic Terracotta  H. 42 5/8 in. (108.25 cm) Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.130.14)

Krater, second half of 8th century b.c.; Geometric
Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop
Greek, Attic
H. 42 5/8 in. (108.25 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.130.14)

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:

Enthroned Zeus (fragement of ceramic cup) MMA Rogers Fund, 1911

Enthroned Zeus
(fragement of ceramic cup) MMA Rogers Fund, 1911

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:

Detail of previous image

Detail of previous image

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.  🙂

30 comments on “Looking for Richard Armitage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  1. Leigh says:

    Just as Xenios Zeus goes walkabout on earth among mortals, perhaps he knew you were coming to find him on shards of Olympus. 😉 It seems very fitting that you found this image, a rarity among those on the kRAters.

    • obscura says:

      It really was a find. I don’t know that a piece like this would ordinarily be on display in a collection like the one the Met has. I’ve been in the storerooms at the Field Museum in Chicago and a number of Greek museums, and what makes it to display is only a tiny percentage of their overall holdings…the ancient Greeks might call this find a matter of μοῖρα (moira) or fate. 🙂

  2. phylly3 says:

    RA truly has a classical beauty. I find your studies fascinating!

    • obscura says:

      Doesn’t he though…it really is kind of uncanny in a few spots. I’m glad you’re enjoying the info – I’m having a great time looking at it!

  3. trudystattle says:

    Lol! Chest hair! And so my nugget of cultural enlightenment from this post is that it was not common to find depictions of the Greek gods with chest hair. 🙂
    And so we see that King Armitage may just turn out to be Zeus descended upon earth to have a bit of fun.

    • obscura says:

      I do what I can to keep the level of cultural discourse lofty around here 😉 It was unusual enough that I stopped and looked twice…maybe a “specialty” of this particular painter (Palermo Painter – this one is in Athenian Red-Figure style but was actually made in S. Italy where there was a large Greek presence.)

      If Zeus is out and about, his partners in fun should beware of the inevitable visit of his jealous wife!!

      • trudystattle says:

        Well, from what we can tell, ‘Zeus’ hasn’t been getting into too much trouble on that score. 😉

        • obscura says:

          No, he is definitely not modelling himself after mythological Zeus in the “fun” department…that level of “fun” would most definitely leave an indelible trail 😉

  4. katie70 says:

    On the pottery what kind of paint is it or is it something else? I look at something like this vase and wonder what all did they have to make such a nice piece of work. Kind of like the buildings of old the sheer hard labor that when into building them.

    • obscura says:

      It’s not actually paint at all, but slip (a more liquid version of clay) The slip turns black during the firing process, so where there is black on this piece is slip, where there is red (orange really) is the color of the clay itself onto which detail is added with glaze in a variety of thicknesses. They used brushes to paint, compasses for symmetry and a three step firing process that alternated the presence of oxygen in the kiln to produce the desired effects. It is amazing what human ingenuity can produce isn’t it?

      • Leigh says:

        Having tried to create a slip-decorated shallow bowl many years ago, I remain in awe of what these artists achieved. I am amazed not only at the beauty and intricacy of the images, but that they developed controlled firing techniques with the materials and fuels they had. Today, with gas and electric kilns that have temperature settings and controlled draft, firing remains a challenge. Doing it with stone kilns and maybe oil-soaked wood as fuel boggles the imagination.

  5. katie70 says:

    Since I am and have never been a person with great art ability, I am not sure how some stuff is made. But not having art ability don’t mean that I don’t enjoy art. I am really amazed with all the neat things that where made/build so long ago. The skill they had was great.
    I just took a class on glass fusion 1 1/2 weeks ago with the two girls I work with, it was fun and that what ever I did was still good was a great feeling, then to be told how nice it looked really boasted my spirits also. We are planning to go again, I would like to make my BF a piece for her birthday, what a fun, one of a kind gift to give her. This is not cheap to do (the small bowl I made was
    $35) but a fun way to spend a couple hours together not a work.

    • obscura says:

      Me neither, and not for lack of trying! Since I study ceramics, I thought I should have an understanding how they’re made – what a disaster! I’ll just stick to examining the finished product :). Glass fusion sounds neat…I’ve done some pottery painting at a couple of local places, but nothing with glass. That is a great gift idea!

  6. guylty says:

    I had to laugh out loud about your (slightly embarrassed) confession/caveat that you tend to race through an exhibition or museum *despite* being a professional in the field. And then putting on a show for the benefit of the students. Oh Obscura, that is so me!!! You should see me in a photo exhibition. I only loiter when I am with friends *haha*. And you know what – it is not a short attention span at all. It just means that you have an extremely quick cop-on!! You simply do not need as much time as other people to take it all in. And you know what is worth looking at and what isn’t. There – that sounds much better, doesn’t it? (That’s how I justify it myself…)
    Anyway, thanks for putting that image of RA and the Greek pottery shard together. I had actually not really noticed how classical RA’s profile is. Particularly with his cropped hair he looks like the picture of an ancient Greek god. His nose is the defining characteristic. – I’d love it if there were any pics of RA modelled on these Greek depictions. Now, that would be an interesting photo project!

    • obscura says:

      🙂 The only time I have ever not felt like I was the one rushing was when I took a tour group to Greece and we were all herded around by our guide – extremely rapidly through every gallery – That even I felt rushed is testament to how fast she was moving us through. (individuals not licensed by the Greek government are prohibited from “guiding” their own tours) I like that justification statement – I might borrow it!

      Now that sounds like a worthy project – I would happily be your “classical” consultant on site. Now, you’d only have to talk your proposed subject into the most period appropriate costumes 😉 (he’s an artist, he should be fine with that right?)

  7. guylty says:

    I definitely need a consultant on a project like that. Plus a couple of assistants, someone to provide coffee/tea and a few make-up people/stylists. You can do the chit-chat, I’ll hide behind the camera 😀

    • obscura says:

      Chicken 🙂 The optimal time would definitely be immediately post Hobbit shooting before he has time to slim down all that hunky Thorin muscle… Get on it!

      • guylty says:

        Oh, total chicken! I am happy fangirling anonymously behind the camera. Probably quite nonchalantly, as well. Treat them bad to keep them interested *haha*. And yes, we want the muscles, deffo. Just like in the blue Ascroft shot.

        • obscura says:

          LOL…I see, I’m the one who needs to remain composed and entertaining while you get to be all aloof and artistic – tag team – I like it! I see two sets – one as bearded, one unbearded – two distinct groups of Greek gods you know 😉 (might require more than one shoot – maybe a Greek location?) Isn’t fake planning great? No budget, No logistics…

  8. guylty says:

    That is absolutely brilliant. Two different shoots. Yeah, let’s draw these fake plans out. Let’s say we want to do a series of 5 shots bearded/shaven each. That’s ten day’s shooting (let’s not rush this…) – we can only do one set-up per day. We would involve RA artistically, however, seeing that we know how he likes to approach his (acting) jobs in “method mode”. That might require some sessions over a few bottles of Malbec or at least endless cups of tea. Possibly a communally written character diary. It really takes its time.

    • obscura says:

      You can’t rush art! (how timely – I watched The Agony and The Ecstasy the other day…Pope Julius: “When will you make and end of it?” Michaelangelo: “When I am finished!”) – that’s precisely the attitude this photography project requires 🙂

      • guylty says:

        LOL. (Deadly serious again) Absolutely. Photography is not to be rushed. It’s all an organic process with much preparation. We should probably factor in a week’s getting-to-know-each-other period. After all, it is quite a personal project, considering the (lack of) costumes (she says euphemistically).

        • obscura says:

          Very true…it would be best for all concerned if everyone was perfectly comfortable at all times 🙂 This sounds like a good 3-week endeavor – I can make time!

          • guylty says:

            I think we ought to shoot this in my studio – which happens to be in my house. I think I will remove my family from the premises for three weeks and open the rooms to the people involved in the shoot. A true collaborative project.

          • obscura says:

            Very homey and trust establishing – good thinking! (Not to mention convenient – well execpt for your family 🙂 )

        • Leigh says:

          You must keep it authentic, you know. 😉

  9. guylty says:

    All in the interest of art, as you know. It’s worth it.

  10. […] Looking for Richard Armitage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. […]

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