Sailing to Byzantium
I am now on my own in our rented house in Berkeley. The husband has gone back home. This is probably not too bad an idea, as my Sather Lectures begin tomorrow and I shall no doubt be impossible to live with for the next six weeks.
That said, I have the first lecture written. Of course, I don’t know how it will go down tomorrow (it’s in Berkeley at 8.10, Thursday: all welcome, but it will I think be podcast). But suffice it to say that I feel a bit like you do before an exam when you know you’ve done all the revision: you don’t know what you’ll get at the end of the day, but you know you’ve done the best you can. Now I’m more worried about what to wear. The Emmy outfit, I think.. at least for the first one?
But the real reason he went back to London was because the show on Byzantium he has been curating at the Royal Academy is about to open – and he needs to be there. This is the biggest Byzantine Art show that there has ever been in the UK, and probably will ever be. And it should be the Academy’s autumn blockbuster.
Of course, it feels a bit different when you live with its preparation domestically. The material from Sinai is stunning, but I tend to think more about the eight hours of the poor husband trundling over the desert from Cairo to view and request the icons from the monks at the monastery.
Getting a multinational show like this together is knife edge. Will the one thing you really want be certified ‘fit for travel’? And how much will it all cost? And -- to think selfishly for a minute - what bit of modern warfare will scupper your best-laid plans?
When the show is unveiled at the end of October, I’m most looking forward to getting a close look at the objects that have come from Venice. Past warfare distributes great works of art around the world in unexpected ways. The fourth crusade of 1204 (the one that the Pope recently apologised for!) meant that the Venetians went back home with some of the most wonderful treasure of Byzantium/Constantinople – where they have been carefully preserved in the treasury of S Marco ever since. There are amazing works of art in enamel, silver and gold (as you see in these pictures) – a glimpse not only of the riches of Byzantium, but also the kind of material that the the Byzantines predecessors in Rome would once have owned.
Otherwise I’m looking forward to see the really early .. that is pre Constantine’s conversion -- Christian sculptures of Jonah now in Cleveland, USA. And the stupendous icons from Ohrid in the Republic of Macedonia (or whatever we are allowed to call it). One's on the right.
I had some great photos of these icons being unwrapped and installed in the Academy which I wanted to post for you, taken with the permission of the curators from Ohrid. They would have made you all rush to see the show. But I have been told by their press office that I can only use ‘officially approved and cleared images”.
Sorry! I trust that this is a misunderstanding. But such is the world of (some) modern museums and galleries, you never quite know.
I hope I’ll be able to post the pics later.