Classics in Cuba
I have been rather off radar because, as I hinted in my last post, I went with the family to Cuba for a few days -- a brief visit, but one driven by the desire to see the place before Fidel died and before Obama loosened it up to the United States (before, I mean, there was a GAP on every street corner). We couldn't, it seems, put it off much longer.
I shall report on some of the surprises soon. But lets start with the biggest of all. I never expected to see so much classical tradition, and classics around the place. At the top of this post is a a wonderful little 1828 classical revival temple from one of the main squares in the city (the Rough Guide claimed it was a miniature replica Parthenon, which it isn't -- but it still is a great piece of, archaeologically inspired,colonial classicism).
And there was more than just that. We missed the vast statue of Athena (the world's third largest indoor statue) in the Capitolio -- a 1920s building closed for renovation, but externally bearing an unnerving resemblance to the Capitol in Washington DC (on the right, from our hotel bedroom). But in the front hall spanking new university building (which looks, I have modestly to say, a rather pricier piece of architecture than our own recent Faculty extension) was a somewhat smaller version of the cult statue of Athena from the Parthenon.
There were also a good deal of original antiquities around the place -- from pots, to paintings and sculpture. Most of these I am afraid I cant illustrate as photography was often not officially allowed , and I hadn't quite mastered the technique of buying the blindness of the guards.
The Museo de Bellas Artes has a big classical collection. I haven't yet done enough work on the catalogue (my Spanish is a bit slow) to discover exactly were it all comes from. But there are no fewer than 9 decent Fayum portraits (one of the less good ones on the left), and amidst all the many Greek pots (some of which looked a bit suspiciously shiny and fake) was a very plausible piece by the Berlin painter.
In fact the whole gallery was a match for many a big European or American art museum. Somebody in Cuba had at sometime had a passion for English portraits -- at least there was a really impressive line up of Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence. And my favourite surprise of all: a great little Alma Tadema (in its original frame) of a Roman drawing class, with model, and a including what looks like a self portrait of A-T himself. I'd never seen this illustrated before, and it make a wonderful addition to all those other bigger pictures in which he reflects on various aspects of ancient and modern art practice (from buying and selling to painting and making). It's the image -- without the frame, I'm afraid -- above.
I wonder if some British gallery could be persuaded to mount a "Treasures of the National Gallery of Cuba" show?