Last exit to Washington
When I arrived at my apartment block in Washington last week to give Mellon lecture number 5 (a hubristic attempt to talk about Titian inter alia...) the concierge said as I walked in: "welcome home Miss Mary".
And yes, I thought, Washington HAS become to feel like home (note how I just wrote MY apartment block, as natural as anything). That's partly because I've lived in this little bubble between E St NW and the National Gallery, hardly straying outside it ... and enjoying the kind of wall-to-wall work that I havent for ages. Get up and read, then have coffee and read some more, plunge into the library, until it's time for half a botle of wine and some more reading. (The picture at the head of this post is part of my buble -- the moving walkway between the two wings of the gallery.)
Of course, there's nothing like the fear of facing 500 people on a Sunday afternoon to make you get your ideas and thoughts together . . .
Sorry to gush, but I have had a great time, and the most pleasure has come from some of the simplest things. Number one: people who will share their expertise in whatever, from medieval tapestry to Renaissance drawings (I can't begin to tell you how much more I know about tapestry than I did three months ago; I used to be the sort of girl who would walk briskly through any tapestry gallery...with the speed that my children aged 8 and 10 could go through a gallery of Etruscan sarcophagi). Number two: I never realised how wonderful it was to have a complete run of sales catalogues from all the major auction houses on open shelves in the library; it's amazing what I've found (someone tell me please that we have this in Cambridge...)
Anyway this Sunday is lecture number six; the end . . .
It's going to be partly about the old Roman sarcophagus that Andrew Jackson refused to be buried in (everyone thought it was the sarcophagus of the emperor Alexander Severus and that wouldnt do for a US president). I talked about this in Lecture One, and the end of the story will appear on Sunday... not giving it away yet.
But I'm also talking about the idea of representing modern people as Romans..in the western tradition of portraiture, and how and why it died out. I blogged about this before and some of your suggestions (inc FDR's toga party will come in on Sunday, so thank you all very much).
Meanwhile I've changed my mind a bit about what the problem/question is. I dont think that we need to be concentrating on why we no longer represent our 'leaders' as Romans.. but why no form of representational fantasy is any longer on the agenda of portraiture (Anglo Saxon, Arabian or whatever). One of the consequences of modernism was, I suspect, that mainstream portraits could no longer deal in metaphor; they had to be "realistic" or "sub-realistic". No more Lord Cornwallis as a Roman (as on the right), or Queen Victoria as an Anglo Saxon. or Commodus as Hercules (on left). The change wasnt in other words a rejectio of Rome, but a rejection of any form of the other.
How many (mainstream) counter examples?