Newnham in Paris -- and a surprising Michelangelo
It was our Newnham finalists' annual trip to Paris on Saturday (and this blog comes with heartfelt thanks to all those who have made this event possible with their generous donations). As I have said on previous years, it's a long day: leave Cambridge just after 5.00, onto the 7.30 Eurostar, 90+ minutes in the Louvre before lunch (see the mille feuilles above.. NOT, let me stress, paid for by donor money), then another 90+ minutes in the museum, then a drink in a café, then back on the train, knackered. Participants were all our college finalists, plus me and Francesca Martelli who has been a lecturer with us for a year but is now (sadly for us, happily for her) going off to be Assistant Prof at UCLA.
There really isn't a better way of cheering yourself up before the final exams, as well as seeing some really good visual and archaeological material that you might never have seen before. We had (as often) a great talk together about the Louvre Hermaphrodite. What is the point of this figure which is a female from one side and a male from the other? I was trying to argue that it was not just a clever joke, but an attempt much more fundamentally to challenge the foundations of how you can judge what you see... Francesca tried to push us to consider how flimsy its male characteristics were, no more than a little willy (and so what does that say about masculinity?).
We had some hard museum work (including more mythical discussion about Marsysas, while those who had just done their own dissertations sought out images of Athena and of Nero).Then lunch was a nice treat, and it was followed by some poses of classical sculpture in the Palais Royal (more revision in a way -- that's the Tetrarchs above, and on the right Aphrodite whacking Pan with her slipper.
And then back to the Louvre. At this point some of us explored an exhibition cleverly dispersed through the museum of work by Michelangelo Pistoletto (part of the Arte Povera movement in Italy in the late 20th century). I had foolishly failed to spot that
this was on, but my eyes lit up when I realised, because in the book on classical art that I wrote with John Henderson we had featured his "Venus with Rags" (left) -- suggesting that Pistoletto was trying to show that both throw away rags and throw away Venuses are part of the waste products of the West.
There were plenty of Pistoletto's to discover in the Louvre. It was fun, but I am afraid to say that none were quite as good and the Venus with Rags. Pistoletto had a nice line with mirrors, trying to break down the temporalities between the museum object and the museum viewer.. putting the visitor into the frame, as you can see with Francesca on the right. But he did tend to do it over and over again, till even I felt like saying -- OK, I have GOT THE POINT.
All the same it was great to see his stuff close up and great to be there with the students, who got a huge amount out of it (basically it was education at its most hands on). A privileged lot you may say we are. But it wasn't the privilege of personal wealth. No student paid more than a train fare back from London to Cambridge, and we were the beneficiaries of the donors who had seen how valuable such an outing can be. Thank you all.
And here's a few more photos....