The pleasures of Lille
Last week the husband and I went on a day trip to Lille -- to see the Palais des Beaux Arts (which we had been told was a real treasure chest of "arts" and which to our shame we had never visited). We went through a whole load of domestic debates, trying to find a Saturday when we could make a full day to get there. Then we made the brave and obvious decision: as we work seven days a week anyway (that's a confession not a boast), it would be perfectly OK to go on a weekday! So we opted for a Friday.
I cant say (after a quick visit) that Lille is the kind of place that I would like to take a week's holiday, but -- blimey -- the Palais des Beaux Arts is as good as everyone said it was.
On the ground floor, there is a marvellous collection of nineteenth-century sculpture. The hunk at the top of this post is a nineteenth-century Spartacus. But we were especially entranced by the nineteenth-century French copy, by an artist scholar at the French School in Rome, of the famous "hermaphrodite" (I hadn't quite realised before that this particular piece -- obvious as it might seem -- had been a target for copyists).
And on the basement floor, apart from a few OK bits of Greek pottery etc, there were an extraordinary collection of eighteenth-century landscape relief-models of the countryside and towns around Lille. Never seen anything like them.
But on the first floor, there was a stunning collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century classical painting. Above is a version of "Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Livia" (Octavia is swooning as the poet gets to the bit where we meet the dead Marcellus, her son). And one of my favourites is this picture on the left of Hippocrates coming to the city of Abdera to try to cure Democritus of his constant laughter (which is something I talk about in my forthcoming book on laughter).
And that's just a couple of highlights (among a real wealth of stuff), which makes the Eurostar nip (90 minutes) well worth it. Plus, let us recommend, a nice bar in the Museum and a 5 minutes walk a trad. French brasserie in the shape of Brasserie André (dont think you'll get anything nice near the Eurogare Lille, unless we missed something).
But I went away with a real highlight for me, which was back down on thge ground floor, among the gallery devoted to ceramics. What you see below (taken through the glass) islabelled merely as an eigtheenth-century bust. In fact, it is a version of my old friend, the "Grimani Vitellius". And it reminded me that as soon as I have finished my history of Rome, I'm getting back to writing up my project on modern images of Roman emperors.