December 14, 2009

At the Met: the Greek and Roman Study Collection

Roman Blown Glass, 3rd-4th century AD

I came home this afternoon to a snow covered landscape, very different from the green Vermont in Bing Crosby's White Christmas. I feel as though I have sugar plum fairies dancing in my head, from the loveliness of the views outside my windows, and from the vivid pictures in my mind of things I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday.

When I was last at the Met, I happened to use an unnoticed stairway; on a landing it opened into a small treasure house of artifacts, arrayed in glass cases. There were no labels; you found information about each piece from touch screens placed around the room. In my current mood of being thrilled by objects, I determined to take my camera to the museum the next time I visited. This is the first time I photographed at the museum, and I was surprised how much available light there was. I was also excited by the prospect of capturing images of things that I loved and sharing them; some are objects I've loved for years, such as Chinese vases and Egyptian objects (posts on these are to come); others, like the works in this study collection, are new to me.

Greek Terracotta Skyphos (deep drinking cup), 500 BC

I hadn't seen any Greek painted pottery with such an amusing motif as these guinea fowl; their plump figures pecking around the cup reminded me of wild turkeys. By photographing this piece, I'm able to possess it in an abstract way, understanding it more and keeping it in memory for joyous retrieval. As I wandered through the museum, I was acting on my object-love with my camera. When I've traveled in past years, I only photographed images I could use for my painting, but now I find that gathering images is a enterprise that sharpens my attention and deepens my enjoyment.

Greek and Roman transport amphorae, 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD


  1. Great pictures! I particularly like the amphorae. They kinda look like a row of women standing up (or laying down for that matter, depending on your perspective) with their hands behind their heads. :)

  2. Beautiful blown glass.---I never realized the tradition went back so far in time. Belated holiday wishes Altoon! Glad you had a wonderful and rewarding Hanukkah celebration.

  3. Actually you're not far off with the turkey association. There was an ancient Greek holiday around harvest time where children would decorate skyphi with codified representations of guinea hens, much as how they trace their hands these days to create representations of turkeys. Combining the word Greek with guinea, we come up with Grinnea. That's what happens when one gets punny funny from to much Metocracy. Cluck, cluck. But really, the rationalization for why we visual artists photograph, to capture and preserve while sharpening our vision is right on! LIfe may be short but form is definitely long as is proved by the survival of these joys from the thousands B.C.!

  4. wonderful shapes. I'm going to have to find this room!

  5. thanks for the wonderful comments. So much pottery seems figural in curve and form, as the amphorae do; they also seem related to the simplicity of Cycladic figures. And I love the story of the Greek harvest festival and its relation to our turkey drawings. Art is indeed long.

  6. The blown glass is so appealing. I love the textured luster and colors. They remind me of the tiny pieces of sea glass I collect. Once home, I rub them with oil so they look wet and can catch the light.