Archive for November 8, 2012

Met Museum Stroll

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

We’ve been back from New York nine days, since which I’ve been to Chicago and back. Before the NY trip fades, I want to describe our brief outing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on our final morning.

Once done packing, we had a couple of free hours before we were to meet my sister and brother-in-law for lunch at Cafe Boulud (which I described here), from which we would head to JFK. Off to the Met we walked. Here’s what we saw:

1. Bernini: Sculpting in Clay. From the website:

To visualize lifesize or colossal marbles, the great Roman Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) began by making small, spirited clay models. Fired as terracotta, these studies and related drawings preserve the first traces of the thought process that evolved into some of the most famous statuary in the city, including the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. This exhibition assembles for the first time some fifty of these bozzetti and modelli, as well as thirty chalk or pen sketches alongside three small-scale bronzes and a marble group. Through connoisseurship and a comprehensive campaign of scientific examination, the selection of models addresses the issue of what separates the hand of the master from the production of his large workshop.

Or, from Karen Wilkin’s review in today’s WSJ:

The stellar exhibition “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers an intimate view of this most public of Counter-Reformation artists, making us privy to the studies that preceded the celebrated monuments executed by the master and his busy workshop. It’s like watching Bernini think, and it makes him seem as present and vital as he must have seemed to his colleagues and rivals in 17th-century Rome, all of them undoubtedly frustrated at his getting all the best commissions but surely awed by his talent.

Spend some time with the works elegantly installed in the Met’s Lehman Wing and you understand just why Bernini was so often the first choice of popes, cardinals, the nobility and, though the project ended badly, Louis XIV.

I didn’t give this exhibition the time it deserved. Mostly, as we wandered around, I realized that I needed to get back to Rome to spend more time wandering the squares so that I could see the works for which these studies were made. Some photographs helped.

2. To get from the Lehman wing, which housed the Bernini show, up a floor and over to the Asian wing, we passed Medieval European works, including a case of extraordinary northern European Christian objects from the 12th century or so. And this, Lorenzo Monaco’s “Intercession of Christ and the Virgin,” from Santa Maria del Fiori cathedral in Florence, painted before 1402.

3. Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings. From the website:

The stone carvings of the Qing period can be grouped in three categories: personal adornments such as rings, bracelets, and pendants; articles for daily use (mainly in the scholar’s studio) such as brush holders, water pots, and seals; and display pieces such as copies of antiques, miniature mountains, and animal and human figures, the latter being the largest of the group. The carvings can also be classified by their decorative style: archaic or classical, meaning their shapes were derived from ancient ritual vessels; “Western,” which bore the influence of contemporary Mughal art from northern India; and new or modern, meaning novel shapes and designs created during the Qing dynasty.

This is a small show, occupying just one room in the East Asian decorative arts galleries on the third-floor annex in the Asian wing. Viewing all the pieces didn’t take long. Some are astonishing. Here’s one:

Dongfang Shuo Stealing the Peach of Longevity, Qing dynasty, amber

4. Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th-8th Centuries. Another single-room show in another third-floor annex of the Asian wing. From the website:

Drawing together objects from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the western reaches of Central Asia—regions connected in the sixth century A.D. through trade, military conquest, and the diffusion of Buddhism—the exhibition illuminates a remarkable moment of artistic exchange. At the roots of this transnational connection is the empire established the end of the fifth century by the Huns (Hunas or Hephthalites) that extended from Afghanistan to the northern plains of India. Although this political system soon disintegrated into chaos, over the next century trade routes connecting India to the western reaches of the Central Asian Silk Road continued to link these distant communities, facilitating ideological exchange and financing the production of Buddhist imagery of great artistic sophistication.

A representative piece:

Seated Buddha Flanked by Bodhisattvas, 7th–8th century, Pakistan (Swat Valley), marble

5. Chinese pottery. Some pieces along the walls on the balcony above the great court as we walked south along the 5th Avenue side of the museum from the Asian wing to the Mesopotamian rooms.

6. Assyrian art and the Assyrian royal court — the Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia. We spent some time in this room. Nothing new — part of the permanent collection. But still wonderful. Here’s a description:

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery for Assyrian Art has been arranged to evoke the main audience hall of the ninth-century B.C. Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia.

The reliefs that line the walls come from various rooms in the palace, and were excavated during the mid-nineteenth century in one of the earliest archaeological expeditions to the Near East. Guarded by a colossal winged, human-headed lion and bull, wearing the horns of divinity, the reliefs depict the king performing a ritual, surrounded by attendants and supernatural creatures facing stylized trees. The famous Standard Inscription of Ashurnasirpal, which records his achievements, runs across each relief panel. It is written in cuneiform, the script used for the Akkadian language then in wide usage throughout the Near East.

7. European paintings. To finish, we made a short loop within the European painting collection: from late Medieval Italian paintings through early Renaissance to the Titian-Tintoretto-Veronese room, doubling back in reverse chronological order through Flemish rooms, from Bruegel (I’ve long been a bit of a sucker for this one)

Pieter Bruegel, The Harvesters, 1565

to van Eyck.

Jan Eyck and assistant, The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment, ca. 1390-1441

Not the best photos. Sorry about that. You can do better at the Met website.

With that we headed down, picked up our belongings in the coatroom, returned to the hotel, closed our bags, checked out, and met my sister and brother-in-law in the lobby for lunch next door, bringing our New York trip to a close.

Categories: Museums, Travel

Sant Ambroeus and More

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m trying to work my way through the backlog of topics from our just-completed trip to New York. Let me give a rundown of some of the restaurants where we ate.

We arrived early Saturday morning. I was hoping to eat at Sant Ambroeus that evening, but we dropped in on our way up to visit my parents before noon and learned that they’re first opening would be at 10:30 PM. A little late. Moreover, thanks to the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy, displaced or powerless Manhattanites would be seeking dinner all over, so reservations would be hard to come by.

1. Orsay. Thanks to the assistance of our concierge, and at his recommendation, we were able to get a table at Orsay, a casual French bistro on Lexington, not far from the hotel. It was not too crowded when we walked in, but packed within minutes. (I would link to it, but the site isn’t working now.) The four of us were squeezed up against nearby tables as well as the crowd squeezing through the front door, with a wicked chill coming through when both sets of doors were held open. But we had a table, and food. Speaking of which, what the heck did I eat? I have no idea. I think I shared Gail’s profiteroles for dessert. Maybe soup to start. Oh, the hanger streak with frites. Gail had it too. And we shared a side order of grilled asparagus. I chose the béarnaise sauce. Gail went with the bordelaise sauce. Pretty tasty.

2. Sant Ambroeus. Sunday we were able to get a table at Sant Ambroeus. My affection for the place may be larger than it merits, but I love it nonetheless. One passes through a front area that is part coffee shop, part bakery, part gelato store. Or, now that I see their self-description, I should say restaurant, catering, gelateria, pasticceria, confetteria. In the rear is the restaurant, a small, elegant space with a large waitstaff. Check out the dinner menu here.

Among the primi, the tagliatelle alla bolognese was awfully tempting, but I was determined to go milanese style, so I chose the risotto alla milanese, or classic saffron milanese risotto, hoping Gail would let me try her tagliatelle. Likewise, the evening’s lamb chop special sounded spectacular, and our waiter was pushing it hard, Gail chose it. But I stuck with the costoletto alla milanese, or breaded veal chop milanese, pictured above, as did my sister and brother-in-law. It came with mashed potato, mixed vegetable, and on a side plate, arugula.

I couldn’t have been happier. I could have this meal every day. Well, I might have my fill of the risotto after the second day and switch to the superb tagliatelle from then on. But I’m capable of eating veal or chicken milanese daily, as I demonstrated when we were in Italy three years ago this very week.

For dessert, they bring a tray to the table with all their items of the day. I think Gail chose some sort of mousse concoction, which I tasted.

3. E.A.T. Monday evening, Gail and I were on our own. We headed up Madison to a perennial favorite, Eli Zabar’s E.A.T. We’ve eaten there many times, and eaten E.A.T. takeout even more often. Usually it’s crowded. Monday we had the place nearly to ourselves. People trickled in over the hour and a half that we were there, but it was peaceful to the end.

I’m not too original. I had the meat loaf with fresh tomato sauce. When it came, I realized it’s exactly what I ordered the last time we had dinner there. It’s a whole meatloaf in miniature rather than slices of a large meatloaf, complete with its own interior egg. This was after starting with a bowl of potato leek soup. Tempted though we always are to share an order of potato pancakes, we resisted this time. For dessert we each had one of their shortbread heart cookies. A simple meal, and perfect. Plus relaxing.

4. Cafe Boulud. This is the hotel restaurant. We had breakfast there Saturday morning after our overnight flight from Seattle, going down with my sister and brother-in-law after first going up to visit them in their room on arrival. At the other end, the four of us had lunch there Tuesday just before Gail and I headed to JFK for our flight home.

Cafe Boulud is part of the Daniel Boulud empire. Their lunch menu is simple. There’s a prix fixe selection on the left, a few selections in each of four categories on the right. You can see the menu online (no direct link), where you’ll find that the categories are French classics and country cooking, fall flavors, inspired by the farmer’s market, and world cuisine. I went with the prix fixe menu, as did my sister and brother-in-law. One of the two appetizer options was a frisée salad, which is what I selected. For the main dish, I chose the chestnut ravioli with spaghetti squash. Not the sort of thing I would ordinarily select, but it did sound interesting. The salad was superb. The ravioli was … interesting. Very rich. I enjoyed trying it. Next time I might go for the pan seared duck breast on the fall flavors menu, with Minnesota wild rice, brussels sprouts, apple cider, and sauce albufera.

Dessert. Let’s see. There were two choices on the prix fixe menu. One was some leche cake thing. The other was a chocolate mousse with passion fruit, accompanied by passion fruit sorbet. Gail and I split that. Good.

Categories: Restaurants

Stone from Delphi

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

[Aphrodite, Wendy Artin]

We flew to New York overnight Friday, arriving early Saturday morning, as I described in my last post. I anticipated writing a series of posts on our New York activities, but here we are, back in Seattle for 48 hours, and I’ve written no more. A little too much going on, while there and, since our return, here. Including an election to keep track of. Let me see if I can get caught up on a few items.

First up, the International Fine Print Dealers Association’s annual print fair at the Park Avenue Armory, to which I alluded in the last post. It ran last Thursday evening through Sunday. We would not ordinarily have gone. Indeed, we would not ordinarily have known it was going on. But by good fortune, I got email three weeks earlier from the wife of my graduate school advisor in which she forwarded her daughter’s announcement of an opening reception at the fair. The daughter, Wendy Artin, is an artist in Rome who had contributed watercolor drawings to a new book published by one of the fair exhibitors, Arion Press in San Francisco. The book is Stone from Delphi, described as “poems with classical references by Seamus Heaney, selected and with an introduction by Helen Vendler, with sixteen watercolor drawings by Wendy Artin,” published just this month.

We have long hoped to see Wendy’s work. Years ago — perhaps it was our honeymoon, many years ago — she had a show at a gallery in Paris just when we were passing through. We chose a morning to visit the gallery, only to discover that it was closed that day. The first of several misses. When Jean sent me the announcement and I realized the fair coincided with our trip to New York, I knew we had to go, all the more since it was only 10 blocks from our hotel.

With our early arrival in the city, we had no hotel room Saturday morning. And we were tired. We hung out in my sister’s hotel room, had some breakfast with her and my brother-in-law, visited my parents, and left at 2:00 PM with the afternoon free. From there, it was about a 16-block walk to the armory. Off we went. On arriving, we bought our entry tickets, picked up a map and list of exhibitors, Gail looked up the location of Arion Press, and we made our way there. Along their three walls were tables with a series of books, and prints from the books hanging above. Maybe a half dozen people were milling around, plus two press representatives, each engaged in conversation with one of the visitors. We quickly found Stone from Delphi, which was marked as not to be paged through without assistance.

Let me quote more from Arion Press about the book.

The Arion Press is proud to announce its publication of poetry by Seamus Heaney, Stone from Delphi, a collection of his poems with classical themes, chosen by Helen Vendler. The classical past is fundamental to the work of this great contemporary poet, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, who, like James Joyce before him, illuminates his times and his own psyche through the lens of antiquity. Vendler’s introduction, “Seamus Heaney and the Classical Past”, tells us that in Ireland Heaney grew up hearing the Latin of Catholic liturgy, then pursued the language and literature at school. For fifty years, he has translated and adapted classical texts and alluded to them in his own poems, be their subjects his family, the Troubles, astronauts, or the fall of the Twin Towers.


Wendy Artin is an American artist who has made the classical world, in particular the architecture and statuary of her adopted city of Rome, the subject of a remarkable body of work. Skilled in drawing the figure, Artin says, “The statues of Antiquity are my favorite models.” Eric Fischl, who observed her drawing from live models, recounts, “I was unable to take my eyes off watching her work. I’d never seen anyone capture, with such fluid grace and comfort, the depth of observation of the human form the way she was able to do so quickly and so accurately in water-color.”

The press has more about Wendy here and a gallery of her drawings for the book here.

We waited patiently for someone to help, while looking at the page to which the book was opened and the drawing above. Once a man was free, we explained our interest in the book and asked to see it. He sat us down at a table, paged through it for us, then seemed to lose interest and drifted off to talk to others, at which point we paged through the book ourselves. As we were about to go, the other exhibitor stopped by to ask if we had questions, and we again explained our interest. She mentioned the exhibit of Wendy’s watercolors for the book that the press would be hosting in San Francisco and the option — if one buys a book — of buying watercolors as well. We talked about getting in touch once back in Seattle, then headed off to see other fare wares.

We had gotten to the end of the aisle, turned the corner, and worked our way down a bit when to our surprise, the Arion Press woman to whom we had been talking caught up to us, another woman in tow, eagerly introducing her as someone who grew up with Wendy, who happened to be exhibiting for another gallery just across from Arion. Before she could finish explaining the woman’s background, I saw from the tag that this other exhibitor was Renee Bott, and no further explanation was required. The Bott of Paulson Bott Press, she was also undoubtedly the daughter of the late, great mathematician Raoul Bott. When I was an undergraduate, the informal, student-produced guide to courses stressed that he was the person in the department from whom one must take a course. Alas, the one year I might have been able to do so, he was teaching a graduate algebraic topology course, for which I was not sufficiently prepared. I attended lectures he gave in later years, but never studied with him or knew him well.

In any case, we spent a few minutes talking with Renee about the world of mathematicians, the milieu in which she grew up, the friends of her parents while she grew up whom I knew as teachers. It was the most marvelous mini-reunion, albeit with a perfect stranger, but one I felt a kinship to.

After that, the remainder of our time at the fair was anticlimactic. Except that there was some wonderful art on display, and we had good fun exploring it. Next time we get down to Berkeley, we’ll be sure to drop in on Renee. Farther afield, we need to get to Rome and drop in on Wendy.

Categories: Art, Books, Math