Monday, April 16, 2007

Comments from the HMNS


So I went to the exhibit on Imperial Rome at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and had a pretty good time. After having visited the Vatican Museums and the Borghello and Uffizi, though, they are not the famous world-class pieces.

Anyway, I had three fun quotes from that expedition today, which I will share with you now.

  1. As you may know, Roman art had a large erotic dimension, and there were phallic talismans or other images prominently featuring sexual organs. And walking away from an area with a display case full of those, I overheard one guy say to another, "Talk about a conversation piece."
  2. Near the entrance to the exhibit there was a map of the various Roman provinces and vassal states, and there was an older, rather well-dressed man talking to a two or three other people as if he were a docent. I decided to listen in to glean whatever pearl of wisdom he might have had to offer, but concluded that he was just those people's friend after he searched the map and pointed to what is now Romania and said "Oh, here's Day-see-a." Um, Dacia, anybody, pronounced with only two syllables?
  3. The image above is of a 4th-century Christian sarcophagus said to feature Jesus and Peter. As I was looking at the item, two other guys leaned over and observed, as had I, that the central face had been chiseled out in what I might be characterized as a damnatio memoriae. They speculated that perhaps it was because someone hadn't wanted to create an idol with a depiction of Jesus, which was similar to what I had thought. (There was a glass wall about two feet high circling the sarcophagus, in contrast to many of the other exhibits which were completely encased in glass, so one was able to move in for a close look at the details.) So after having heard this reasonably intelligent commentary, I was quite taken aback to see one of them lean over and rub the chiseled-out face with his thumb. Allow me to repeat myself: he violated the prime museum directive: don't touch. And then the following exchange occured.
    [Guy touches the sarcophagus.]

    Me: (Gasp!) [Wide-eyed look at the individual in question.]

    Him: They left it open.

    Me: [Stunned silence with my best reproachful look.]

    Him: But they probably don't want you to touch.

    Me: (scornfully) Probably.

So I guess it was worth the $15!

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