My wife and I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular yesterday night and while we were in the area we decided to look around Rockefeller Center. There are Christmas lights up already, which is nice, and the tree is already in place, but it is surrounded by scaffolding. Judging by the pile of branches on the ground nearby, the tree is being trimmed and shaped prior to being decorated for the holiday season. Maybe I’m just getting used to being around tall structures, but the tree doesn’t look as big as usual this year.
We also walked past the NBC today studio set. It was closed up for the night, but it was still interesting to look in and see where the teleprompters are read.
I didn’t know Christie’s, the auction house, was by Rockefeller Center, but we saw that too. The big balloon dog sculpture in front of the entrance is pretty cool. I sort of wish there were miniature versions so I could buy one and keep it on a shelf.
On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were by the United Nations to take advantage of a Groupon deal I got for the Indigo Indian Bistro on East 50th Street. We didn’t realize the place closed for a while after lunch and before dinner, so we found ourselves standing in the cold with an hour and a half to kill.
I thought about going to the United Nations for a tour, since we were right next to it, but it looked like it was closed too. There weren’t even flags up on the poles. So, we started walking around. First, we poked our heads in at the Japan Society to see if there was anything going on (and to warm up a bit), but they were just finishing up a New Year’s celebration for kids. Then we went next door to look in the Holy Family Church. The building is really weird looking from the outside.
Turns out it’s a Catholic church. It’s sort of nice inside. The giant Jesus on the wall above the priest leading the service was a little scary looking. It made me think about the conflict inherent in the concept of a trinity model of monotheism, and whether or not a distant and cold concept of God was being replaced by the warm and gentle spirit of a man, someone that people could understand and empathize with. That’s a subject for another post, though. I’ve been doing a lot of theological reading that I’ve been slowly digesting, mentally.
After warming up in the church foyer, we went back out to find our next opportunity for passing time. As we were walking away, I noticed a side path that led into a garden that was covered in snow and ice. We figured it was worth a few minutes to go in and look around.
What really peaked my interest was the fact that the garden pool was covered in a layer of ice and snow, and so was the artificial waterfall. I don’t suppose there’s anything unusual about a waterfall icing over in winter, but it’s not something I really expected to see in the middle of Manhattan; not even an artificial one. So, I think the unexpectedness of seeing what I didn’t expect to see made it more worth seeing, if that makes any sense. I’ve also always enjoyed religious settings and architecture, of a certain type. The more solemn and thoughtful type. I’ve always thought religion should be a solemn, thoughtful and meaningful thing.
Last Saturday, my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had been putting it off because we’d been busy with going out to different places every day and we were wearing ourselves out and sleeping in. It’s Winter holiday from school, and she’s not working yet, so we’re trying to do a lot and take it easy at the same time. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out for us.
Anyway, Saturday seemed like a great opportunity to both catch up on sleep and still spend a good chunk of time at the museum, since it is open until 9 PM on both Friday and Saturday. We got there around 2 PM, after having a good brunch with my mom over at IHOP. The place was packed, as usual, but not as busy as the last time I was there. From what I’m seeing over the last few days of touring my wife around, the city’s tourist spots are a lot emptier during the winter. For people who don’t like competing with crowds, that might be something to keep in mind. It generally doesn’t snow here until after Christmas. It’s just cold. If I didn’t live here, I could deal with the cold to avoid the crowds that are usually packing every place of interest in the city.
Anyhow, the Met is just as awesome as I remember it! We didn’t get the chance to see everything in the museum, because it’s just too huge a building and their collection is just too massive. Not that that’s a bad thing! I’m looking forward to going back again. Where that can become problematic, though, is with the entry fee. The entry fee last Spring, when I went to the museum for some class projects was 20 dollars for an adult and 10 dollars for a student. Now it’s 25 dollars for an adult. Shocking, right? The good thing about the pricing is that they’re “recommended,” meaning the prices can’t be enforced. If you can swallow your pride you can give them 10 bucks per person and walk in. You could give them a quarter per person and still get the clip-on Met pin that guarantees your safe passage past the guards. I gave 20 for myself and my wife, total. I think it was fair, seeing as how we got there halfway through the day and would be making repeat trips throughout the year.
I have a feeling that high pricing is targeted at tourists who usually only go to the museum once on one day and then never see it again. I certainly don’t think it’s meant for people like the gentleman in the photos above, who come into the museum to practice sketching. I saw a lot of people doing that, young and old, and I think it’s awesome, because they’re in there, developing their talent in a productive way, instead of running the streets getting into trouble, or causing it.
Like I said, we didn’t get to see everything. The Met is really a two or three day affair and even then you could go back again and notice plenty that you missed. We saw some of the Roman stuff, the Greek gallery, Oceanic gallery, Native American (South/Central/North) gallery, African gallery, and Egyptian gallery. I’d spent quite a bit of time in the Greek gallery already and Egyptian art is covered in so many movies, documentaries and TV specials that I just couldn’t get into it, except for the Temple of Dendur. That was really neat. The part I liked best about it was the 19th century graffiti on its walls though:
The galleries I enjoyed most were the ones that seemed to be the least populated by visitors, the African and Native American galleries. I imagine its because I’ve been exposed those types of art the least, but there’s something powerful about the imagery as well.
I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go back and see the rest of the Met, probably later this week, if we can squeeze it in. I’m particularly interested in seeing the Medieval Art gallery and the Islamic Art gallery, which just opened recently. Before leaving we quickly passed through the Met gift store and they’ve added Islamic art items to their selection. It seems nice.
The following is the second paper I wrote for my Art History 100 class. We were tasked with finding two art pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and then writing a paper that compares and contrasts them based on form and content. Our choices were restricted to certain art periods from specific locations, like French Gothic or Italian Renaissance. I chose the following two pieces because I found them particularly interesting on a personal level, as well as being easy to write about.
I think I might have been a bit off the mark on fitting The Angel Gabriel to the Renaissance standard, but I won’t know for sure until September, when I can get in touch with the professor and see the paper. It was due on the day of the final, so there’s no way for me to get it back and check it out. I’ll update the grade received and any notes from the professor at some point, on the Essays page.
(Note: The images were not included in the paper that was turned in. I added them here so readers that aren’t as familiar with art as my professor can get a better idea of what I’m talking about.)
Introduction and Location
The paper will be discussing the differences and similarities between two works: The Angel Gabriel and Qur’an Manuscript. The Angel Gabriel was created in approximately 1493, is attributed to Masseo Civitali and is believed to have originally been located in the oratory of Santa Maria dell’ Anunnziata in Lucca, Italy. The work is now located in gallery 500 on the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the “European Sculpture and Decorative Arts” section. The Qur’an Manuscript was created in the early 14th century, by an anonymous artist in Iran or Iraq. The work is now located in a display case in gallery 203, on the Great Hall Balcony on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Formal Aspect & Genre Descriptions
The Angel Gabriel is a Renaissance sculpture that is roughly life-sized. The sculpture is a painted and partially gilt terracotta statue. It appears to have been free standing on its original base, which is now broken. The statue is now anchored to a display base. The sculpture leans at an almost unnatural angle, covered in a draped garment that is smooth and flowing. The figure is naturalistically proportioned and detailed, though the face is idealized. On the back of the statue, there are two vertical slots where terracotta wings were probably inserted. Renaissance art was largely religious (Aston 105). Compared to the earlier Gothic style, Renaissance art focused more on the human aspect of the art subject. Where Gothic art was solemn and dignified, Renaissance works like The Angel Gabriel attempted to introduce tenderness and beauty into art without sacrificing the aura of divinity associated with religious figures (Aston 133). The introduction of a human element into the sculpture is apparent in the joyous expression on the face and in how the arms are crossed over the chest, as though the angel can barely contain the good news he is about to share. Rather than standing vertical, the angel is leaning forward towards the recipient of his news. Despite these included aspects of human emotion, the aura of the divine is still maintained through the idealized, androgynous face (angels have no gender), and the original presence of wings on its back.
The Qur’an Manuscript is a non-illustrated manuscript folio and an example of Islamic art. The page on display is 34.9 x 27.3 centimeters and was made with ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. The page is primarily covered with naskh cursive text, but also contains decorative calligraphy and hand drawn vegetal and geometric images that are painted with gold. Islamic art as a whole is defined by a prohibition against making representations of living things, since it might create a temptation to commit idolatry (Evans 151). The resulting typical expression of Islamic art is mostly abstract, containing geometric patterns, references to vegetation and calligraphy. These elements were reflections of religious beliefs. The geometric patterns represent the perfection of Allah and the vegetation is a reference to paradise in the afterlife. Calligraphy also became a popular form of art, taking the place of images and being used to represent Allah. The main purpose of calligraphy was to appreciate the visual quality, rather than to read it. These elements are present in both secular and religious art, though secular art would not contain calligraphic quotations from the Qur’an.
Both The Angel Gabriel and the Qu’ran Manuscript have a similar theme. Both works are the products of religious devotion. Gabriel is a prominent figure that is present in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Stories about Gabriel appear in each religion’s holy texts. The Qur’an Manuscript is a handwritten and decorated page of the Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam. The difference between the two works is that while The Angel Gabriel represents a religious idea, it was mostly meant to be decorative, appearing in an oratory. The Qu’ran Manuscript, on the other hand, while being decorative was also meant to be functional, a holy book to read and learn from.
The Angel Gabriel specifically depicts Gabriel, an angel, leaning forward, as if appearing to someone. The name Gabriel means “God is my strength” or “the strength of God” and he is known as The Great Communicator (Aquilina 69). Throughout the Bible, Gabriel appears to people to bring them news from God. In Daniel 8:15-17 he appears to Daniel to explain a vision to him. In Luke 1:16-17 he appears to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife shall have a child and that his child, John the Baptist, will prepare the way for the Messiah. Later, in Luke 1:26-38, Gabriel appears to Mary, to tell her that she will be the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God. According to the information placard on the sculpture’s display base, it is believed that The Angel Gabriel was originally part of a pair of statues which included the Virgin Mary. Together, they would have formed an Annunciation Group, which represents the moment when Gabriel shared the news of her divine pregnancy with her.
The Qu’ran Manuscript is a page from the holy book of Islam, the Qu’ran. The top of the page contains a geometric, gold painted rectangular frame that contains decorative calligraphy which reads, “Surat Saud, Eighty Six Verses (Ayats), Mekka surat” (Hany), though Mr. Hany also noted that the surat actually has 88 verses. Just to the right of the rectangular frame is a drawing containing concentric circles around a vegetal image, probably of a flower, also in gold with a blue center. Additional matching representations of flowers, rosettes, are drawn throughout the text as markers between ayas, or verses. In the right margin are two decorative seals, one circular, one teardrop shaped, both in gold and surrounded by a blue outline. These seals contain kufic script in the center. The main text of the page is a cursive form of Arabic known as naskh, with recitation marks added in red ink. The text on the page on display is the last part of the 37th surah and the first 11 ayas of the 38th surah of the 23rd juz (part) of the Qu’ran, The Letter Saud, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mecca. Preceding the beginning of the 1st aya in the 38th surah is the phrase, “In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful,” which is not part of the surah itself and precedes all of the surahs in the Qu’ran (Hany).
The original purpose of The Angel Gabriel would have been to inspire believers and deepen their faith. Many people at the time the statue was created were illiterate, and learning about Christianity, outside of sermons given by clergy, was through observation of religious art. When looking at the sculpture of Gabriel, believers would have been reminded of the good news he shared with people in the Bible, and particularly with Mary. If The Angel Gabriel was originally paired with a statue of the Virgin Mary, then viewing them together would have reminded viewers of their hope of salvation through God’s grace and Jesus’ Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. The Angel Gabriel was originally designed to be a decorative piece for casual observation and reflection and, though it is now located in a museum rather than a religious building, the effect is essentially the same. It causes the viewer to contemplate the meaning of Christianity and Gabriel’s role in the Bible.
The Qu’ran Manuscript was meant to be a functional copy of the Qu’ran, to be used by believers for study and recitation, as well as to inspire through the decorative artwork it contains. The Arabic text of the page, together with the rest of the text in the Qu’ran, is the physical representation of Allah through language (the written word) in the Islamic faith. The Qu’ran praises Allah and His creation, defines the relationship between Allah and the worshipper, explains the afterlife through eschatological texts and teaches Muslims how to practice their faith in everyday life. While the particular copy of the Qu’ran the page came from is no longer serving that purpose, the text of the Qu’ran has been copied, translated and distributed all over the world and continues to serve the function it was originally created for.
The Angel Gabriel is presented in a small room with other Italian Renaissance pieces. The room is well lit, and Gabriel is the first work you notice as you walk into the room. The lighting brings out the remaining color from the original paint and gilding on the statue, giving the viewer an idea of what it might have originally looked like. Appreciation of how the piece was originally displayed would be helped by having a similar work of the Virgin Mary opposite Gabriel, though that is probably not possible due to limitations in the museum’s inventory. An alternative would be to have a digital rendering of what it might have looked like in place at the oratory displayed next to it, or on the display base. As it’s now displayed, Gabriel appears almost out of place in the room and it requires a lot of imagination to picture how it would have originally appeared.
The Qu’ran Manuscript is set in a glass display case along the wall of the Great Hall Balcony. The display case contains other Islamic works that represent highlights from the Department of Islamic Art. The works range in date from the seventh to the eighteenth century and include textiles, jewelry, pottery and other manuscript pages. Since the case shows a cross-section of art, the overall effect is a bit jarring, especially combined with the noise coming from the entry hall below the balcony and the strong smells coming from the balcony dining area. The benefit of being placed in that location is that it catches the eye of people walking by and the skylights and windows help to keep it well illuminated. It would be easier to appreciate this work in a smaller room with other Islamic manuscript pages from the same time period.
Aquilina, Mike. Angels of God: The Bible, The Church, And The Heavenly Hosts. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.