Thursday, February 20, 2014

At the Museum

Monday we finally made it to the National Gallery of Art to see "Between Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections." It remains at the National Gallery until March 2, then opens in April at the Getty in Los Angeles.

It was well worth seeing, with art and objects from pre-Christian times through the very late days of the empire. There are of course many icons, there are some mosaics. There are liturgical objects such as chalices, patens, and chalice covers. There are coins, jewelry, and grave markers.

One stand has assorted books under glass: an Odyssey, the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John, an illustrated "Alexander Romance." St. John's Gospel is open to the beginning, in a very clear script. Of St. Matthew I could make out not a word; the Odyssey, its title apart, appeared to written in a minute shorthand. The most obvious writing on the Alexander Romance is in Arabic, or at least Arabic characters.

I had heard of the Alexander Romance in Peter Green's biography of Alexander the Great, without giving it much thought. But the oddest item in the exhibition illustrated Alexander's apotheosis, according to this romance. He is borne up to the heavens by two starving griffins; he holds out chunks of meat on skewers just beyond their reach to motivate them. You can imagine my disappointment when I found that this was not shown on any of the postcards for sale.

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