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Khirad On January - 4 - 2011

Do boys swoon? I dunno, but Edward McCartan’s Isoult makes one wonder why Tristam would need a love potion to fall in love with the Irish princess. She of the white hands greets you as you enter the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. I was really quite taken with this piece, and not just because of the location. In fact, that made it consternating to get a good shot; plus the fact that even though it’s art, I still feel a little like a perv and get antsy with the camera. This page has much better photos.

West Atrium. If you look real close you can see a person in this picture. It was the best I could do. Wanna guess how long I stood here waiting for this shot?

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion. 1480/1485. Kinda reminds me of… me. That’s it, no other reason.

Pietro Perugino, Portrait of Lorenzo di Credi. 1488. The man in the portrait was a painter who influenced Leonardo da Vinci. I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew is that I thought I’d just diagnosed Clinical Depression through a painting. Am I right?

And now to the aforementioned master himself. This is the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in North America. I’d missed it on my first trip, so I had to rush in to see it. Of course, I just got sucked in to the museum again and spent more time than planned (as you see).

Ginevra de’ Benci. 1474/1478. Obverse. Can you zoom to find the fingerprint?

And reverse. Beauty Adorns Virtue. Some wedding gift, huh?

Sandro Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi. 1478/1482. I mean, c’mon, those pastels! One might call it a Pastelral.

Hendrick ter Brugghen, Bagpipe Player. 1624. It has a doedelzakspeler, need I say more?

Adriaen Hanneman, Henry, Duke of Gloucester. 1653. I know he was locked up in the White Tower and watched his father get executed, but he looks like he just got fresh with the nursemaid with that precocious glint in his eye.

The Holy Trinity. Alabaster. English or Spanish. 14th century. Still not helping me wrap my head around the Trinity, but pretty cool.

Hans Memling, Chalice of Saint John the Evangelist. 1470/1475. Someone there must just have the job of knowing where to place things. They have an eye like I do for such details. I love how the arch in background compliments the painting itself.

Master of the Saint Lucy Legend, Mary, Queen of Heaven. 1485/1500. This was ginormous, and the robes, oh, the robes! The vivid color and detail was awe-inspiring.

Juan de Flandes, The Nativity. 1508-1519. I just thought the Virgin in black looked cool.

And The Adoration of the Magi.

Hieronymus Bosch, Death and the Miser. 1485/1490. He and Dürer. Twisted. Love ’em both. I felt so giddy when I was instantly able to recognize a painting from across the room!

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria. 1606. From a very wealthy Genoese family, her painting was probably close to life size. Quite intimidating in such finery. I know just what works for that. Imagine them naked.

François Clouet, A Lady in Her Bath. 1571ish. Ever get the feeling that these painters were voyeurs? And if you’ve noticed I gravitate towards the female form in my tastes, guilty as charged. I used to draw a little. Painting is on a whole other level. Especially the idea of painting on oak, as this piece is. Oh, the curtains are also fabulous. Can’t ever get the feel for a painting from a picture, but I did pretty well here.

A view into the rotunda room down the hall. Those buttocks would belong to this Bacchus. You can see Mercury further back.

The central rotunda of the West Building. It’s modeled after the Pantheon, and indeed both are similar. Looking up one would see the oculus. Compare with the cupola of the Pantheon.

This is Venus, from an unknown sculptor of Milan, 16th century. She was shy, the lighting made it especially hard to capture her face.

Augustin Pajou, Calliope. 1763. I know, kinda boring, but when you see it in front of you it’s quite another matter.

Jean-Antoine Houdon, Diana. 1778. Same comment as above.

This is on the way out of West Building, on the east side. Didn’t catch the name of the artist (help?). It was just so simple and yet striking. Raw and yet delicate.

For more sculpture, this was quite handy. Never did make it into the actual sculpture part, but cut me some slack, one could spend a week in there.

The National Mall. Nothing fancy, just a regular ‘being there’ shot. Also works well for abrupt segues.

On the steps of the Freer. One can see the Ripley Center, Smithsonian Institution Building (the original, “The Castle”), and the Natural History Museum’s dome across the Mall.

I had to visit this again. It was my favorite and you have it practically to yourself.

And, good thing I did. The first time I went the Arts of the Islamic World exhibit was closed. This time it was open!

Folio of a 14th century Egyptian Qur’an. Using my limited skills in reading Arabic, I’ve tracked down this page. It is from the Meccan surah, Ash-Shura.

Thus doth (He) send inspiration to thee as (He did) to those before thee,- Allah, Exalted in Power, Full of Wisdom.

To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: and He is Most High, Most Great.

The heavens are almost rent asunder from above them (by Him Glory): and the angels celebrate the Praises of their Lord, and pray for forgiveness for (all) beings on earth: Behold! Verily Allah is He, the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

And those who take as protectors others besides Him,- Allah doth watch over them; and thou art not the disposer of their affairs.

Thus have We sent by inspiration to thee an Arabic Qur’an: that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities and all around her,- and warn (them) of the Day of Assembly, of which there is no doubt: (when) some will be in the Garden, and some in the Blazing Fire.

– 42:3-7, Yusuf Ali

A mihrab, from 14th century Iran.

Candlestick from Eastern Iran, 12th century, made out of a single piece of brass. It’s around, oh, I’d say four feet tall. Now, how big was the candle?!

Iran, Samanid period.

Panel which records the construction of a mosque at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad around 1154, a significant time, as Imam Reza had not died two centuries earlier and the complex had been destroyed by a previous ruler. It is today the holiest shrine on Iranian soil, and kind of a big deal.

Folios from Hatifi’s Haft Manzar, 1556.

Syria, 1315. Describes Al-Jazari‘s elaborate contraption for dispensing four different types of wine. Yes, as in the alcoholic beverage fermented from grapes wine. I know, not everything written in Arabic says “death to the infidel”, so sorry to disappoint.

13th century, Kashan, Iran. A “queen”.

Syria or Iraq, 13th century. Behind it is a piece form Jianxi, China. They are both canteens (or ridiculously large pocket watches?). Both are huge. The Arab piece has many motifs on it. In function I imagine it to have been more like the Gundestrup cauldron.

13th century bowl, Iran.

Iran, 13th century. The beaker has a whole narrative cycle of the lovers Bizhan and Manizha from the Shahnameh.

Plate made by Shamsuddin al-Hasani Abu Zayd in December 1210, Iran. Pretty specific date, huh?

Tile, 13th century Iran.

Rose water bottle (which reminds me of my shopping list) and pen box by Shazi, 12th century and 1210, respectively.

Another photo of the Achaemenid phiale from the 5th century BCE. Yeah, it’s just that awesome that it gets a reprise.

As does the gajasimha (hybrid elephant and lion mythological creature) throne leg from 13th century Orissa, India.

Only a few more of these to go.

22 Responses so far.

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  1. Questinia says:

    I’ve looked at these photographs with your narrative several times over the past couple of days. You curated a very nice assemblage of pieces, Khirad. It felt like we were with you on the trip.

  2. PatsyT says:

    This just knocks me out!
    Awesome work!
    I’ll be sharing these with my kids.
    Thank you!

  3. Orcas Island says:

    Hi Khirad!
    Just created a profile here and was drawn first to your great photos.

  4. whatsthatsound says:

    Really beautiful…a virtual museum tour. Thanks!

  5. kesmarn says:

    I’m with j’avaz, Khirad. If you don’t win a Planet Pulitzer for this series, we’re going to have to invent a category and create a prize.

    It has been wonderful, and I feel a little sad when I see you write “only a few more…” I don’t want it to end!

    At work tonight, another nurse and I were talking about our youthful days, and she said: “I wish I hadn’t worked so much; I wish I’d taken the time when I was young to travel and even to spend more time with the kids. It will never be the same to do that stuff now.”

    The photo of “The Chalice of Saint John the Evangelist” is just perfect.

    You have to wonder about the chemistry of their paints to be able to stay vibrant and vivid for hundreds of years…what were they made of?

    And — I didn’t find the fingerprint on the daVinci (hint?) But I did realize, using the close-up feature, that he painted that hair one hair at a time!! Clearly with a tiny, tiny brush. Sweet God in Heaven! With all the other stuff he got done, when did he find the time?

    You’re taking the time to travel and more than that, to travel beautifully and to see the things that are timeless and gorgeous and that touch your soul. You’ll never regret having done that, I promise you.

    Now to matters more concrete: I was surprised to see human faces and forms on the early pieces from Iran. Was not representing the human face and form verboten by Islam? Or is there a piece of history I’m missing here?

    EDIT: Somehow my paragraphs got flipped out of order. The second from the last one belongs after the one that ends “stuff now.” At 2 a.m., these things happen…so sorry!

    • Khirad says:

      A lot has been written on the paints they used. Certainly those in the field can pinpoint a time and region. I forget, but I’ve read in the past what oils and compounds have made them so lasting. But, that’s way out of my realm of knowledge.

      The fingerprint is to the right of her chin, where you see branches. And yes, the hair is amazing. I never painted, but in drawing, it is a common mistake for beginners to want to draw each hair like that. I guess that’s what makes masters masters. Even in painting, I’d imagine more often a brush stroke to create that effect, but as you can see, these look like individual lines.

      The beaker is a perfect way to explain the depictions of humans. It is from the Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, written by Ferdowsi around 1000. It recorded all the epic ‘history’ of Iran prior to the Arab Islamic Conquest, but in the thin veneer of Muslim idiom, similar to how Christianity absorbed many pagan elements throughout Europe. In fact, paradoxically, one of the most popular lines known to Persians is this,

      Damn this world, damn this time, damn this fate,
      That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.

      In other words, just as the Shahnameh was the first major work to preserve and promote the Persian language (it’s on par with Dante’s Divine Comedy in that regard), it typifies what I’ve written before on the complex relationship Iranians to this day have between their Iranian and Muslim identity.

      And just as they kept their language while everyone else to the west of the Zagros mountains conquered by the Muslim conquests lost theirs to Arabic, they were never really keen on a lot of the invaders’ new rules either. Though Iran would not become Shi’a until the dawn of the 16th century under Shah Isma’il, they’d always had their own curious blend of Islam. Art was such a Persian trait that such austere injunctions never really found firm footing in Iran.


      It was still respected in regard to the Prophet Muhammad and 12th Imam, but even early on many images can be found of the Prophet, such as in the Jami’ al-tawarikh, and even on a mural in an Isfahani mosque!

      And, of course, one can see deviations from strict proscriptions in Arab manuscripts such as the Al-Jazari one, as well.

      One thing remains true though. Calligraphy is still the highest art.

      Also, a note on the “queen” is that she was paired with another nearly identical companion dish with a nobleman. Yet what was found striking was that while both had symbols of royalty and retinues, she was larger than he was. They don’t know who she might have been, but that was unique. Indeed, it is also the only known pair of plates such as that from Iran. While queens and princesses were celebrated in pre-Islamic Iran, this was different. Then again, it could illustrate the point I’ve been making about the odd relationship of Iranians with ethno-cultural identity, and Arab Islam.

      Yes, it’s funny in that while banging these last few out that I’m starting to feel a mixture of relief (while enjoyable, the trip could be exhausting) with bittersweet sadness it will be over, much like the last days themselves.

      • kesmarn says:

        Khirad, thanks for the clarification on the Persian artistic take on things Islamic. I’m beginning to understand more clearly your fascination with Iranian history and culture. It’s really pretty unique.

        I think you could pull off a pretty impressive PhD dissertation on short notice!

        • Khirad says:

          I’m actually a real sucker for modern Persian Miniatures. Yeah, they can approach being chintzy, but they’re uniquely Persian.

          This is Farshchian. I had a giant glossy postcard of this once.



          And historical:


          The Freer had a few in the gift shop -- which was itself wonderful!!!

          • kesmarn says:

            Oooo…just found this, Khirad…kinda weird, feverish, dreamy, vivid. And those colors!

            I love odd sorts of art niches-- like the statues in Spanish churches that are gruesome and bloody. And “holy card” art. And the tiny paintings in capital letters in illustrated manuscripts. I also love some types of graffiti, which are really beautiful, and the urban decay photography of the type that Kalima posted a link to a few days ago (Detroit, in that case). There’s beauty to be found in odd places. But then you already knew that.

  6. choicelady says:

    Simply stunning, Khirad! I’ve been in and out of DC over the years but NEVER to the art museums. I now have a hunger to go. Next time for sure! Thank you for all the gorgeous photos of this amazing trip. I think you took more time to share them with us than you did actually being there, and that’s a real gift.

    Happy New Year to you -- where you off to next? I can hardly wait! I live vicariously through you1

    • Khirad says:

      This was strictly a DC project which ended up (by popular demand) to be longer than I initially planned. I was gonna get back to serious writing, this was only an interlude.

      But now, it’s weird in that I’ve already thought of doing this for other places. While I’m up in the NW, if I get a chance, I’ve thought about showing you all around the city I grew up around, Portland, and other assorted places.

      It’s funny that when you live somewhere you never think about it, but I realized I have pictures of just about everywhere I’ve been but where I lived most of my life! I’ve been thinking of doing an Arizona album, too. Might be just the thing for winter!

      In fact, I sort of wish others would pull out their cameras too. I’m sorta fascinated with what places look like, and not just in the glossy glamorized shots, but the real sense of a place. I think Andrew Sullivan has random photo of the day from peoples front widows and such. I like that idea. Even the best writers can’t always convey what a simple photo can.

      We should have a series where everyone contributes a few photos they took from where they are from, compile them and put them in one post. I think that’d be kinda fun. A planet scrapbook. You don’t even need to say exactly where you are from. Just a general area.

    • bito says:

      Yet, I do wonder, where are the Ashcroft coverings?

      • Khirad says:

        I always thought Ashcroft would’ve made a better mullah.

        Someone on another link I posted last time around noted that Rick Steves was interviewed once where he said the producers and cameramen are careful not to shoot too much nudity in Europe. And not of people, but of the public monuments and statues. When you think of it, we really don’t have many public examples. He didn’t so much offer any editorial on the matter, but you could tell he wanted to sigh and roll his eyes.

        It’s sad just how prudish we are. What do we think? that naked men and women made out of marble will lead to bacchanal hippie jamfests and orgies on the National Mall and streets of America?

        • choicelady says:

          Indeed. In Delaware Park, alongside one of the newer expressways, there stands a very good reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David”. With a fig leaf.


  7. javaz says:

    Have a heart.

    We have dial-up.

    I could let this download, but our Internet times out at 4 hours.

    I’m voting for you anyway when it comes to that category!

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