The Art Part

My Highlights Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


In the American Wing with a large number of Visitors on one of my weekend Highlights Tours

One of the great joys of my life is my work as a Docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The word ‘Docent’ comes from the Latin “Docere” (to teach). Museum docents function as educationists who open up a world of Art History and Visual Comprehension to visitors.

When my daughter Chriselle left home for college and my duty as a full-time Mom was over, I decided to devote some of my time as a volunteer in the pursuit of one of the great loves of my life–Art–in the kind of environment in which I have always thrived–Museums. While some people might feel gratified in a shopping mall and others in a baseball stadium, my greatest sense of fulfillment comes from a day well-spent in a museum for I see it as an chance to enrich my knowledge of the world’s history while developing a sense of aesthetics.

Until I began my rigorous year-long training under some of the most perceptive curators in the world at the “Met” (as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is known), I was completely self-taught in Art Appreciation. My interest in Art was first piqued when I watched the entire screening of Kenneth Clarke’s series of TV shows called “Civilization” on Bombay TV while I was a fifteen-year old high-school student in India. I remember feeling deeply uplifted by the visuals, by his succinct and erudite commentary and by the classical music in the background that seemed to cast a spell over the works on view. Then, when I was eighteen and still lived in Bombay, I moved to a new neighborhood in suburban Bandra where my neighbor, an American named Roberta Skaggs Naik, was an artist herself who had majored in Art History in college in  the United States. The bookshelves in her home were full of glossy, coffee-table editions of Art reproductions and I poured over these treasures for hours while furthering my knowldege through long conversations with her. That was my first memorable introduction to Art History.

Over the years, I continued my education in notable Art by touring some of the finest museums in the world–among them, the National Gallery, the Courthault Collection, the Wallace Collection and the two Tate Galleries in London; the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidour (Modern Art), the Musee Rodin and the Musee Picasso in Paris; the Kuntshistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria; the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; the Uffizi Museum in Florence and the Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy; the Prado, the Riena-Sophia and the Thyssen Bornemissa Museums in Madrid, Spain; the National Museum in Washington D.C.; and the National Museum in New Delhi, India, not to mention the Museum of Modern Art and the Frick Museum in New York which I adore. In each of these places, I have taken Highlights Tours that have introduced me to the most important works in the collections.

I now feel privileged to have the opportunity at the weekends to share my knowledge with international visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since the exhibits at the Met change periodically, our on-going training continues year-round, allowing me to constantly add to my fund of knowledge about great art.

For more information about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York , please visit their website:

My Highlights Tour A

Follow me now as I take you on a tour of some of my own favorite works of art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



This is the point where my Tour of the Met begins. Visitors assemble at the “Clock” on the main floor of the museum where I give a brief Introduction to the History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David in the European Paintings Gallery.


The Standing Gupta Buddha in the South Asian Gallery.


In the Ming Scholar’s Garden of the Astor Court


In the American Wing with the painting entitled Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emmanuel Leutze.


In the American Wing’s Charles Engelhart Courtyard with the Autumn Landscape Window in stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany–my very favorite exhibit at the Met.


In the American Paintings Wing explaining The Panorama of Versailles by John Van der Lynn


At the Egyptian Temple of Dendur–the last stop on the Highlights Tour

My Highlights Tour B

I give two Highlights tours at the Metropolitan Musuem, each of which is completely different from the other. If you would like to follow me aroudn on Highlights Tour B please click here.


The Water Stone by Isamu Noguchi

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Sculptor: Isamu Noguchi, Japanese-American
Black Basalt
American, 1986.

Who is the sculptor of this piece?
The sculptor of this piece is Isamu Noguchi, who was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1904 to a Japanese father, the poet Yone Noguchi and an American mother, Leonie Gilmour. He was taken to Japan when he was 2 years old by his mother to join his father until he was sent back to the States at the age of 14 for advanced schooling.  After a youth spent in Japan, Noguchi made America his base. But his artist’s attraction towards the Japanese aesthetic was strongly the result of his early history.

His sculpting career began in 1924 at the Leonardo da Vinci School on New York’s Lower East Side. He was converted to modernist abstraction after seeing an exhibition of Constantin Brancusi in New York.  He then received a Fellowship to work as Brancusi’s assistant in Paris where he learned to carve stone and wood and gained a rich understanding of the human figure.

When and why was this sculpture installed?
This piece was commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to commemorate the opening of its new Japanese Galleries in1987. Noguchi passed away in 1988, but completed this piece in 1986 and himself supervised its installation in this spot. We also know that Noguchi himself personally selected the stone out of which he carved this piece.

What do we know about its installation?
We know that it took Noguchi over seven hours to install this piece. Its enormous weight and the acute sense of balance required to set it in such a way that the water can trickle over the sides without displaying any ostensible movement, required it to be positioned just right. Noguchi said that the task was to set the rock in such a way that the flat top would be perfectly leveled in relation to the center of the earth.

Of what material is the sculpture made?
The sculpture is made of black basalt, a heavily veined stone. This single piece of stone weighs over a ton.

Visual Features:
The sculpture is seven-sided. It is referred to as The Water Stone as it functions, in some respects, as a fountain, constantly re-circulating water through its concealed central pumping device. This kind of feature is common in Japanese homes where a small water pump is placed at the entrance of homes to enable entrants to wash their feet and hands before entering. It is also a common feature of Japanese Zen gardens where the visual images of flowing water and the gentle soothing lapping are considering beneficial to the spirit.  Again, the incorporation of water is central to Japanese gardens. Hearing the sound of the flowing water before one actually sees its source allows one to make a gradual transition from the everyday world to the world of the inner spirit.

This is neither a square, a cube nor a circle. It is a seven-sided facetted figure. The piece is placed on a bed of rounded stones acquired from the Isey River, 200 miles southwest of Tokyo, near the site of Japan’s most sacred Shinto Shrine. The rounded stones lie on a bed of stainless steel also completely concealed.

What makes this sculpture so unique?
The uniqueness of this sculpture lies in the fact that it is not a static piece of stone. Indeed, it appeals to many of our sense simultaneously. There is movement, so it is tactile. There is sound, so it is aural. It is an arresting piece of work to the eye, so it is visual as well.

What’s more is that this sculpture has been carved keeping in mind the contrasting elements that are central to any understanding of Eastern aesthetics. There is the contrasting principles of the hardness of rock and the fluidity of water. Again, we have the rough and the smooth (the sides of the stone) which appeal to our tactile sense, the matt with the shiny (which appeals to our visual sense in its differing textures), the sharply angled sides of the sculpture contrasted against the smooth rounded stones of the base. Again, a man-made piece of basalt stone sits on naturally eroded pebbles obtained from a river. Opposites suggest harmony in the Japanese aesthetic. This coincides with the ancient principles of yin and yang—the dynamic balancing of opposites that suggest the human condition.

Peripheral Features:
The peripheral features that make up this little installation are also interesting and significant.

In the background, one sees the wooden screen which runs across. This was developed by  a Zen master to force you to focus on the stone. Zen is all about focus. The screen is also placed at the height of the entrance to a tea house. To approach the sculpture from that angle, one would need to bend down—in Japan, a gesture equivalent to the humbling of oneself.

The bamboo trees at the side are also an addition to the general air of Eastern harmony.

The pottery that surrounds the piece was made in kilns near Nagoya, Japan.  The ash on the top of the pot sparkles. This is not a flaw but a deliberate technique used to create this element.
Like the Astor Court, this little spot in the Musuem provides a quiet oasis of comfort and relaxation  so that viewers may retreat from the fast pace of a busy world and find a soothing center.
Blum, Felicia: “Japanese Art”. From class notes taken during lecture delivered to Highlights Trainees in the Galleries on March 12. 2001.

The Fortune Tellers by Georges de la Tour

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Artist: Georges de La Tour (1593-1652).
Oil on Canvas
Probably 1630s.

Who is this painting by?
This is a painting by Georges de La Tour, a French artist who lived from 1593 to 1652. The inscription on the painting includes the name of the town, Luneville, in Lorraine, France, where La Tour lived.

What does this painting depict?
This oil on canvas in entitled “The Fortune Teller” and that’s exactly what it portrays. A young man has stretched his hand forward to have his fortune read by an old gypsy crone. As she is in the process of revealing his future, her accomplices gathered around the young man are skillfully robbing him. This subject was popular among Caravaggesque painters throughout Europe in the 17th century.

What makes this painting significant?
The absolute detail of the scene depicted together with its tremendous realism makes this an outstanding example of the work of this artist.  Deeply influenced by the style of the Italian Renaissance artist Caravaggio, La Tour presents the scene with almost photographic realism. We are able to see before our very eyes the conning of this naïve young man and we feel for him in his blindness while, at the same time, tending to feel amused by the skills of the thieves.

Visual Details:
This painting is arresting because while the main character, the young man, is its central focus, we do see a number of minor characters that are given as much importance in La Tour’s depiction of them. Though they are secondary to the scene, these, nonetheless, hold us spellbound.

Young Man:
Notice the foppishness of the young man’s dress. He is clearly of aristocratic lineage, as is evident in the elegant cut of his clothes and their fine fabric. Indeed, this canvas has given the artist the opportunity to present the clothing styles of the time with such an abundance of color and pattern and cut. His sage green tunic contrasts brilliantly with his scarlet leggings and the two-toned motif is repeated in his collar, sleeves and on his belt. He wears a jaunty beret-like cap on his head and looks askance at the woman as she reads his fortune. La Tour presents a scenario in which money has just changed hands. Indeed, his coins have crossed the old crone’s palms, but the young man doesn’t realize that before the session is through, he will have paid far more than the single coin for the privilege of having his fortune told.
Old Crone:
But while the young man’s clothes are delineated in great detail, so too is the outfit of the gypsy woman. Her skin tones indicate that she is of Oriental origin, probably from Egypt, from where most fortune tellers came—hence the word “gypsy” which is said to be a derivative of the word “Egyptian”.  Her garment is equally colorful and vividly patterned. The close pattern of the embroidery gives a richness to her garments. She watches her subject’s face closely, which is somewhat ironic, because one would expect her to be leaning forward to read the lines of his palms instead. On her head, she wears an elaborate turban-style headdress. Her face is deeply wrinkled, indicative of her age. She has obviously been doing this kind of trickery for a long time and is accustomed to its machinations.

Young Woman in Between:
Between the young man and the old crone is a young woman whose gaze is also fixed on the fop. Though she looks slyly out of the corner of her eyes at him, her fingers are busy with the watch that hangs from a chain around his waist.  Gypsies were known to work in this fashion in groups of accomplices. As soon as one item had been successfully stolen, it would be passed around to another group member who would quickly disappear with the booty. She too wears a white scarf-like head dress which is wound like a close fitting cap around her head. Some critics have pointed out the similarity in the facial features of this young woman and the young man who is being robbed.

On the left hand side of the canvas:
are two more characters, also members of this gang of thieves.  The woman on the far left, whose white clad sleeve dominates the left hand side of the composition, is reaching into the young man’s trouser pocket to relieve him of his money-pouch. She wears a gaudy scarf around her head.

Standing right next to her, is a woman, half hidden from the angle at which we are viewing this scenario. Her limp dark locks of hair hang about her face, half concealing her features. She too stares intently at the young man.

The background to the canvas is a rich deep tan which perfectly complements the dark, bright colors of the costumes of the group. The lighting effects are so subtle that the background seems to fluctuate in tone from a light tan on the sides to deep chocolate brown in the center.

This painting can be interpreted as a genre or theatrical scene or as an allusion to the parable of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament.  A genre painting in one in which the artist presents a slice of ordinary life and certainly this street scene, not uncommon in those days, in seventeenth century Lorraine, is a fine slice of life. Certainly this man has more money than management skills and he is easily taken in by the duplicity and skills of these swindlers.
Pariset, Francois-Georges: “A Newly Discovered La Tour:  The Fortune Teller”. MMA Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 7, March 1961.

The Burgundian Madonna


(Photo: Chris Harris)

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Attributed to Claus de Werve (1380-1439), Franco-Netherlandish
Limestone, Polychromy gilding

Who was the sculptor of this piece?
This piece is attributed to Claus de Werve, an influential court sculptor in Dijon, France, active from 1396-1439.  He created many works for his patrons and this is certainly one  of his masterpieces.

Where was this sculpture created and why?
By the fourteenth century, the devotion to Mary was growing all over Western Europe and it became common to create representations of her in tapestry, wood and stone. This particular sculpture was commissioned by John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (died 1419) or his wife, Margaret of Bavaria (died 1424). Upon completion, it was presented by one of them to the Cloistered Convent at Poligny, in Burgundy, France, dedicated to the Franciscan Order of the Poor Clares. This is one of four large sculptures from Poligny in the Museum’s collection. Hence, this is often referred to as the Burgundy Madonna.

What were the materials involved in the creation of this piece?
This sculpture is made of limestone, a material frequently used for sculpting statues in the Medieval Age.  It was then painted in bright and vivid colors, most of which have faded away with time and exposure to the elements, though some parts of this piece show evidence of greater preservation of the paint than others.

What does this sculpture depict?
This is a monumental yet deeply engaging  and very intimate portrayal of the Virgin and the child or what has come, in Art, to be generically titled The Madonna.

What makes this sculpture so engaging?
The softness and naturalism with which the sculptor has endowed these individuals is what makes it so engaging. There is a serene maternal caring in the face of Mary as she seems to be entertaining her little one by reading to him verses from the Bible. Like most infants, Jesus is restless and squirms in her arms, while his foot seems to be kicking the book shut. It is this human touch that softens the portrait and makes it deeply appealing. The babe looks up pleadingly at its mother as if begging her to stop.

Visual Features:
The sculptor has included a number of humanistic details. Notice the beauty of Mary’s features—the broad forehead, the stylized hair falling in soft tresses around her face.

Her robes are full and fall in soft curves around her feet. The feel of the heavy fabric is suggested by the generosity of the folds and the manner in which they seem to swirl around the base. This denotes wonderful use of the medium—limestone—to create this feeling of soft abundant folds. Michaelangelo worked wonders with marble but note this use of limestone to create the same effect.

There is the Cloth of Honor on Mary’s head which in the Medieval Period, denoted Honor or Royalty. Since Mary was the mother of God, she is depicted as an honorable woman.

The babe is presented as a pudgy and cuddly person just like any other little baby. The fingers of Mary’s left land seem to dig into the pudgy side of the babe.

Where might this sculpture have been placed?
A close examination of the sculpture reveals greater evidence of paint preservation on the sides and the back. This has led art historians to believe that it might have been placed in a sheltered niche in the convent, probably on one of the stairway landings that the nuns would have to pass on their way to chapel each day. This explains why that part of the sculpture that might have been protected from the elements by the walls of the niche has fared better than the front which was far more exposed.

What does this sculpture signify?
Mary’s role as a personification of Wisdom is evoked by the open book on Christ’s lap. In contrast to the depiction of Mother and Son, the biblical inscription in Latin on the bench reminds us of Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy:  “From the beginning, and before the world, was I created…” (Ecclesiasticus 24:14).
Holmes, Forsyth Williams: “A Fifteenth Century Virgin and Child”. Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 21, 1986.

———:”A Medieval Virgin and Child”. MMA Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 3, November 1944.

Norris, Mike: “Medieval Galleries”. From Class Notes taken during lecture delivered to Highlights Trainees in the Galleries on December 4, 2000. (Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site).

The Bacchanal by Bernini

(Photo: Chris Harris)

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Marble Sculpture
Provenance: Rome, Italy.
Circa: 17th Century (1616-17)

Who is depicted in this sculpture?
This arresting marble sculpture represents a marvelous little vignette of a faun, a mythological creature, at play with a trio of children, possibly triplets, as they all seem to be of the same age.
Who was Bernini?
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the heroic central figure in Italian Baroque, a term which is art, is generally associated with wild exuberance and a tendency towards decoration bordering on the ornate, even excessive.
Bernini was influenced deeply by his own father, the Florentine-born Pietro, as can be seen in the buoyant forms and cottony texture of the Bacchanal. The lively and strongly accented diagonals, however, are distinctly the work of the son. What is remarkable about this piece is that it was executed by a very young Bernini, merely in the infancy of his sculpting career, at the tender age of 18, and yet through this work, he already displayed what would become a lifelong interest in the rendering of emotional and spiritual exaltation.
Materials and Method:
This sculpture is worked in marble, possibly from Carrara, as were many notable works of the Renaissance period, such as Michaelangelo’s Pieta, David, etc.
Dimensions and Scale:
Compared to many contemporary sculpted works of marble, which tended to be larger than life, this Bacchanal is tiny. To be fully appreciated it must be gradually encircled, for the sculptor has chosen to present a three-dimensional, free standing tableau that allow him to explore the depiction of cherubic, angelic figures from many different angles. Its charm lies in the miniature proportions of the depiction. The vignette stands upon a self-serving, solid marble base. In its complicated angles and curves, the artist has explored the possibilities of negative space to the hilt. What is also interesting is his decision to keep the inanimate objects, such as the tree bark, the vines, fruit, etc. in the tableau in their natural state, while the human figures appear highly polished. This interesting contrast creates magnificent texture and adds to our appreciation of the work.

Symbolism in the Sculpture:
By the time Bernini began this piece of work, it had become fashionable to create vignettes depicting the Roman God Bacchus, associated with Wine and Merry-making. The Faun is a Bacchic figure, exulting in almost drunken revelry in the company of the children. The life-sized grapes that wind around the vine that encircles the tree, furthers the Bacchanalian symbolism associated with this work. The faun indulges in horseplay with the children, two of whom are hoisted on the tree trunk while the other toddles at the base.
Though Bacchus is associated with Pagan rites, from a Christian perspective, these creatures seem to inhabit a Paradisiac world—Eden before the fall. They are undisturbed by their nudity and frolic without a care in the world. The entire mood of this sculpture is one of happy abandon. Though the title of this piece would suggest that the faun is teased in his lair, he seems to be delighted by the intrusion and has given himself up completely to the pleasure of the moment.
The vine is heavy with fruit as are the boughs higher up the tree that bear rounded fruit, possibly apples. The apples contribute to the setting—Paradise–and also denote a sense of happy abundance.

Visual Details:
That this carefree play occurs in an idyllic setting is evident in the “props” that form the woodland backdrop. The faun is a powerful representation of mythological masculinity. Notice the almost fluid quality of his muscles, seemingly quivering along his strong legs, arms and back. He also has a small goatee for a beard and what appears to be a tuft of hair (like a miniature tail in the center of his back). The woodland scheme is emphasized through the wreath of vines twined around his head.
The children are plump and cherubic and wear a growth of ringlets around their heads. They are seen in the company of a large cat, a lioness perhaps, and a reptilian creature; yet they  are unafraid and continue their play. Because these creatures frolic so gleefully together, we can assume that the animals are tame and are known to the children.
Bernini’s mastery at creating charm and grace out of the roughness of marble is superbly demonstrated in this sculpture. The overall impression of this piece is of the sweetness and joys of childhood, the comfort of abundance and the pleasures of happy companionship.

Hecht, Johanna:  Notable Acquisitions 1975-1979, 30-31.

Raggio, Olga: “A New Bacchic Group by Bernini”. Apollo, Vol. 108, Dec, 1978, 406-17.

Wittkower, Rudolf:  Gian Lorenzo Bernini:  The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. 3rd Edition. Ithaca, 1981, 278.

Shiva as Nataraja

Shiva as Nataraja

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Artist Unknown
Bronze Sculpture
Provenance:  Tamil Nadu, India
Late 11th Century, Chola Period

Who is depicted in this sculpture?
This sculpture depicts Shiva, one of the Gods of the Hindu Trinity usually represented as Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer).

Materials and Method:
In the 10th century, there was a revolution in India with regard to the creation and depiction of sacred images.  In Hinduism, there is a great need, on the part of the faithful, to actually “see” the God—to receive his “Darshan”. Thus, the deities were given royal stature. In the 10th century, the Cholas, a dynasty of powerful Southern kings in India, began to make large metal images. Between the 5th and the 10th centuries, the images of gods and deities were very small, almost tiny. But the Cholas changed that. They mounted these metal images of their gods on poles and carried them around the villages in processions or parades. The fact that this Shiva image has holes in the bottom testifies to this practice. The Cholas chose to make metal sculpture instead of coins, which were popular signs of power and greatness up to this time.
The Cholas used the Lost Wax (Cire Perdue) method for casting their sculpture. They created images with all the details in beeswax and resin.  The wax image was then covered with three layers of finely-ground clay and was placed in a primitive kiln which was basically a hole in the ground and was fired. When the wax melted and ran out of the holes, it would leave behind the clay mold into which the molten metal was then poured.  When the mold cooled down, the artisans broke it and were left with the metal sculpture. Thus, every Chola sculpture is unique.  No two pieces are alike since the mold could never be reused.  This method is very difficult to manipulate as each sculpture weighs at least 50 to 60 pounds.
When the image was ready, it was put through an eye-opening ceremony in which the real deity was said to take residence inside the image.  Thus, the deity’s spirit would enter the image and make it worthy of worship by the faithful.
Symbolism in the Sculpture:
Every aspect of this sculpture is loaded with symbolic meaning.  Various art historians have interpreted the features of the sculpture in differing ways. Indeed, there are as many theories with regard to this sculpture as there are deities in Hinduism.
In this sculpture, Shiva has been depicted as Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance.  He is presented in the gesture of a victorious cosmic dancer, dancing the dance of life, the dance of ecstasy or the dance of bliss (ananda tandava). Though he is victorious, Shiva’s face shows serenity and passivity that could only come with Godliness.  This symbolizes that he is able to take failure and triumph with the same serenity and balance.  The fact that he is dancing on one foot further corroborates this concept of balance and proportion.
The origin of the Shiva dances have been lost in antiquity, but they seem to be of Dravidian origin, i.e. hailing from South India. This dance is performed in one spot—the center of the universe.

Though Shiva is traditionally viewed as the Destroyer, in this sculpture he fulfils the roles of all three gods of the Trinity—he is the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. He dances the universe into being, sustains it with his rhythm and then dances it out of existence.
The Legend behind the Symbolism of each object in the sculpture:
The legend goes that Lord Shiva came upon a group of sages who were practicing unorthodox Hinduism.  Shiva wishes to convert them to orthodox Hinduism but the sages were reluctant to be converted.  So, they began to throw all kinds of dangerous objects at the God, including fire, the demon of ignorance (Maya) over whom Shiva is seen dancing, snakes, tigers which symbolized egoism and is suggested by the tiger’s skin skirt that he traditionally wears. Shiva caught the fire in his hand which then became part of the aureole around him. He then began his Victory Dance, because he had proven worthy of the challenges that the sages threw at him and had triumphed.
Shiva’s Hands:
The figure has four arms.  The upper two arms are extended to the sides.  His right hand holds a small pebble drum shaped like an hour-glass (still used by street entertainers in India), the left hand holds a leaping, five-pronged flame called agni or fire. These two objects symbolize the fact that Creation emanates from the reverberations of the drum even as the destruction of the universe arises from the searing heat of the flames.
The lower right hand makes the gesture of Abhaya Mudra. Mudra means gesture or expression.  Abhaya means the Removal or Dispelling of Fear.  Thus, part of Shiva is depicted as protecting and preserving.  The other arm points to his raised foot—the refuge of the three worlds.
The Demon:
Shiva is seen dancing with one foot planted firmly upon the sprawling figure of a dwarf. This dwarf is variously represented as being Ignorance (or Maya). Some Hindu theologians refer to this figure as representing Maya or Illusion. This same malignant dwarf, sometimes called Muyalako, is said to lead mankind astray. His left leg is raised and pulled across his body so that it almost touches the encircling halo.
Shiva’s Hair and Head:
The five locks of hair on each side of his head are strung together by flowers and look like waves over his shoulder.  His hair is braided with the lower locks whirling as he dances in the stance of a yogi. The ever-expanding universe takes form in the great halo or circle of flame called a mandala, whose periphery is marked by flames resembling the one in Shiva’s hand.
Shiva’s Jewelry and Decoration :
Shiva combines in this depiction both the male and the female genders. He wears a man’s ear-ring in his right ear and a makara or large circle in the other ear—signifying that he is all mankind. Like a woman, he is adorned with jewelry—bracelets, necklaces, armlets and anklets. Yet, like a Hindu man, he wears the sacred thread around his torso.  The sacred thread is important in Hinduism as it signifies a step in initiation rites—symbolizing the passage from childhood into manhood when puberty begins. This practice probably came to India over 3,500 years ago through the Aryans, earliest settlers on the Indian sub-continent. Most of the decoration is executed in very low relief which sets off the smooth surfaces of the body.

This primordial dance represents the very cosmic nature of the universe, its rhythm, its balance. It contains within it references to the rising of the setting of the sun and the moon, the ebb and flow of the sea and the tides, the swell of the ocean, the coming and going of the monsoon every year and the rhythmic moves of the cosmos. Shiva destroys the old so that the new might take its place. It is the quintessential delineation of the essence of Hinduism.
By witnessing this image and assimilating its meaning, the Hindu devotee receives reassurance and understanding and frees himself from the fetters of the earthy life.  Thus, he avoids Samsara (reincarnation) and attains moksha (salvation).


Anonymous:  “Introduction to Indian Sculpture”. In The Image of Man. Hayward Gallery. London 1982, 225.

Chandra, Pramod:  The Sculpture of India 3000BC-1300 AD. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985, 192-194.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K: The Dance of Shiva. Dover Publications, New York, 1985, 58.

Iyer, Bharatha Iyer:  Indian Art. Asia Publishing House, Bombay 1958, 243.

Lerner, Martin:  “Lord of the Dance”. MMA Bulletin, New 51, Spring 1994, 44.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

(Photo:  Chris Harris)

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Oil on canvas
Size: H-39-3/8, W 32 in.
Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946.

Who was Pablo Picasso?
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was born in Malaga, Spain, grew up in Barcelona and died in Mougins, France, where he had spent a great part of his productive and creative life since 1904. He is considered the central figure in 20th century European art and with the artist Georges Braque is credited with having initiated such revolutionary aesthetic movements as Cubism. Picasso’s personal life was characterized by a number of relationships with women, many of whom were his models and became subjects of his work and by a vastly varying series of stages or “phases” during which times his work underwent dramatic changes. Besides being a prolific painter and draftsman, Picasso was also an accomplished sculptor and printmaker and produced ceramics and theatrical designs.

Who was Gertrude Stein?
Gertrude Stein was an expatriate American living in Paris, a central figure in the French avant garde and one of the first to respond with enthusiasm to the artistic revolution in Europe during the early years of the 20th century. She nurtured and inculcated an avant garde in the visual arts that is as great as her literary contribution. She was a woman of means and her weekly salons held at her Paris apartment became a magnet for European and American artists and writers alike and her support of Matisse, Braque, Gris and Picasso was evident in her many acquisitions of their work. For Picasso, this early patronage and friendship was of major importance.
How did this portrait come to be painted?
Neither Stein nor Picasso could remember exactly how this portrait came to be painted, but it was a landmark in Picasso’s career. It was begun in 1905 at the end of his Harlequin period and before he took up Cubism. The story goes that they lived at opposite ends of Paris and Stein had to trek right across town to Picasso’s tiny studio to pose for him. According to legend, she made at least 90 trips to his studio, day in and day out. According to her book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932), Picasso had never had anybody pose for him since he was sixteen years old! He was then 24 and Stein had never thought about getting her portrait painted. Anyway, it did happen and she posed for him willingly.
The Story Associated with this Work:
Picasso seated Stein in an old broken armchair and began work from the bottom of the canvas, gradually moving upwards. After at least 90 sittings, all of a sudden, he painted out her whole head, saying irritably, “I can’t see you anymore”. And so the canvas was left like that.
That summer (1906), Picasso traveled to Spain where he had the opportunity to see an exhibition of Iberian sculpture followed by another one of African Art at the Louvre, back in Paris. These proved to be a powerful inspiration. He was struck by the dynamics of those images and their mask-like faces. He returned to Paris and with no further sittings on Stein’s part, completed the painting.
Visual Details:

close examination of the painting reveals that it has a very limited color palette characterized mainly by dark browns and gray. The lack of detail results in making a powerful, stolid figure of Stein, who is shown to lean forward slightly in the armchair, as if ready to spring. The curves of her skirt seem to blend into the fabric of the upholstery. It is a powerful figure, indicative of her position in Parisian artistic circles. The composition is pyramidal with her head forming the apex at the top. Stein was an imposing woman and a staunch lesbian. The monochromatic palette only enhances her power. Following this work, Picasso became even more reductive, veering towards Cubism. After this, he painted Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (which is currently in the Museum of Modern Art).
However, when you look at the lead, you see a clear line of demarcation between the planes of her face and her hairline. Suddenly, her features are less naturalistic and appear mask-like.  The hairline is very defined. There are no wrinkles on her face. Every feature is very clearly delineated. It is a two dimensional canvas surface, which looks like a hard, brittle form as opposed to her hands, which are softer.
Significance of this Painting:
It becomes clearly evident that with his trip to Spain, Picasso moved away completely from depicting reality towards depicting his conception of reality, i.e. he shifted from perception of an object or subject to conceptualization of it. He would, from then onwards, not present something as he saw it actually placed before it, but as altered by his thinking of it. Thus, his art from this point on, becomes deeply cerebral. This painting represents Picasso’s break from Realistic and Naturalistic art towards Abstract or Modern Art. From this point on in his career, it would not be empirical reality that would inform his work, but his personal vision. Picasso had succeeded in originating a movement that would take the art world by storm, so that Modern Art would never be the same again.

How did Stein react to the completed canvas?
Stein loved the work immediately and kept it in her home so that it hung above her fireplace until her death. It was very meaningful to her and upon her demise; she bequeathed it to the Met.
The story goes that when fellow artists saw it, they exclaimed with disappointed that it did not even look like her and Picasso who thought his paintings had premonitory powers, is said to have assured them that, “It will”. Apparently, he must have been gratified for his words came to pass.  It is said that as she aged, Stein increasingly came to resemble the painting.

Brassai (Henry Miller) and Jane Marie Todd. Conversations with Picasso. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1999.

O’Brien, Patrick. Picasso:  A Biography. W.W. Norton, New York, 1994.

Paul, Stella. Gallery Talk on “Twentieth Century Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum” given to New Highlights Tour Inductees on April 2, 2001.

Rodenbeck, Judith. Insistent Presence of Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein. Columbia University, New York. Unpublished  Abstract, Fall 1993.

Stein, Gertrude. Picasso. Dover Books. New York, 1984.

The Greek Kouros

(Photo: Chris Harris)

Researched by Rochelle Almeida

Artist Unknown
Naxian Marble sculpture
Height (without plinth): 76”
Greek, Attica
580 B.C. Archaic

What does this sculpture represent?
This is a statue of a “kouros”, Greek for “youth” (plural: “kourai”). It is a funerary statue, which means that it would have adorned the grave site of the deceased, in this case, quite presumably a noble and healthy human being who, unfortunately, died young. Neither the identity of the subject represented in this statue nor the identity of the carver is known to us. It was customary for the Greeks to commemorate their dead with statues of this kind and several funerary pieces survive. However, it is rare to find one that depicts the entire physique of a young man.
How old is this sculpture?
This statue was made around 580 B.C. during the Greek Archaic period—this makes it one of the oldest pieces to be found in the Metropolitan Museum.  This is indeed one of the earliest freestanding marble statues of a human figure carved in the Attica region of ancient Greece.
Methods and Materials:
The Kouros is carved out of a single slab of marble. What makes it remarkable is that it is free standing, which means that it has no support system to bear its weight. This is a difficult feat to achieve since the base provides the only surface upon which the entire figure balances. It is extremely difficult to carve a large figure with all the weight carrying down through the two legs with no added support along the sides. This represents a huge step in success for the sculptor has achieved his goal of liberating the figure from its original block of stone. In doing so, he achieved a more natural, well-balanced appearance, endowing the Kouros with an extraordinarily life-like vitality. This figure is slender and elegant with the alert, elastic physique of a sprinter. The availability of iron for knives and chisels and the use of drills and wedges enabled Greek sculptors to make rapid progress in their carving techniques.
After being carved, the kouros would have been painted in bright, vivid colors, some remnants of which are still faintly visible. Age and time have taken their toll on this statue and the paint has naturally worn away.
Visual Details:
The Kouros stands in a frontal pose, its arms held alongside the body, joined to it below the armpits and ending in clenched fists. The entire face has clear-cut features that pronounce an almost aristocratic bearing. There is a sense of nobility conveyed by the muscular torso, the long neck, powerful arms and legs and the merest hint of a smile.
The Kouros has an interesting hairstyle. The curly long hair hangs down behind in fourteen lovely beaded tresses. An encircling fillet is tied behind in a reef knot and has long ends that hang loosely down.
As one’s eyes move further down the statue, one is struck by the anatomical detail of the piece. Each nerve, muscle and sinew seems to be lovingly detailed by the carver’s chisels. Muscles bulge above the kneecap. A look at the calves at the back suggests the merest hint of a vein. This is a highly naturalistic carving, through which the sculptor has attempted to convey the vigor and poise of a handsome and healthy man, brimming with the joie de vivre of life. It is such a pity when one considers his youth that he enjoyed such a short life. Perhaps it is a testimony to the old adage that “Those whom the Gods love, die young”.
Significance of this sculpture:
The Kouros is interesting because it points very clearly to the influence of the Egyptians upon the Greeks. If you get a chance to see the Temple of Dendur in our Egyptian Wing, you will notice the manner in which the Egyptians depicted the human figure. Men are always depicted with their left legs stepping forward and this is exactly the pose of this Kouros. According to Herodotus, the Greeks were introduced to Egyptian civilization after the pharaoh Psammetichos hired Ionians as mercenaries in the middle of the 6th century B.C. Accordingly, the Greeks learned how to quarry stone and plan the execution of large scale statues from the Egyptians who had been working with stone for centuries. Besides, the Kouros recalls Egyptian design in the pose, in the broad, square shoulders and in the rigidly frontal and symmetrical designs.
Nudity in Greek Art also has special importance.  The Greeks, unlike the Egyptians, had no reservations about representing male human figures in the nude. No other contemporary culture had this custom. The Kouros, unlike Egyptian figures that are seen to be wearing kilts, is depicted in the nude, as the Greeks believed that physical beauty reflected inner nobility. They also considered that nudity had a connotation of heroic excellence. Indeed, they participated in some heroic contests, including some events in the ancient Olympics, in the nude—the better, they believed, to showcase the perfection and naturalness of the athletic human figure. Nudity also separated male from female; Greek from foreigners.
For a long time, this Kouros was said to represent Apollo. Indeed it was called the archaic Apollo. To the Greeks, Apollo, a protector of young men, was himself in appearance, simply a glorified young man.
The unknown sculptor of this work has done a remarkable service to his unknown subject—he has depicted him in all his human perfection, but the fact that it stood upon a grave, reminds us inevitably of the finality of death.

Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture:  The Archiac Period. New York:  Thames & Hudson, 1978.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. Second Edition. New York:  MMA, 1994.

Richter, Gisela M.  A Catalogue of Greek Sculptures. Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press, 1954.

———————- Kouroi:  Archaic Greek Youths:  A Study of the Development of the Kouros Type in Greek Sculpture. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1988.

Gibbons in Landscape

Gibbons in a Landscape


Researched by Rochelle Almeida
Attributed to Sesson Shukei


Ca. 1504-1589.
Muromachi Period (1392-1573)
Ca. 1570.
Pair of six-fold screens
Ink on Paper


The Gibbon, native to the forested mountains of southern China, is known in Japan only in poetry and painting.  The Gibbon has been celebrated in China as a noble creature dwelling in remote places accessible only to the wandering recluse or poet.  Its cry is associated in poetry with the elevated spirit of solitude and in Daoist lore with an expression of the superior “life-spirit” (qi) attributed to this venerated animal.

Paintings of gibbons by the Chinese monk-painter Muqi (ca. 1245) were treasured by the Japanese Zen monks and paintings of gibbons in the manner of Muqi became a favorite subject for screen decoration by the late fifteenth century.

Here, the image of a chain of gibbons is reaching for the moon, symbol of enlightenment, while seeking futilely to grasp its reflection in the water.  It illuminates a fundamental Zen paradox.  Perhaps the gibbon who sits alone as if in meditation, symbolizes a more promising quest, for he is seeking enlightenment from within.

Sesson was a Zen monk-painter active in Eastern Japan from the 1540s until about 1589.  The character of his mature style is revealed in the sure, animated brushwork of the landscape.  Also constant in his work is the kinetic composition unified by a surging stream that sweeps across the foreground to splash against a rock in the great fingers of foam.

My observations:

There are 10 gibbons in all.  Some are depicted in pairs, some are alone in solitary meditation.
One is seen reaching for the moon as it is reflected in the water.
The landscape is lyrical and serene, depicting rocks, mountains, foliage, trees, bamboo fronds, the ripples in the water, the reflection of the moon.

The gibbons are in various stages of play. It is hard to imagine that this ethereal scene of deep and quiet serenity has been achieved by the use of ink alone.  The artist has managed to get so many shades of the same color—black—from the softest gray to the darkest black.  He has also managed to convey textures through this painting.  The gibbons actually look like cuddly furry creatures through the use of ink alone.  There is lots of texture and tonal quality in this work. The mountainous terrain skillfully conveys the spiritual ambience of this retreat.

This painting is enclosed within a mahogany frame with rich brocade fabric tr

The Frank Lloyd Wright Room

The Frank Lloyd Wright Room

Researched by Rochelle J. Almeida

Designer: Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959)
Living Room from Francis W. Little House
Wayzata, Minnesota; 1912-1915
White oak, electro-glazed glass, leaded glass windows
For furniture and textiles (See 1972.60.2-23).


The room, usually referred to as the Frank Lloyd Wright Living Room on the first floor of the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was designed by the architect and interior designer who often called himself, according to his biographer, Harvey Einbinder, “the master” (6). Indeed, Einbinder continues:  (Frank Lloyd Wright) “beamed when he was described as ‘The Greatest Architect in the World’ and boasted ‘when (Louis) Sullivan and I came to architecture it had been sleeping a hundred years.  We woke it up’” (6).
Where was this room built and why?
Another one of Wright’s biographers, Kenneth Starosciak, informs us that the room was designed by Wright to become the vastly proportioned living room of the Francis W. Little House and was completed between 1913 and 1915 (1) expressly for the purpose of providing an elegant musical hall for the piano recitals that Mrs. Little, a trained classical pianist, often gave. At the time, Wright had just completed the design of  what would become his own new home at Taleisin, that tragically, had been set on fire and destroyed “by a demented servant” (n.p.), according to Morrison H. Heckscher.  “To pay for the reconstruction of Taleisin, Wright actively sought architectural commissions” (Einbinder  54).  The Little house was one such, meant to overlook Lake Minnetonka and serve as the summer residence for the wealthy couple (Starosciak 1).
Proportions of the Room:
The house, in Wayzata, Minnesota, “featured a giant 55 foot living-room whose 14 and a half foot ceiling seemed to float in mid-air, suspended by sunlight streaming through five old-trimmed skylights” (Einbinder 155). The living room was “acquired” by the Metropolitan Museum in 1970, when plans were afoot to destroy the house, and was meant to serve as an indication of the master’s expertise in “organic architecture”—in which the building, the setting, the interior and the furnishings are inextricably related”, according to the plaque found in the room.
Visual Details:
Based upon the fact that the room overlooks Central Park on its Western side, one is struck immediately by its mood of calm serenity.  Indeed, one’s eyes are drawn from the lush green carpet of natural grass in the park to the moss-green carpet that covers a considerable part of the room’s oak floors.  The fact that window seats run in an unbroken line along the room’s western side, i.e. alongside the park, offers the viewer unhampered views of the landscape outside and endows the room with the feel of what one would, in contemporary terms, call a “sunroom’.  The window seats encourage the visitor to linger awhile, leave the cares of the world behind and drink in the natural light and beauty as one  partakes of the tranquility of Nature outdoors.

Importance of Light:
 Light floods the room, then, and becomes integral to its mood and design.  So intrinsically is light related to the overall conception of this space that skylights are fitted into the ceiling which contribute to the ambience of the natural setting and tie in the theme of bringing the outdoors in.  Fitted into what the modern architect would call a “tray ceiling’, are a number of panels of glass, embellished with wrought-iron fretwork in the typical linear forms of Wright’s most noted work.  This fretwork provides the grill-like structure through which light filters softly and bathes the room with golden rays, no matter what the time of day. At night, the room is softly lit by the original electrical lighting that lies concealed behind the panels. Combined with the wrought-iron fretwork that forms the ceiling are the windowpanes themselves—stained glass set in electroplated copper frames and embellished by the slightest touches of leaf-like design.

Indeed, it would be impossible to describe the style of this room without making reference to two phrases, then fashionable in the world of architectural design—one was Prairie  Style, the other is The Arts and Crafts Movement. According to.Heckscher, the characteristic features of Prairie Style evolved through Wright’s construction of his own home in Oak Park, Illinois, and was exemplified in “generally, a low horizontal mass, hugging the ground; specifically wide overhanging roofs, grouped windows with leaded glass designs, and natural wood and brick for interior trim” (n.p.).  Certainly, the Little house has all these features.  The Arts and Crafts Movement, on the other hand,  promoted, according to Edward Lucie-Smith’s definition of the term, “craftsmanship and a reform of industrial design” and was “named after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society founded in England in 1882” (21). This movement attempted “to reform the decorative arts, emphasizing the potential for good social and moral influence and encouraging a return to the ‘fitness for use’ of Gothic architecture” (Lucie-Smith 21-22).  The Movement spread from England to the US, and Wright came strongly under the influence of this school of design philosophy and reflected its principles in his interiors that have been referred to as ‘Minimalist’.  Minimalism is evident in the sparseness of the furniture and the severe lines of their design. The all-wood conception, integrated with the straight, unfussy lines of the Arts and Crafts Movement results in a stark feeling of peaceful serenity.

Furniture Layout:
Placement-wise, the room, according to Kathleen Howard, follows the principles of an “open plan” (43). Thus, the center of the room remains bereft of furniture, allowing easy movement and contributing to the air of spatial continuity as the eye moves from the fireplace end to the opposite side of the room, dominated by the library table, so-called because its design provides for the storage of books underneath while its surface allows for them to be spread out and browsed through.
The reddish-brown, all-brick, floor to ceiling fireplace (a repetition of the exterior brickwork) dominates one wall at the far end and is prevented from being overpowering by the room’s vast proportions.  While devoid of a mantelpiece, a single, simple, low stone slab runs across it and remains free of any accessories. As if to take advantage of the fireplace’s warmth and glow, two couches are placed diametrically opposite to the hearth.  One is particularly struck by the lack of a coffee table, but then on further observation, it becomes clear that the longer couch serves this function, being provided with extended arms on both sides to hold glasses, magazines or ashtrays.  Needless to say, all of the furniture groupings were designed by Wright himself to enliven peripheral spaces and contribute to quiet work activity.
There is no clutter to distract the mind or the eye in the quiet lines and the natural elements that comprise the room’s accessories. Indeed, accessories are also minimalist in conception and design and represent the natural environment—ceramic bowls and vases, of Japanese origin, dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries on the console tables flanking the room’s sides;  on the library table, a few books, a wooden bowl of dried flowers, and a beautiful reproduction of a plaster cast of the Winged Victory of Samotrace (Greek, 190 BC) , considered one of the oldest masterpieces of world art and currently to be found in the Louvre in Paris; a drafting/drawing table facing the windows and taking advantage of natural light; a couple of cushioned chairs (certainly comfort was not sacrificed to the principles of good design!); two tall, narrow vases (referred to as ‘Weed Holders’), “cogent examples of Wright’s mastery of architectural scale in small objects” (plaque), also referred to as ‘skyscrapers’; a statue of the standing Buddha, further contributing to the air of quiet serenity and Eastern meditation that this room would seem to encourage; a pair of candlesticks. Accessories are also seen in the form of lamps, both freestanding models and wall lamps, designed organically to fit in with the general conception of this linear-dominated space.  Finally, there are four area rugs in the room, of Caucasian origin and 4 Japanese prints, adorning the three walls of the room.
Wright lived from 1867 to 1959.  But the Museum’s rescue of the Little living room allows his work to live forever, demonstrating his evolution as a artist and becoming, in the words of Berry B. Tracy, the Museum’s Curator in Charge, a “remarkable document of Wright as the total interior architect” (20).


Einbinder, Harvey: An American Genius:  Frank Lloyd Wright.  Philosophical Library, New York, 1986.

Hechscher, Morrison H:  “Outstanding Recent Accessions, 19th-Century Architecture for The American Wing:  Sullivan and Wright”.  M.M.A. Bulletin, June/July 1972, vol.XXX, No. 6, n.p.

Howard, Kathleen:  The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 2nd Edition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994.

Lucie-Smith, Edward:  The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms.  Thames and Hudson, New York, 1984,  21-22.

Plaque to be found in the Frank Lloyd Wright Living Room on the first floor in The American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (referred to, in the essay, as ‘plaque’).

Starosciak, Kenneth:  Frank Lloyd Wright:  A Bibliography.  New Brighton, Minnesota, 1973.

Tracy, Berry B:  “American Wing”. M.M.A. Notable Acquisitions 1965-1975, 20.