Thursday, June 7, 2007 C

"First Day of Exploration - Freer Gallery"

Before we left the Jefferson Memorial, I wanted a small and inexpensive trinket as a souvenir. I bought a bronze coin there, showing various of the the nation's treasures. (When I got home to the hotel, I was amused to find the manufacturer had spelled Jefferson wrong, omitting the second 'f'.)

From there, we circled around to the Washington monument:

Admission is free, but you must have a ticket, which they were all out of. I saw a huge crowd of people queued up to get in, waiting in the hot sun. This proved fortunate, for by now, I'd had entirely too much sun. Julia and I stopped at a tented outdoor 'cafe', and drank some bottled tea. To replenish my salt and potassium levels, I also ate two tiny bags of plain potato chips. It took some time, but I gradually revived. If we had been able to buy those tickets, I would have surely passed out from heat exhaustion.

After much rest in the relatively cool shade of the tent, I recovered enough to examine the little maps I'd brought with me. A little walk up 14th St to Jefferson St, and we would be at the Freer Museum of Asian and some Egyptian art. So we did that.

Its main emphasis are items from Japan and China, as the banners inform us...

There's lovely courtyards inside...

Oh, the wonderful things I saw! I shall make a nice web section of them. But for now I will share these few items:

China, probably Henan Province, Xiangtangshan
Northern Qi dynasty, ca. 570, Limestone, traces of color

And what's to his side...

Cloisonné stupa:
China, Qing dynasty, Qianlong reign period (1736-95)
Metal, enamel, gilt (recent acquisition)

"In India and Tibet Buddhist relics are kept in stupas, the thirteen rings of which represent parasols- symbols of honor-- and allude to the stages of enlightenment. This stupa reflects the flamboyant art of the Chinese court under the Qianlong emperor, a devotee of Tibetan Buddhism. The decoration of the stupa is an unusual blend of religious and Chinese secular images. The designs depict a lotus scroll and the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, including the Wheel of the Law. A bat - a Chinese good-luck symbol- appears above the opening at the top of the stairs that recall imperial architecture. Inside, a lotus throne symbolizes the presence of the Buddha."
(From the info given on the accompanying placard)

There are SO many beautiful items, which I will share later, but this stupa is particularily gorgeous. Next, of course, you know I must go to the small collection of Egyptian pieces:

Egypt, Ptolemaic Dynasty, 305-30 B.C.E.
Stone, H: 54.7 W: 25.4 D: 49.1 cm
Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1909.140 and F1909.141

"Freer's purchases in Cairo in 1908 included "two great stone Hawks which would nobly defend my little group of Egyptian art when permanently housed." The 'hawks' are these two falcons, reportedly from a temple near Alexandria in the Nile Delta.
An important image of kingship, the falcon was symbol of the Egyptian god Horus, whose earthly embodiment was the pharoah. The heads of the sculptures preserve the remains of an attachment for a headdress, probably the double crown symbolizing rule over both northern and southern Egypt.
The Greek inscriptions on the front of the bases mention the names of the Greek deities Herakles and Aphrodite."
(Info given on the accompanying placard)

Face from coffin
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18 or 19, ca. 1539-1190 B.C.E.
Wood (sycamore fig) and glass, H: 20.3 W: 16.1 D: 8.4 cm Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1909.143

In 1909 Freer acquired this wooden face, which originally had been attached by wooden pegs to a mummy-shaped coffin. Inlaid with white, black, and blue glass, the eyes and eyebrows convey a vivid, lifelike impression. A ceremonial beard would have been attached in the square opening under the chin, indicating that the deceased was male. Mummy-shaped coffins made of wood with attached carved faces were used to bury members of the Egyptian nobility during the New Kingdom (15501070 B.C.E.). (Info found at museum website)

Plaque depicting a king offering wine
Possibly Ptolemaic Dynasty, ca. 305-30 B.C.E.
Soft limestone, H: 18.9 W: 16.5 D: 3.9 cm
Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1909.142

Plaque depicting head of the crocodile-headed god Sobek
Saite Dynasty 26 or later, 664-525 B.C.E. or later
Limestone, H: 8.3 W: 12.5 D: 1.6 cm
Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1908.58

(From Museum website):
"Thin, rectangular plaques made of limestone, carved on one or both sides with figures in low relief, have often been interpreted as sculptors'models. They would have furnished patterns for artists to imitate, thus ensuring that the images or hieroglyphs carved on a tomb or temple wall would appear uniform in style and consistent in details even when executed by artisans trained in different workshops. Some plaques have raised borders incised at regular intervals. The markings were probably used to align a grid painted across the surface of the plaque. Artists could then outline the figure to be carved according to an established canon, or set of proportions, measured by means of the grid."

(From Museum website):
"The quality of carving on these plaques varies considerably, suggesting that some may have served as trial pieces for artisans practicing their skills. Still others may have functioned instead as votive objects offered in a temple by worshipers, with the carved image depicting the deity to whom they were dedicated."

Before I leave the Freer, I'll share one more Chinese piece:

Chimera, China, Eastern Han dynasty, ca. A.D. 1-100, Bronze
"Part lion, part unicorn, and having wings, the chimera is an imaginary animal believed to have evil-averting and protective powers. And though the chimera is an imaginary creature, this sculpture has a convincing presence. Shown in mid-stride, front paw extended, tail trailing behind, the chimera holds its chest high and bares its fearsome teeth, fangs and tongue. Feathered wings and sharp claws are so fine in detail that it looks as if this chimera is real. The only clue, perhaps, that it is fanciful is the pattern of fine scallops and curls engraved all over its body." (Info given on the accompanying placard)

There were so many extraordinary things I saw, including the fabulous Peacock Room. I don't know how much storage my camera's memory card has, as I've not had occasion to fill it up. But I'm fairly certain I will on this trip!

Note from June 16, 2007:
(Oh, I most certainly DID fill it up! It took some doing to get all the pictures out of the camera. I ended up picking each one individually from the camera and downloading it.)

My results with the Peacock Room and Whistler's "Princess from the land of Porcelain" are rather hazy:

Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room
Designed by Thomas Jeckyll (British, 1827-1881)
Decorated by James McNeill Whistler (American, 18341903). 18761877.
La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863-64, by James McNeill Whistler
Oil on canvas, 199.9 x 116.1 cm. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.91

After dining at the Castle cafe, we didn't have energy to explore any further. I spied a movie there which give us a chance to rest our feet as well as an introduction to the Smithsonian holdings, over 136 million pieces! The Sackler Museum, the coins at the Castle and the African art, as well as the ascent up the Washington monument will wait for another day!

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