Monday, November 28, 2011

28 New Haven Days: Part 2

The picture you see here is a view from the kitchen window of my flat at the Taft Apartments. It's an interesting sight, showing bank towers, church towers, and Occupy New Haven tents on the lawn. The visual diminution from right to left is almost poetic; it says a lot about this city. I have to confess, I'm not fond of New Haven. I've been here a number of times, and while the Yale architecture and environment is beautiful in all its 19th-century glory, the rest of the city leaves much to be desired. Once you leave the university area, it's a shady city. The extremes of wealth and poverty are bizarre. Whenever I turn right to head to the (only!) grocery store in the entire city, I start moving into the "bad" side of town. It's a little nerve-wracking at times. People at the YCBA have said things like "Don't walk too far in that direction after dark!" and "There was a shooting a block away from the museum a few weeks ago!" It doesn't instill a sense of serenity, as you can imagine. I went back to the City (in other words, NYC!) over the weekend, and it amazes me how I can feel 100% safer there than I do here. Don't get wrong, I'm not paranoid. But what do you make of a city where you're sitting in Starbucks and you overhear two police officers telling people they have to order drinks or they'll get thrown out for loitering, and then telling the manager about how dangerous this neighborhood is? Or, better yet, I get off the train last night and while waiting for a cab only see a number of police cars just near the train station. Turns out there was another shooting in that area just before I returned. According to the local news, that was the 31st murder in New Haven this year. If you calculate that statistically, that means there's been a murder here approximately every 10 days. And this is Yale? It's bizarre, but what can you do? Stay within the university environment as much as possible apparently. Life is much more enjoyable when you're living in the proverbial ivory tower. As I mentioned, though, the campus area itself is lovely, as my previous post showed with some pictures, and there are some fun surprises at times. For instance, I was returning from the grocery store this evening and bumped into one of the YCBA curators and we chatted for a few minutes in the street. It occurred to me that this was one of the joys of small city living, just randomly bumping into people you know and having a chat. I also spent a lovely Thanksgiving with my friends, the JJK-SPs, who live near here, and they said they'd take me around so I can see more of the surrounding area too, so I'm looking forward to seeing more.

But of course I am here to research and network, and that I have been doing. I've met a number of people and have been surprised to discover that the YCBA is bigger than I thought, but they all seem to know one another. I attended a lecture given by visiting senior scholar Clarissa Campell Orr, a well-published historian who is writing a biography about Mary Delany (1700-1788), maker of fascinating paper cut-out botanical collages, about which the YCBA recently did an exhibition. I have a computer work station in the library and have already worked in the Rare Book Room, plus I have access to resources in other libraries on campus. I've also had the opportunity to examine more closely the John Gibson busts in the collection, and they've now actually brought 2 of them out for the public to see, which is great (one of them being the unknown young woman about whom I blogged).

I've been asked to give a presentation on Dec. 16th about my research (yikes!). Fortunately, I've already uncovered some new interesting little tidbits of information, so that should help. For instance, Yale has digitized a travel diary written by Susan Horner (1816-1900). In 1847-48, she accompanied her sister Frances and newlywed brother-in-law Charles (later Sir Charles James Fox Bunbury, 8th Baronet, and Lady Bunbury) on a trip to France and Italy. An artist and historian, Horner later authored books such as Walks in Florence: Churches, Street and Palaces (1877) and Greek Vases: Historical and Descriptive (1897). In the 1850s and 1860s, she carried on a regular correspondence with Gibson and they saw one another socially in London and Rome on future visits, but it appears she first met him while on this trip with her family. Gibson had been living in Rome for 30 years at this time, so he was well-acquainted with everything the city had to offer, and he delighted in acting as a tour guide when it came to art. Ever the classicist, he always looked to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. The drawing you see here is but one of many examples of his sketches in which he explored Greco-Roman subjects. The drawing is from the Greek playwright Euripides and shows Antigone Discovered over the Dead Body of Her Brother (image: Royal Academy). I thought it would be interesting to share one of Horner's encounters with Gibson. On this occasion they visited the Vatican Museum, much like you or I have done in the past, traipsing through the same corridors she mentions as well. The only difference then was that there was no electricity, just natural light and maybe gas lanterns or candles for evening visits. Their particular visit together took place on April 10, 1848--exactly 122 years before I was born.
At three we called for Mr Gibson at his studio. He showed us a beautiful drawing he is making, and also some engravings from his works, very well executed; he then accompanied us to the Vatican, where Charles and Frances walked through the Gallery together, and Mr Gibson showed me its wonders. The galleries are very beautiful and very rich, and as we walked along, he stopped me at the most remarkable among its treasures. We entered the Braccio Nuovo which has been added of late years. Mr Gibson pointed out to me the statue of Minerva as the best time of Greek art. ... As Mr Gibson is occupied making a drawing for a bas relief of Hyppolitus, he examined these well, and satisfied himself as to the legitimacy of adding ears or horns to his creatures. I asked him, why it was necessary to confine himself to an imitation of the ancients, to which he replied, that when treating a Greek subject, it ought to be treated as a Greek artist would have conceived it, whereas, in Christian subjects the master is free to use what models he may please. (fol. 51v-52r)

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