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Atlanta Garden Design

More Than Meets the Eye

Posted by Sam Valentine on May 25, 2015 at 6:50 PM


Image: Sam Valentine


As I passed one of the thousands of artworks along my tour through the Vatican Museums, something caught my eye. The work was a marble statue of the river god Arno, and it was not the sculpture's exceptional beauty or the sculptors' unique skill that caused me to pause; an unfortunate drawback of visiting a museum of this caliber is that few works are able to stand out against their equally impressive peers. What caused me to slow was a recognizable form, and what made me stop and peer even closer was something quite unexpected.


Image: Vaso Filistor


The form of a bearded man reclining on one side was becoming an increasingly familiar motif, as I had just seen variations on this image in the streets of Rome, on Capitoline Hill, and even (in a monstrous form) at Sacro Bosco. I wanted to study this statue for a moment to see if anything distinct jumped out at me, and something did.


Images: Nicolas Beatrizet, The British Museum, and Yen Baet


Inside the vase that Arno holds over his hip, I caught a glimpse of an unexpected face. With its mouth agape, the carved face was certainly feline, but whether it was a lion, tiger, or housecat was not quite clear.


Images: Sam Valentine


Just before writing the feline face off as a sculptor's inside joke, something clicked. Tracing one's eyes down from the cat's open mouth and the jug, over the believable human musculature, detailed folds of cloth, and crags of rock that form the sculpture's base, ghostly paths can be discerned.


To imagine rivulets of water cascading, trickling, and pooling over the sculpture's form takes a bit of imagination, but in ancient times the statue's purpose would probably have been blatantly obvious. The other "river gods" I saw in Italy were almost always associated with water, sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically, but most of them came in the form of statues integrated into a fountain.



Image: Sam Valentine


Categories: Art & Inspiration

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