Last weekend, I went to DC. On Saturday, the heat was unbelievable- at least 100 degrees and as muggy as a city built on a swamp can get. The friend I was staying with lives near the National Gallery, so we decided to get some culture and quality air conditioning at the same time.
There were two things at the Gallery that made a big impression on me. One was a photography exhibit called Foto, which was comprised of late Expressionist and Surrealist photos from Central Europe. Some familiar names (August Sander, Max Ernst, etc.) but I don’t remember seeing any of those images before.
The other was an amazing painting by Peter Paul Rubens. It was not a subject that I usually associate with Rubens- all those zaftig ladies and cherubs. The oddest Rubens I’ve ever seen is at Schonbrunn Palce outside Vienna. There’s a carriage museum (those Habsburgs knew how to live), that contains a carriage painted by Rubens, which I take to be the highest level of detailed van ever. The painting at the National Gallery was Daniel in the Lions’ Den, circa 1614. It is enormous (88 1/4 x 130 1/8 inches). There are nine lions, mostly males, depicted in various states of hunger. One is asleep. Another two are looking at each other, like they’re plotting the best way to get Daniel as a snack. They really look like lions- these are not metaphoric lions. And many of them are looking at you. Rubens did initial sketches of the lions at the Royal Menagerie in Brussels, and the lions in the painting are life-sized. Daniel is praying, but he still looks really, really nervous.