A western meibutsu

Speaking of meibutsu, this must surely rank among the ultimate meibutsu of the west: The Farnese Cup. Just read this entry from the usual place:
After Octavian's conquest of Egypt in 31 BC, the Farnese Cup was acquired by the Treasury of Rome. It was later brought to Byzantium, then back west after this city was sacked in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. By the 15th century it was in the court of Frederick II, from which it then reached the Persian court of Herat or possibly Samarkand, from where it found its way to the court of Alfonso of Aragon in Naples. Lorenzo the Magnificent finally purchased the famous "scutella di calcedonio" in Rome, in 1471. From there it came into the possession of the Farnese family and thus into the Naples National Archaeological Museum (Inv. MANN 27611).

The cup is.... Oh, what the heck, read the whole entry:
It is a phiàle (libation plate). The internal decoration is an elaborate allegory of Ptolemaic Egypt's prosperity. It operates on two levels, one Egyptian, the other Greek.

It presumably represents the Egyptian divine triad, Serapis-Isis-Harpocrates or, alternatively, the Eleusinian triad: Hades/Pluto-Demeter-Triptolemos.

On the bottom are female figures possibly personifying the seasons. Two male figures soaring in flight above the divine triad represent the propitious Etesian winds that blow during the summer. On the exterior, a large apotropaic Gorgonian mask glares threateningly at the enemies of the state.

Produced at the court of the Ptolemies, other interpretations of the figures have them being Cleopatra III, her husband Ptolemy VIII and their son Ptolemy X Aléxandros. Through the amalgamation of Egyptian and Greek deities and their identification with members of the royal family, this dynasty tried to perpetuate the traditional conception of divine power they had inherited from pharaonic Egypt.
It is now displayed -- if that is what you call its barely lit presence in the back of a room in the back of beyond of the Naples museum, conspicuous for its darkness, emptiness, and a general sense of abandonment and unkemptness. To reach it, one walks through several cavernous rooms which appear to have the general impression of a waiting room - or perhaps left luggage room -- in a rarely frequented Stalinist style railroad station somewhere in Shaanxi province (perhaps Datong?); other cabinets in the same room are empty and dusty (perhaps, by now, cobwebbed). One almost wishes for it to have died a heroic death, like that certain meibutsu smashed to bits by a daimyo in front of his assembled retainers after he had received it from Oda Nobunaga in reward for his participation in a campaign. (Oda was famously stingy with his retainers). Damn useless piece of junk! announced the warlord, chagrined to be unable to pay his men real money for their work. Poof! went the meibutsu.

Or perhaps the Farnese Cup is like the Sleeping Princess? You have to overcome all sorts of obstacles to reach her -- including not letting yourself be deceived by the unassuming appearance of the rooms immediately preceding her; and not being diverted by the unjustly far more famous Farnese Bull, but once you have reached her -- she is all yours, yours alone.


Post a Comment