the walters art museum in baltimore & dinner with an old friend

After visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art, I went directly to The Walters Art Museum where I had a tuna sandwich in the cafe.  (I wrote about the Baltimore Museum of Art here: the baltimore museum of art)

The Walters Art Museum has a striking four-story glass entryway. It is named for William Thompson Walters (1820 – 1894) and his son Henry (1848 – 1931). William was a leading investor in Maryland and Pennsylvania railroads before the Civil War.


Portrait of Henry Walters, 1938 by Thomas Cromwell Corner

The collection is the fruit of a half-century of conscious acquisition.  The main collection covers 55 centuries from the antiquities to modern art.

William Walters appears to have been a religious man: in the 1860s he had compiled two albums of drawings on the theme of prayer.

The scene below by Eugène Delacroix is based on an incident recounted in three of the Gospels: a furious storm breaks out while Jesus and his disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee.  To the disciples’ amazement, Jesus calms the wind and the storm, dramatizing the power of Christian belief.


Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1854 by Eugène Delacroix

After the Civil War, when William T. Walters returned to Baltimore, he had lived abroad for nearly four years. The art in one gallery romanticizes foreign people and places encountered through the trading and colonizing activities of European countries and the United States.

A recent acquisition at the Walters was Othello by Pietro Calvi. This sculpture depicts William Shakespeare’s tragic hero. Othello, a great warrior, secretly married Desdemona, a Venetian noblewoman, provoking jealousy among his peers. Othello’s supposed friend Iago used a silk handkerchief – Othello’s first gift to his wife – as evidence that Desdemona had been unfaithful; in a rage, Othello murdered her. Calvi captures Othello’s intense emotion: a tear falls from his eye as he contemplates the handkerchief.


Othello, modeled ca. 1868; this version executed ca. 1873 by Pietro Calvi

The work of contemporary French landscape painters was sought after by American collectors from the end of the Civil War onward, and the collections of William T. and Henry mirrored those of their East Coast peers. William acquired the work of the Barbizon School, whose members broke with tradition by working outdoors and taking inspiration directly from nature.

The Walters has a remarkable collection called “Books of the Art Nouveau,” which captures the romance and whimsy of that era (1890-1910).  Motifs include undulating vines, gardens of abstract flowers, and elegant maidens in billowing gowns.

I loved Lady with a Guitar; Boldini presents a woman lost in thought, resting her guitar on her thigh.  Boldini uses loose, visible brushstrokes to capture details of the figure’s hair, jewelry, and costume.


Lady with a Guitar, c. 1873, by Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)

The museum had a special exhibit on the St. Francis Missal.  In 1208, St. Francis sought direction for his life at the Church of San Nicolò in Assisi.  Hoping for divine guidance, he opened the missal (a book containing the texts used in the Catholic mass throughout the year) on the altar three times at random and in every case, the text on the page urged renouncing earthly goods. This idea provided the foundation for the Franciscan order.

This is the very book consulted by St. Francis and his companions.


The Saint Francis Missal, ca. 1200

The arrival of Christianity in Ethiopia in the early 4th century marked the beginning of the important role played by this African kingdom in the spread of the Christian faith. Following the conversion of King Ezanas around 324, the coins of his kingdom, centered in Aksum, were the first anywhere to carry the cross as a new and powerful symbol only a few years after Christianity was accepted in Byzantium under Constantine the Great.

The history of Russian art and culture is closely tied to the legacy of Byzantium.  In A.D. 988, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev, in what is now Ukraine, chose the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire over the Catholicism of Europe, at least in part because of reports of the grandeur of Byzantine churches.

The Orthodox Christian faith was thus brought to the Slavic lands (Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) where it flourished, even during the turbulent period of Mongol (“Tartar”) rule (ca. 1240-1380).

Throughout the Islamic world, Muslims share the same religious convictions, including the belief in one God, called Allah, and in the prophet Muhammad as the messenger of God. Unlike Christian churches, where images of holy figures may abound, Islamic religious buildings do not feature icons or other figural representations.  Instead, interiors are adorned with the word of God, through written verses from the Koran and other pious sayings.

Mausoleum doors from Iran (Tabriz?), made by Qanbar ibn Mahmud, originally opened into the mausoleum, or tomb, of Imamzada Sulayman, the son of a spiritual leader in Iran, where one particular branch of Islam, called the Shia, flourished.  The doors’ intricately carved and inlaid decoration is typical of the ornamentation in religious buildings and includes inscriptions in praise of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and the leader of Shia Muslims.

By the 1430s in northern Europe, the elegance of the International Gothic style had given way to a style of realism.

Another exhibit was on European ceramics, objects made from clay hardened into a permanent form by firing at high temperature in a kiln. The pieces displayed here are glazed earthenware or stoneware.  Beginning around 1515, a new approach to decoration known as istoriato  (“painted with stories”) became popular. Depicting biblical and classical subjects, painters of istoriato treated a plate like a canvas to be covered with a narrative scene.

I found an exhibit on Saint Mary Magdalene.  In the New Testament, Mary from the town of Magdala was one of Christ’s most loyal followers.  Later tradition associated her with a reformed prostitute.  The merging of these identities produced emotionally powerful images of a remorseful yet alluring young woman.

In the exhibit “Late Baroque and Neoclassical Art in Italy: 1700-1800,” the baroque style of the previous century gradually took on greater lightness and grace.

This gallery, with its densely hung walls, gilded furniture, light-painted wainscot, and cove ceiling evokes the installation of art in an 18th-century nobleman’s palace.

One of the last things I saw in the Walters Art Museum was Adam and Eve (1515) from the Della Robbia worskshop. Here, the first two humans are depicted with ideal bodies that recall ancient marble sculptures. The snake has a woman’s face that resembles Eve’s.  During this period, women were often described as untrustworthy, and this negative idea is reflected in the gender of the face of the snake.


Adam and Eve (1515) from the Della Robbia worskshop, Italian (Florence)

It was right after meeting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that I took a tumble, stepping out over the bottom step of a marble staircase and suffering a wrenching left ankle twist.  I yelled, “Sh*t!” and a young man came to help me up.  What an embarrassing senior moment.

After dusting myself off, my stepmother called and asked if I had just called her.  I said I must have accidentally dialed her when I fell. She had heard me thanking the guy who helped me up.  I told her I’d fallen and she said that’s how she’d broken her ankle.

While talking to her, I hobbled around through Chinese snuff bottles of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), which were made to hold snuff: a mixture of spices, aromatic herbs, and powdered tobacco. Valued for its stimulating effects and supposed medicinal benefits, tobacco had been introduced by Europeans to China in the 17th century.  Inhaling tobacco as snuff was considered to be more genteel than smoking, which was outlawed in China.  By around 1800, snuff was enjoyed at every level of Chinese society.


Chinese snuff bottles

I felt disheartened and in pain after that, so I left the art gallery and went to check in at Days Inn Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor.  I waited in my room until an old friend from the past, Terry, came to the hotel to meet me.

We painstakingly made our way to Watertable, on the 5th floor of Renaissance Baltimore Harbor Place Hotel.  I had a glass of wine, Harborplace Cream of Crab Chowder (delicious!), and we shared an entree of a Crab Cake dinner: 6 oz crab cake, fingerling potatoes, Chesapeake corn puree and roasted cauliflower, except I think we got roasted zucchini instead of corn puree.

Terry was my roommate at Riverside Hospital School of Professional Nursing in 1974. I hadn’t seen her since I dropped out of nursing school (deciding nursing wasn’t for me); she went on to become a nurse. She had contacted me through Facebook the week before I planned to go to Baltimore, and since she lived in Annapolis, and happened to be in a seminar in Baltimore on Friday, she met me there.

Terry wasn’t working at that time and was just doing locums (temporarily fulfilling the duties of another, like a substitute nurse).

She told me all kinds of stories about myself that I didn’t remember.  She heard a story that I flipped a tall guy (perhaps my first husband Bill) on the dance floor, and I said I remember flinging him into a ditch after drinking too much tequila after a Busch Gardens party. 🙂

I told her Bill published two books, Mathews Men and The Ghost Ships of Archangel.  She said she had gone to The Annapolis Maritime Museum to hear someone talk about Ghost Ships of Archangel. She didn’t think the lecturer she heard was Bill, but he had mentioned Mathews Men.  I said it must have been Bill because he wrote Ghost Ships.  She said she was confused and didn’t realize they were one and the same.  I showed her his picture and she said, yes, that was him. It’s a small world sometimes.

She said she thought I was always so smart and for some reason she believed I’d become a successful lawyer.  I said not at all; I hadn’t done much of substance with my life.  I said I’d lived and worked abroad teaching English for a number of years, and the living abroad was the highlight of my life.  She said I used to come in late to our dorm room and I’d say, “Read your notes to me,” and she did.  Then we’d take a quiz in class and I’d get 10 points more than she did. I honestly didn’t remember that at all.

I told her that in my Master’s program in International Commerce & Policy at George Mason University, I read all assignments, took massive detailed notes and studied them assiduously and I got almost all As but one B.  But I had to work hard!!

We shared stories about our children and our stories were eerily similar: mostly problems with under-motivated children who blame us for everything that’s gone wrong in their lives. One of her sons tragically committed suicide and the other is an acupuncturist who does just enough work to get by.  Her son was verbally abusive to her, so she made him move out.  He is brilliant but has always done the bare minimum. Her daughter doesn’t speak to her and blames her for all that’s gone wrong in her life.

I told her about calling the police on my youngest son and much later, helping him move in with his older brother.  The younger was trying to get sober but the older was still drinking and the younger went ballistic and smashed up the apartment building including the older’s TV.  I told the older to call the police on him but he wouldn’t.  It was a real sh!tshow and we had to get the younger permanently out of the older’s apartment, long distance, as they both lived in Denver, CO.

I told her about traveling to Charleston with my daughter and it turned into a disaster because my daughter thinks I criticize her for everything.

I told her about walking the Camino de Santiago and she was very interested since she wasn’t currently working.

It was interesting to meet up with Terry after so many years had passed and to find out our situations, at least with our children, were similar. I felt sad for the loss of her son, and she said she would do things differently if only she could have him back again.

Little did we know that we would be under lockdown in a couple of weeks due to COVID-19.

*Friday, February 21, 2020*