Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Winckelmann in Trieste
The name won't mean much even to the few tourists who visit the loveliest corner of Trieste - and there were none on the morning we wandered around in the baking sun puzzling out how to find the entrance to the Museo Civico which lodges the Winckelmann Memorial
in its Lapidary Garden.
So what does Johann Winckelmann mean to me? Really not much more than a name, somewhat mocked in Richard Jenkyns's The Victorians and Ancient Greece for his dogged insistence that Greek art was all 'noble simplicity and calm grandeur' and his 'peeping Tom' view of the original Athenian gymnasiums with their naked youths as an education in 'the beauty of forms'. Walter Pater pinpointed Winckelmann's partial view when he declared that 'the eye is fixed on the sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture, but loses sight of the sombre world against which it strikes.'
Alas for Winckelmann, the 'sombre world' did for him after only eight days in Trieste, when the young Italian he'd taken up with murdered him. Troubled rent-boy or thief pure and simple? We'll never know, though Winckelmann's homoerotic dithyrambs sugges the former. Anyway, according to Jan Morris in my current bible, 'all educated Europe, we are told, was saddened by the news of his death - "universal mourning and lamentation", Goethe wrote'. The cenatoph, Morris adds, was 'erected under the patronage of an emperor, three kings and a grand duke,
containing a fine marble image of Dr Winckelmann and sundry examples of the busts, torsos, thoughtful muses and fragrant heroes of his enthusiasms'. Eheu, fugaces.
There are some fine sculptural fragments around the Lapidary Garden, too, including this fragment, one of three from the nearby site of Aquileia which we must visit next time.
And the Museum proper is charming, obviously benefitting from a recent injection of cash and proud of the Egyptian collection assembled by a couple of distinguished Triestine archaeologists. It's not at odds with the memorial strain here to feature four very handsome canopic jars, those mysterious god-as-animal-headed containers for the intestines:
All these pictures: maybe we need Debussy's 'Canope' from the second book of Preludes to absorb them by. I'd choose Zimerman if pressed, but as I have his Preludes on the shelves, let's hear great Gieseking.
By pure serendipity, I've just discovered that 'Canope' is also among the selected preludes on a 1967 Richter recital disc for which I'm just about to write the notes. And apart from the Festival Hall hackers and coughers, it's spellbinding.
Just two more items from an absorbing collection, which we didn't have time enough to see at length before the museum shut at noon. Here's the rim of a funeral jar from one of the prehistoric sites of the local Castellieri civilization up in the karst
and the museum's real treasure, though not from around here: a fifth century BC rhyton from Tarentum.
All these aides memoires I needed, by the way, because they didn't have any postcards, and even the guide book was sold out. A shame: it's a wonderful little museum and I'd like to have known more about its collectors.