Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Antinoöpolitan trousers

If I have my way, they'll be MY Antinoöpolitan trousers, to be based on the above cotton-and-flax pattern of little roundels with winged horses. It's one of many astonishing Coptic-Roman fabric survivals brought to light on the 13 expeditions to ancient Antinoöpolis, the city founded by Hadrian in memory of his beloved beauty Antinous and more elegantly known as Antonoé in French, under the command of Albert Gayet between 1897 and 1908. Our dear friend Cressida Bell, designer of my prized dressing gown, won't do it as the artwork has to be her own. But wouldn't the jambières look splendid, to judge from the model wearing them behind 'Thaïs' (explanation below) in this leading image for the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, which has just held the most spectacular exhibition of the finds. I don't have credits for all the images, which I think are without exception publicity for the show, though I assume the below is, like the above, by Pierre Verrier.

Returning to the great museum, which we saw on our first visit to Lyon, and discovering this exhibition was serendipitous. It happened to be round the corner from where I'd had my lunch interview with the great violinist Vadim Repin, reason for the visit. I thought I'd look at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in the same mansion, not having seen it first time round, and asked if there was a special ticket. No, said the incredibly friendly and helpful people at the desk, only a combined one, but when I mentioned how much I'd loved the Coptic fish tapestry in the Tissus, they told me there was a companion piece and much, much more in the exhibition. This still remains the absolute highlight of my four visits to the fabulous French city.

Having just walked round the Viking exhibition at the British Museum, private view last night courtesy of the diplo-mate, I was reminded how selective a view we have of the ancients according to what's survived - for example, I'd love to know if the fierce Norsemen had tattoos, and if so, what they looked like. At least we know they filed and probably dyed their front teeth to look terrible in battle. But the dry middle Eastern climate has preserved not only those sensational encaustic Fayum portraits which are the first painted great ones of their kind (the only labelled specimen from Gayet's expeditions pictured below),

but also the formal and everyday wear of well-to-do Roman Egyptians. Much needs reconstructing, and the Musée des Tissus has done just that with its photographed models,

but the scraps - sometimes more - give an incredible impression of what those people wore. Needless to say I was hooked by the garments of the lady called Thaïs, who may well have been the legendary courtesan - Gayet's sponsor Eduard Guimet certainly liked to think so, as Massenet's heroine was then popular at the Paris Opéra - and above all by the mythological scenes on the shawl belonging to one Sabina, perhaps the most extensive masterwork in the exhibition. Then there were the embroidered slippers.

The last room has three climactic offerings - fabric-wrapped mummies, with hair intact, of three officials including this fonctionnaire à la pourpre (translation, anyone?)

Very well, three mummies may not be as gobsmacking as the largest of all Viking ships, with modern Danish craftsmanship recreating the entire frame, which greets you in the last room of the new exhibition space at the British Museum, but it was an impressively designed way to finish. I have a great deal of digesting to do, as I bought the lavish catalogue, and my French is halting.

The 24 hours in Lyon passed very pleasantly. I went back to my old hotel near the Opéra in the Presqu'ile between the Rhône and the Saône, the very quiet Grand Hotel des Terreaux which I warmly recommend, now rather over-designed but calm and intimate still (even if it's weird to have breakfast in the chlorine-smelling, humid room with the swimming pool). I arrived via the tram from the airport, walking from Part Dieu to the Terreaux, and hit quite by accident the new Les Halles de Lyon, which you'd have to go out of your way to find: shame they knocked the old glass building down in crazy redevelopment in the 1960s, but the smells and the swishness were impressive.

I remedied the bad impression gained from walking down the central Rue Auguste-Comte last time I was here and finding it full of fast-food joints by exploring the parallel streets in the grid plan, full of boucheries, boulangeries and patisseries probably cheaper than the chain names.

I didn't have a great meal this time in the food capital of France, just a good one, but have earmarked places to visit on return. Here are Vadim and I after lunch in his hotel brasserie, photo taken on his phone by the very nice waitress.

Downpours arrived after that, which made the museum a good choice, but my morning stroll took in the usual views. The Place des Jacobins

and the main square, the Place Bellecour, with the not very lovely Notre-Dame de Fourvière on the hill near the Roman remains across the Saône and the statue of Louis XIV by Lemot in the foreground

and the big wheel at the other end.

After the exhibition, I worked my way back in the pouring rain via a patisserie selling superb cannoli, the Romanesque St Martin-d'Ainay, closed by late afternoon

and an alternative route through Vieux Lyon, accidentally stumbling across the hotel which Vadim told me made the best madeleines (he'd admired my Proust watch). But the receptionist shook her head blankly when I asked, so it was back to tea in the hotel before the tram to the airport and a two-hour-delayed late flight). I'm looking forward very much to returning in April.


David Damant said...

The phrase " fonctionnaire a la pourpre" presents certain features of interest. In France, "fonctionnaire" means in principle any servant of the State, but in my experience in Paris it usually means ( especially when enunciated with a degree of reverence) someone pretty senior. And to be a servant of the purple entails, one can surmise, a boss of high rank. Hence maybe why these fonctionnaires were worthy of mumification

But a difficulty is raised by the word "pourpre". This has in French a meaning oscillating between red ( even crimson) and what in English is definitely the colour purple. Pourpre ( or purpure in heraldry) is in a boundary zone of the spectrum of light, between red and violet. So the dress of a Cardinal which we would certainly describe as red ( as in "red hat" )was sometimes referred to in French as pourpre ( indicating high rank as above). So, David, if somewhere in the documentation about the mummy you feature allusion is made to red rather than to purple, blame the shellfish out of which the Phoenicians extracted the original dye

David said...

Maybe she attended on his imperial highness? Thanks, David, for the prompts. The precise term remains shrouded, though. One of the other mummies' status also eludes me - 'conducteur du char' - though 'chevalier byzantin' is much more obvious.

David Damant said...

Surely a charioteer? Such a person would have considerable status

David said...

Yes, of course: I didn't think it through. Reading further in my catalogue, I read that there were three gravesites associated with participants in the 'Jeux olympiques d'Antinoe', including one of a gladiator. This one was identified by the reins buried with him.

David Damant said...

Maybe gladiatorial combat should be added to the list of current Olympic sports? Also chariot racing a la Ben Hur?

David said...

Missed opportunities in Sochi: Cossack whip prowess; competitive torturing of old Ukrainian women?

Susan Scheid said...

Beautiful things from first to last. Here's the line I loved the very best, and thought to myself, only David would have been there and been able to say this: "but when I mentioned how much I'd loved the Coptic fish tapestry . . .". They should have given you the keys to the kingdom . . . though in a way perhaps they did!

Very much an aside, but I saw today that your colleague, Jessica Duchen, has an article in The Independent on John Metcalf's new opera, Under Milkwood, coming up soon as part of the Dylan Thomas Festival in Wales. The centenary looks like it should be fun. Will you be partaking in the festival in any of your many capacities?

David said...

Well, Sue, that fish tapestry IS one of the highlights of Lyon, so I wasn't being that singular, I suppose - when I first saw it I couldn't believe that a fabric so individually designed and executed, and dating back virtually to antiquity, could exist.

Was approached about Metcalf's Under Milk Wood opera by PR - if only TAD had the budget to send me westwards, but in any case Our Man in Cardiff, the estimable Stephen Walsh, will go to Swansea to cover it for us. It's the major event of anniversary year, though I look forward very much to how Christopher Hampson, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting in Glasgow last week, will choreograph poems of Dylan Thomas in the famous readings by Richard Burton for Scottish Ballet this coming fall.

David Damant said...

Dylan Thomas' prose in Under Milk Wood is so musical that any opera will move onto very dangerous ground. But dancing to the readings by Richard Burton ( he has the right music in his voice) might well be splendid, though not ( if I understand correctly) Under Milk Wood

PS I was brought up in Wales. Amazing musical ( even with voice only) tradition.

David said...

I'm in two minds about setting great prose or poetry to music - if a composer were to find the right speech melody and harmonise accordingly, as Reich does in The Cave and Different Trains, it could work extremely well. And Britten's word-setting in A Midsummer Night's Dream has embedded half Shakespeare's text in my brain. But you make the strong point that so many composers like Strauss have made - he said he only set second-rank poetry because the first, like Goethe's, had all the music in it already (though he did succumb to Goethe in later life).

Burton - no, I think it's individual poems, though a timely reminder that I MUST hear Under Milk Wood with his narration again.

The thing I'd like to hear in Welsh music is a convocation of harps all playing at once. Sioned Williams, one of the world's greats, came to talk to my BBCSO class last week - inspirational - and we touched on that.

David Damant said...

In Welsh villages ( even into the 20th century) the harp was frowned upon as worldly vanity. Calvin has a lot to answer for.

Susan Scheid said...

Setting fine poetry to music is definitely a tricky proposition. John does have good credentials for this, though. His musical writing is very lyrical, and he's Welsh born and bred. I believe he grew up in Swansea, and now lives very close to where Thomas wrote Under Milkwood. What I think is wonderful about this, too, is that it gets the "Thomas poetry people" out to hear contemporary music, including a poetry friend of mine who lives in Wales--he'll be going, and I'm hoping it will lead to discovery of so much other great music, new and old, in his own country. Wish I could be there myself. John's festival this year looks excellent, too.

Laurent said...

I recognize the title, Fonctionnaire à la pourpre means a very senior Public Servant, a delegate of the Emperor, authorized to handle senior matters on behalf of the Sovereign. In Rome the Equestrian order were the first to wear it on their toga to signify that they were honourable and just below the rank of Senator. In time it evolved but I remember hearing it in France about someone who today would be a high magistrate.

Susan Scheid said...

And now, back to the Coptic fish and so many other delights on this post (and please forgive steering off course). You know, I am a bit the country bumpkin when it comes to this world of patterns and design, yet you remind me how much I've loved stumbling into an exhibition of such things. I am reminded by this post that I would like to get back to the V&A Museum, and of a fascinating exhibit at the Met of African fabrics about which I'd intended to write on the blog but never did.

I also love where your imagination takes you, from this observation, "I was reminded how selective a view we have of the ancients according to what's survived" to thinking about whether Norsemen had tattoos. So many wonderful worlds to explore!

David Damant said...

David, as you say that you will be returning to the food capital of France in April, I confide that you will eat that masterpiece of the cuisine Lyonnaise, quenelles de brochet ( if made with say sole or salmon all one gets is a mousse - to get a real quenelle the firmer flesh of the pike is necessary; I suppose shark would also do well)..... BUT - mon cher ami, PRENEZ GARDE !! . A quenelle is apparently now an anti-semitic gesture which can get you thrown out of a football team, or vilified in the anti-racist press. The explanation of this disgraceful theft of a word is not suitable for a chaste blog such as this

Anonymous said...

next time you are in Lyon try La Mere Brezier. One of the better restaurants in Lyon.


Anonymous said...

la quenelle de brochet est toujours du poisson "pike", comme yous savez trop bien Monsiuer Damant .En 2005 vous avez dejeuner sur cette grande oeuvre en Lyon . La sauce nantua avec ses ecrivesses ext obligatoire.

L'abbbe de Aiguebelle

David said...

Clearly I need to return to Lyon with you two grands gourmands. Merci, Monsieur l'Abbe, pour le recommendation. Meanwhile I was condemned to scampi and chips in an undistinguished eatery on Epsom Downs for the maternal's 83rd birthday.