Wednesday, 12 March 2014
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.