Saturday, November 2, 2013

From the Library: The Transformation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor

When: through February 9, 2014

Although the National Gallery's main library is in the East Building, they have a small exhibit space in the West Building.  It's a bit off the beaten track, and the first couple of times I went to see a display there I got lost.  Now, I've realized that there's a statue of an archer that points in the direction of the room, and I've made my way there many times without incident.  I appreciate that the library's offerings would not appeal to a large audience, and would therefore not merit space "front and center" in the gallery, but it's hard to attract attendance when your space is so tucked away.  The happy part for me is that the location means I'm almost always the only person in the room, so it's a way to see pieces at the National Gallery without the crowds.

The current display concerns the various versions of Ovid's Metamorphoses that have appeared over the centuries.  Ovid was a Roman poet who lived from 43 BCE to 17 CE.  He enjoyed much early success, but was exiled to present-day Romania by Augustus.  Apparently, no one is exactly sure why he was sent off from Rome, but away he was certainly sent.  The Metamorphoses are his most widely-read book, and concern themselves with the Greek and Roman myths and gods.  It's a combination of mythology and history, and uses the theme of transformation throughout the stories.

In the 16th century, it was the most important source of mythological history available.  Over the years, it has been translated, adapted and reworked to appeal to contemporary audiences - a book about transformation has itself been transformed.

The display features several illustrated volumes, all of which are lovely.  Some date as far back as the 1500s, which gives you a sense of the National Gallery's collection of books dealing with art.  The illustration art changes over time, to match the changes in art generally, but the basic stories remain the same.  They have been transformed, yet they are timeless.

Verdict: Worth a few minutes for a look in, if you're in the museum anyway.  Once you've found the space, you'll enjoy the solitude!

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