As the City of Philadelphia readies itself for the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis in September 2015, I thought I’d tell you about some of the fun things I like to do in this city. While I’m not a native Philadelphian, I’ve lived in the suburbs for more than a decade and have tried to learn as much about the city as I can. Of course, what I like is what interests me–there’s much more to do beyond just what I find interesting. But perhaps you might find this info useful, for your next visit to the City of Brotherly Love!
Recently, I took a friend to the the Philadelphia Museum of Art, probably most famous outside of Philadelphia for the one piece of “art” on the outside: the Rocky Statue. Everyone who comes to Philly has to pose in front of this statue. It’s a thing. (Oddly enough, I don’t have a photo of it. Here’s a link to its official website!)
Inside is a lot of art, and I’m not going to tell you about all of it. You can check out their website for more info on their collections etc. The amount of time you spend in a museum depends on how interesting you find its exhibits and pieces. There is plenty in this museum that caught my eye and plenty that didn’t, but I definitely think it’s worth a visit.
Over the years, as my tastes have solidified, I’ve found that I spend much less time in museums because I know what I like and I know what I don’t care about, and I don’t waste time. At this stage in my life, when I’ve been to many of the world’s famous museums, I find that my habits are this: I look at the “famous” paintings that I’ve studied–the Mona Lisa, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (think Ferris Bueller), Liberty Leading the People, and La Guernica. Then, I am drawn to those works of art that either call to me because they are simply gorgeous, or to works of sacred art. What can I say: I know what I like.
On this visit, these are some of the paintings that caught my eye:
I am a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites. I love their use of color, I love how idealized, yet realistic their subjects look, and I just think most things they paint is gorgeous. This painting of Anna Risi, called Nonna, is just one of many Lord Leighton painted of his muse (and lover). I think she was beautiful.
I love Alma-Tadema’s work, but his subjects are always lounging around. It makes me wonder if her just hung out with lazy people…
This painting of a Moorish Chief is very big–almost 5 feet tall! It’s beautiful in person.
Visiting a museum, is always a fun place to laugh. There’s always something that just seems less pretty and more funny. This painting made me want to run out of the room.
Those are some very long torsos.
Then there’s the art that makes you want to just cry, in a good way.
When I first saw this, I thought, “Goodness, those angels are ugly!” But the more I stared at it, the more I thought, “I think I’d be ugly crying if I were them, too…” Now I can’t look at it too long without breaking into tears. The pain of those angels just hits you right in the gut.
This is one of the prettier depictions of the Annunciation that I’ve seen. And the room in which the painting is placed is gorgeous!
I love how realistic this painting is. Mary looks young. She looks a little afraid but not like she’s trying to hide (as in Rosetti’s “Ecce Ancilla Domini!”) or angry (as in Simone Martini and Lippo Menni’s “Annunciation”).
She’s humble, curious, interested. And I love how the angel is more light than form. Because, really, who knows what an angel looks like, anyway?
In this same, beautiful room, is the very large painting by Philadelphia’s pride and joy, Thomas Eakins.
The museum has a lot of Eakin’s work, but this is his largest piece. It features a partial mastectomy taking place in a large amphitheater. Eakins was famous for his scientific realism, and he really made a study of the human body. While I didn’t see it during my visit, his painting of the crucifixion is really amazing.
Here is a little slideshow of some of the other sacred art that I found to be very pretty.
Other beautiful sacred art that I didn’t see, but which is on the museum’s website is “The Crucifixion”, “Christ Bearing the Cross” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple” by Leonard Bramer, and another by Heinrich Jansen, “Christ on the Sea of Galilee” by Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, “Christ Crucified on the Sacred Heart”, Artist unknown, and “Christ Performing Miracles” by Lucien Simon.
Then there’s the “art” that makes you want to cry, in a bad way.
Someone actually paid a lot of money for this.
What is this?! And how much did it cost the Philadelphia taxpayers?
But that nonsense was at least replaced in my memory by this gorgeous room, reminiscent of New York City’s The Cloisters, which I love.
And who doesn’t love beautiful stained glass?
The artistry in these windows is amazing.
Then there are the reliquaries, which, I’ll admit, I always feel weird seeing in museums and not in churches. That said, it’s better to see them in museums than not at all, but I do wonder where the relics went.
This arm reliquary is of Saint Babylas, and it comes from Germany, dated 1467. It’s made of silver, gilded silver, and rock crystals. St Babylas was Bishop of Antioch around 240 AD, and he was martyred during the Decian persecution. St John Chrysostom says about him:
… he presided over the Church which is among us, and saved that sacred ship, in storm, and in wave, and billow; and what a bold front he showed to the emperor, and how he lay down his life for the sheep and underwent that blessed slaughter….
This reliquary bust is of a Benedictine Nun, possibly St Scholastica!!! I think it’s really well done!
I’ll admit that when I see reliquaries in museums, I do touch the glass… they’re still third degree relics, right?! The museum also has a reliquary bust of St. Francis Borgia, but I didn’t see it.
Overall, visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a wonderful experience for art lovers of all kinds, even those stodgy ones like me, who just like looking at Jesus, Mary, and the saints! When you’re in town next, be it before, during, or after the World Meeting of Families, be sure to stop in and look around. You’re sure to see something that you like.
If you are coming to Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families, join me on my fun and informative tours of Catholic Philadelphia, including the five local shrines and some historic churches! For more info visit our website.