Artless in America: For the Final Installment of Her Column, a Few of the Columnist’s Favorite Things

Dragons and monkeys and fish, oh my!

Room #627: Christ’s Descent into Hell, Style of Hieronymus Bosch, Netherlandish, 1550-60. (Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As a mopey tween, I dreamed of following the example of Claudia Kincaid, the protagonist of E.L. Konigsburg’s celebrated children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: I would hide out in a bathroom stall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until closing, and live in the Met, spending my nights curled beneath a musty duvet in a period bedroom.

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I settled, however, for spending sanctioned visiting hours hiding from my homework (and later work work), prowling the Met’s galleries, and discovered a trove of oddities—many featuring nudity, dragons, strange looking baby Jesuses, antiquated racquet sports and other random or lewd motifs that I found, and find, amusing.

Now, in case you mistakenly think that the advent of spring means you should escape to the great outdoors (where you can get grass stains on your pants), I’ve decided to share some of them with you in a “scavenger hunt.” I’ve been told this is a misnomer because a) I am explaining exactly where to locate each object and b) you will not be awarded anything, not even a signed Damien Hirst print, for tracking down all of them.

I counter that even armed with room numbers, which the Met added to its map a year ago, the hunt remains a challenge.

So, good luck, and let the scavenging begin.

Room #544
Figure Personifying a Spring
, model probably supplied by Guillaume Dupré, early 17th century, French
This is a purely decorative “gondola” cup, but since I first laid eyes on it, I have coveted it as a soap dish, lead glaze be damned. The mango-size earthenware bowl takes the shape of an allegorical lady (perhaps the nymph of Fontainebleu) in a state of literal undress, reclining in a bathtub. Rather inconveniently, she has a horn of plenty in the tub with her. Also, though otherwise in the buff, she is wearing all of her jewels.

Room #379
Saber With Scabbard
, 19th century, Ottoman period, Turkish
This saber was crafted from steel, gold, diamonds, emeralds and pearls for the 1876 investiture of the Ottoman sultan Murad V, who “suffered a nervous breakdown before the ceremony and was subsequently deposed and kept a prisoner until his death in 1904.” Apparently there is such a thing as too many jewels.

Room #745
Living room from the Little House, Wayzata, Minnesota,
Frank Lloyd Wright, 1912-14, American
Here, Francis W. Little’s Wayzata abode miraculously boasts views of Central Park’s cherry blossoms, making it a Manhattan real estate dream come true.

Room # 743
Library Table
, Herter Brothers, 1882, American
This desk, which once served as the centerpiece of the wildly ornate library of William H. Vanderbilt’s Fifth Avenue mansion, is made of rosewood, walnut and satinwood, and secondarily chestnut, ash, maple, walnut and birch. (Isn’t it amazing how lumber can sound luxurious?) A mother-of-pearl world map on either end of the table reminds Vanderbilt of the scope of his power, while on the desk’s top appears the “celestial field” in the Northern sky the night he was born—because who cares if the world revolves around you if the cosmos doesn’t?

Room #754
Beauty Revealed, Sarah Goodridge, 1828, American
In a wall case filled with precious portraits in miniature, one keepsake stands out: a minute likeness, in watercolor and ivory, of Goodridge’s own breasts (a scandalous take on the “lover’s eye portrait,” which allowed separated sweethearts to peer into an extreme-close-up of one of their beloved’s eyes). The artist made this saucy self-portrait for the amusement of Daniel Webster, then in his first term as U.S. senator. This time of year, I think about Webster almost constantly, because his hay fever was so debilitating it deterred him from a run at the presidency. I like to think my allergies are almost as bad.

Room #610
Saints Peter, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Leonard
, Correggio (Antonio Allegri), ca. 1514-16, Italian
Mostly, I am intrigued by this painting because I formerly did not know that there was a saint named Leonard. A saint named Leonard is about the funniest thing I can imagine. Also, there is a very sleepy dragon on a leash, which is not usually how dragons appear in art. I bet Leonard told the dragon a really boring story.

Room #627
Christ’s Descent into Hell
, Style of Hieronymus Bosch, Netherlandish, 1550-60
“The panel was painted during a Bosch revival … when the artist’s fiery scenes of hell were enormously popular throughout Europe,” reads the wall text that accompanies this horrifying panorama. What was going on that Europe’s citizens were hot for fire-and-brimstone scenes of naked people freaking out near hybrid monsters and black pools? Spain going bankrupt four times? Perhaps we are due for another Bosch revival.

Room #402
Red-painted ceramic ossuaries
, excavated at Azor, Chalcolithic period, fourth millennium B.C.
These ancient boxes for human bones were designed to look like houses. They also look exactly like the pet carrier my family once used to ferry my cats to the vet.

Artless in America: For the Final Installment of Her Column, a Few of the Columnist’s Favorite Things