Following up on my recent trip to New Zealand, I read Two Voyages to the South Seas, a summary/translation of the memoirs of Captain Jules S.-C. Dumont D'Urville. This guy was a French ship's captain and navigator. He did some impressive exploring around New Zealand, Australia, and Antarctica. In these memoirs were the things you'd expect: encounters with natives; encounters with colonial powers; disease; discovery of new lands; paddling of small boats.
But I didn't expect one thing I found in the introduction (written by Helen Rosenmann): art history. This story takes place before d'Urville was a captain.
Twelve days out of Touloun the ship was anchored off the island of Melos. Ashore, d'Urville and [fellow officer] Matterer met a Greek peasant, who a few days earlier while ploughing had uncovered blocks of marble and a statue in two pieces, which he offered cheaply to the two young men. It was of a naked woman with an apple in her raised left hand, the right hand holding a draped sash falling from hips to feet, both hands damaged and separated from the body. Even with a broken nose, the face was beautiful. D'Urville the classicist recognized the Venus of the Judgement of Paris. It was, of course, the Venus de Milo. He was eager to acquire it, but his practical captain, apparently uninterested in antiquities, said there was nowhere to store it on the ship, so the transaction lapsed. The tenacious d'Urville on arrival at Constantinople showed the sketches he had made to the French ambassador, the Marquis de Riviére, who sent his secretary in a French Navy vessel to buy it for France. Before he could take delivery, French sailors had to fight Greek brigands for possession. In the mêlée the statue was roughly dragged across rocks to the ship, breaking off both arms, and the sailors refused to go back to search for them.
Plundering is best left to the nimble.
Tags: book | art | broken
Labels: art, book