Old Masters and Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“To wrestle with the angel—Art.

–Herman Melville, “Art”


“So come the storms of winter and then

The birds in spring again

I have no fear of time

For who knows how my love grows?

And who know where the time goes?”

Sandy Denny, from “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”


I wonder how I’d explain a museum to someone from another world

the whys of collecting, the how, and the who

and what they thought they knew

about this technique or about this blue

(see, the artist mixed it here with red instead)

how tastes and trends change over time.

The Old Masters painted their world as they saw it

mastering techniques, adding some wit,

(perhaps even a bit of spit)

brushstrokes broad or fine, celebrating less the ordinary,

and more the sublime

wondering about fate and time

and posing a patron though it’d cost him dear

as wise and good, a god among men

(though insincere)

with bright façade and a gilded veneer.


Curating and restoration reveal meanings

what the artist really meant or thought

(perhaps different from when the painting was bought)

Here we see a painting thought to be about frivolity

but skilled work shows it true intention–

a work about consequences and mortality

and the artist herself overlooked

when past her time

the same old story again and again–

her paintings are attributed to well-known men.


We wander through the museum’s Great Hall

Diana is illuminated for the season, and all

the world,

(at least this part)

seems festive,

see here, she’s positively glowing


and the Calder mobile across from her is blowing,

or perhaps I imagine it so,

as Diana breathes a winter sigh

and sends the mobile flying high.


We leave the museum,

walk down the steps, now immortalized by a fictional boxer

though I prefer to simply admire them as they are

(a part of the whole, and not the star)

walk down the Parkway, heading toward the river

the air is fine for winter, Mother Nature delivers

a perfect day to walk and talk

on so, on to the Rodin Museum

we stand before the Gates of Hell


and the Burghers of Calais, and a shade

was he afraid

of ghosts and spirits,

the sculptor wrestling with demons, wrestling with art

depicting emotion with single body parts.


Rodin, “The Cathedral”


We walk on, the day still warm

the storms of winter, not yet come,

pass buildings and monuments-

people, places, and events—

and books and art, the contents

of our history and culture

still standing, still valued, sometimes revered

though the purveyors of ignorance and hate, have feared

the spread of truth and beauty,

and are more willing to incarcerate

than educate–

roads well-travelled through time and space

yet still I hope we can erase

the fear and hate

to wrestle with the angel art

because our time is brief

and who know where it goes?

We close our eyes,

and on it flows

carrying the monuments and the art

like Oyzymandias, nothing will remain

but while we can,

we carry it in our minds and heart

in the sound of the birds and laughter,

and museum art–

we take these moments

to watch the people and drink some wine

to glory in this, yes, unexpected sunshine.

As past, present, and future conflate

for a moment, here in this urban landscape,

this Christmas fete


from behind us the music, and skaters skate

round and round and figures eight

and I remember and contemplate

a memory of my sister and me

from a hotel window high above, we

watch skaters there from long ago–

I wonder, where did they go?


Later that night, I watch the moon, bright and full

and hear the geese honk to friends and mates

it’s time to go

I wonder, do they ponder about their fates

or simply accept what is, not what might be

do they see how time flows and goes?

And as for me, I circle round through time, through art,

through dreams and memories held closely in my heart

I’ll wait for the storms of winter

and for the birds in spring again

I’ll wonder where time goes

why it’s sometimes fast, but sometimes slows

but know only that on it flows

and like light and hope, drifts through the cracks,

and somehow, circles back.








27 thoughts on “Old Masters and Time

  1. My favorite art museum (the Philadelphia Museum of Art). The building itself is a work of art. I haven’t been to the Rodin Museum (we’ve talked about going but somehow never get there). I love those hands. They speak volumes.
    Beautiful musings, Merril. 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Robin. I also love those hands. The Rodin Museum is small, but in the spring/summer the garden is very pretty. It is on the Parkway, not a very far walk from PMA, and the Barnes Museum is not far either. (Also the Franklin Institute across the Parkway.)

  2. I love the Old Masters too. Also, like you, I am entranced by Rodin’s The Cathedral perhaps because the form invites the eye to circle the image again and again. Contemplative.

    We bought a Christmas tree today. It’s standing in water now propped against the garage. Soon I hope we have the energy to decorate it. Such has been my weekend.

    • Thank you, Marian. I hadn’t thought about the hands quite that way, but perhaps. Too me, they just seem so alive and full of motion (and emotion).
      It seems like you had a busy–but happy, I think?–weekend. Good luck with your tree!

  3. This post reminds me of Jane’s geese migrating prompt painting…was it called Northward? or maybe that’s what I called my poem. But the feeling of being suspended and yet in motion seems the same to me.
    And I love that a glass of wine always makes an appearance! (K)

  4. Time is so relative when I think of how it creeps along. . . then, speeds ahead.
    I am glad you featured a female artist who was not given credit at times. Frida Kahlo was one who I thought was every bit as creative as her husband. The sculptor Rodin (I believe) may have actually taken credit for his female assistant’s sculptures. There’s an awesome movie. . . I’ll come back after I check on the internet what the name is of young woman. I once wrote a post about her and the film. . .

  5. Auguste Rodin had a few assistants (proteges), as Dale Chihuly has to have help with such huge (heavy) detailed glass pieces.
    “Camille Claudel” is a beautiful French film made in1988, Gerard Depardieux plays Rodin and a young woman plays Camille. It is a brutal movie, so much intense work (labour) from such a lover, only to be not given her due. It is a gorgeous capture of love taken advantage of and one which both my friend and I wept during it. If I remember correctly there may have been subtitles.

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