Wednesday, April 2, 2008

HBO's John Adams & the monument to the Montgolfier balloon ascension

Those of you who saw the John Adams miniseries on HBO this past Sunday may remember the scene in which Jefferson and the Adamses watched the ascension of a balloon in Paris in late 1783. Even in an era when scientific discoveries were being made with astonishing rapidity, the development of the world's first flying machine ranked as an awe-inspiring event. Wikipedia has an account of the Montgolfier balloon ascension, with an illustration that looks very much like the balloon that appeared in the Adams series. (Nice to know the producers did their homework.)

One of my favorite 18th-c. sculptures in the Metropolitan Museum is a terracotta model over 5 feet high for a monument commemorating this ascension. It’s surmounted by a hot-air balloon and a figure of Fame blowing her trumpet. On its base, absurdly energetic putti (cupids) feed the flames that keep the balloon aloft. This is an exuberantly ornate work, one of the few sculptures in the Metropolitan that still makes me giggle with glee. If you visit the museum, look for it in the room directly behind Canova's Perseus, who now guards the main entrance to the Petrie Court. In my whirlwind tour of 4000 years of sculpture at the Metropolitan I always regret not being able to spend more time on this piece.

Incidentally, I was worried that the John Adams series would be yet another made-for-TV smear job, diminishing the Founding Fathers to the Neighboring Nitwits. However, there are enough substantial quotes from Adams, Jefferson, Washington and others to bring the series up to a thought-provoking level, and the production is very well done and extremely well acted. If you've missed it, HBO is rerunning the first 4 parts on Friday, April 4th. The 5th episode (of 7) will be broadcast Sunday April 6th.
Sorry about the blurry photo: the Metropolitan Museum doesn't allow flash photography, and doesn't have an image on its site that I can link to.


chris miller said...

Get a camera with an image stabilization chip - and say goodbye to blurry pictures in museums !
(though you still may need 5 shots to get one good one)

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