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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Today's post topic comes from Jhianna at Queen of the Marginally Bright. I don't know Jhianna well (yet), but here are four things that make me love her already. 1) Serenity is one of her favorite movies. 2) She loves George R.R. Martin as much as I do. (Jhianna! I met him a couple of weeks ago! It was awesome!) 3) She lives in Castle Rock. (It's the one in Colorado, not the fictional one in Maine, but still.) 4) In her profile, she uses the word 'shiny' and the word 'parameters' in the same sentence.

Jhianna asked me about my favorite work of art. Since I love good art of all kinds from all cultures in all centuries, it would be well nigh impossible to choose one favorite. So I'll narrow the field quite a bit: I'll tell you about my favorite work of art in our house.

One of the many cool things about Patrick's copyright/trademark work is that sometimes clients show him their appreciation by giving him pieces of art. So we have some great original stuff that we could never afford hanging or sitting around the house. But as terrific as they are, my favorite piece is not one of these; instead it is one that has immense sentimental value to me.

When I was four years old, I would stare at a certain picture hanging on the wall of our living room for what seemed like hours at a time. It was in black and white, but it was not a photograph. It featured a girl lying face up in a body of water, apparently asleep, with a halo over her head. Who could she be? Why was she in the water? Who were the shadowy figures on the shore? I wondered about this picture endlessly.

When I was five, my parents split up. My dad kept the fascinating picture, and I never saw it again except on a brief visit when I was 21. By then, I knew enough to see that it was an engraving, and that the caption underneath read 'Martyre Chrétienne,' or 'Christian Martyr.' I also got the story on where the piece came from. In 1968, my grandmother found it in a Deseret Industries (a Goodwill-type thrift shop) in the Los Angeles area and bought it for about three dollars. She gave it to my father when he expressed intense interest in it.

When I was 27, Patrick and I went on our post-law school 'honeymoon' (we'd had neither the time nor the money for a real honeymoon when we got married three-and-a-half years earlier). It was a three-week trip to Paris, the Loire Valley, and French-speaking Switzerland, and it was heaven: 21 days of perfection (except for the horrendous perm I got at the Galeries Lafayette).

One day in the Louvre, as I was walking around goggling at beautiful things I'd seen in books my whole life, I turned a corner and stopped in my tracks. There on the wall was the picture from my childhood.

"The Young Martyr (A Christian Martyr Drowned in the Tiber at the Time of Diocletian)"
by Paul Delaroche, French 1797-1856

I was thrilled that the Museum Shop had a postcard of the painting; I bought two and sent one off to my father telling him how exciting it was to find it. Later that day, Patrick and I spend a fascinating few hours in the Louvre's Department of Chalcography. Here's what we learned. These days, if you love a great painting, but your budget is limited, you buy a print or a poster. In the centuries before this was possible, engravers made their living making copies of paintings, then selling them for display in people's houses. The next time you are at the Louvre, visit this department. They have thousands of original engraving plates of all sorts of fascinating images, and will make a print for you for a fairly modest fee. They didn't have a plate of "The Young Martyr," but we did get a cool engraving of the fountains at Saint-Cloud.

About four years ago, my father sent me a huge package in the mail; it contained treats for the kids and the engraving that had hung on his wall for so many years. At some point, it had gotten damaged by a swamp cooler, and the picture glass had broken in transit, so Patrick and I took it to our local framing expert to see whether we could get the piece repaired and reframed. The restorer did fantastic work on it and liked it so much that he offered to buy it from us; apparently it's worth quite a bit of money. It's an original print of an engraving by Hermann Eichens after the Delaroche painting, and it now hangs above our living room mantel:

Apologies for the poor photo; it really is a finely detailed engraving. You'll just have to come over and see it in person. I did some research a while ago to determine whether this was one martyr in particular, but apparently Delaroche had no one specific in mind. I did find out that Teh Great Internets apparently believe that the painting hangs in The Hermitage. Perhaps it had been on loan to the Louvre in 1993; I'm not sure.

I do know that some people walk into our house, see it, and question my taste in art, but I find this piece just as captivating now as I did 37 years ago. Thanks again for the gift, Dad. I treasure it.

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    Novembrance - Novembrance - Déjà Vu All Over Again

Reader Comments (15)

The phrase "hauntingly beautiful" comes to mind.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

This is so awesome! Thanks for sharing this experience and this bit of history.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTristi Pinkston

I knew it! As soon as I read the topic for today, I knew you would pick that piece. You told me that story the last time I was there with you, and I love it now too just because of you. Great post, Luisa.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Ohhhhh, what a fantastic story! I'm familiar with the painting, but you've educated me on engraving. It's amazing. How great that your dad sent it to you. What a treasure!!!!

And hi, that honeymoon? TOTALLY worth waiting 3.5 years for. I'm 7 years into this marriage and still waiting for something like that. :-D I'm dying to drag my husband off on an adventure!

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBrillig

Incredible. Not only did that engraving come full circle for you, you got a package from Dad!
The engraving is amazing and strangely familiar. Isn't it strange how certain things just surface in our lives until they are satisfied with where they end up? Clearly, this engraving was meant to be in your home, over your mantle.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteranjmae

So does this mean I can show up on your doorstep to check it out? That's a good excuse to travel to NY, right? :D

The best art is the kind that has a personal connection, bar none.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette Lyon

Have we talked George R.R. Martin before? I was so obsessed with The Song of Ice and Fire two years ago when I read the first three books - but by the time the fourth one came out I had kind of detached, so I haven't actually got around to reading it yet. Do you think Jon is the lost Targaryen heir?

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbubandpie

Jenna, I was thinking the same exact thing!! When I read the title I knew Luisa would talk about this. Great post!

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

what a great story!

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpainted maypole

Fascinating history with that print, Luisa. And it's such a romantic and fantastical image. No wonder you love it!

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJen of A2eatwrite

That is a very enchanting piece...I like it!! I love the history about it too. Makes it more enchanting.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSirdar

I love art that has a personal story behind it (too many people I know hang one of the same 5 religious pictures in their homes -it's more of a status symbol or a statement of church affiliation than anything). I've gone to the opposite extreme. We have 2 huge framed illuminated manuscripts hanging in our front room. They each have about a dozen tiny illustrations of martyrdoms (little saints getting their heads chopped off etc). It seems a bit odd maybe to have these images in our home, but they have a lot of meaning to me. I think about the early Christians who were willing to die for their faith and I'm reminded of the Joseph Smith quote: "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." Your martyr with her arms in a cross might seem a bit morbid to some, but I think she's a lovely symbol.

Sorry about the long comment. It's obviously a topic dear to my heart. I could go on about the Louvre's Chalcography too, but I'll restrain myself.

November 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Q.

I read this yesterday and didn't comment. I think it is great how you saw it again so far from home. It is amazing how things fit together that way. It is wonderful your dad sent it to you. I can see why you like it so.

November 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdawn

That picture is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. I love art. What a great post and how cool to be able to get a print made of these.
When I feel lacking creatively in writing, I visit art museums. If I can't get to a museum, I visit online showrooms.

November 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Wright

Loved your post. I didn't know your dad sent you his.

We saw it in the Louve in April of this year...it's still there.

November 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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