The Ghost of a Leaf

In the Greco-Roman collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art there are frescoed wall panels from the villa of Fannius Synistor which stood in the countryside outside of Pompeii. These were painted sometime between 40 and 30 B.C. and were recovered from the ruins of the villa which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

One panel from a small bedroom or sitting room has an unusual adornment. The curators write, “A grape leaf sillhouetted against the vertical porphyry surface appears to have blown in mysteriously, bringing a touch of whimsy to the otherwise severely ordered architectural decoration.”

The Met Armory

Bashford Dean, who founded the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote:

Helmets and body armor are usually considered as objects beautiful, rather than useful. They are exhibited in museums, in halls hung with tapestries, beside faience, ivories and enamels of olden times… [but] one may point to the evidence of ancient and formidable injuries which numerous specimens of armor exhibit today; and one may even affirm that there was scarcely a famous soldier in those days who did not owe his life, directly or indirectly to his armor.

The quote comes from Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, published in 1920. Dean was foremost a marine biologist but a lifelong weapons collector and researcher.

Van Rensselaer Manor

From the year 1630 until well into the nineteenth century the Van Rensselaer family were lords of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, a vast fiefdom in upstate New York, around Albany. Killian Van Rensselaer had acquired the land from the Dutch West India Company ten years after the Mayflower landed and it remained in the family through successive Dutch, English, and American governments. I described the later years of the manor at length in my biography of James Fenimore Cooper, a friend of the family.

The manor house was dismantled in the 1890s and rebuilt as the Sigma Phi fraternity house, called Van Rensselaer Hall, at Williams College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately it was torn down by the college in the 1970s. The only surviving fragments of the house were interiors donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The wallpaper of the great hall has been used to reconstruct the room in the American Wing. On a recent visit to the museum I took the opportunity to photograph the furnishings in detail.