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Sunday at the Met: Legends and True Stories


Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (German, 1471–1532), Close helmet with mask visor, ca. 1515. Augsburg, Germany. Steel, embossed, etched, and gilt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1904 (04.3.286a)

As the educator responsible for the Sunday at the Met lecture series, I plan about twenty to twenty-five different events a year. The programs usually include one or two talks, and may also feature a film or a demonstration. They are often held in conjunction with a current exhibition, a special theme, or an interesting connection to the Museum's vast permanent collection. My job is much like that of a Broadway producer, director, travel agent, and stagehand all rolled into one. Even though it's a lot of work, I wouldn't trade it for anything! I'm lucky that there are many talented people throughout the Museum who help out.

A very special Sunday at the Met will take place this weekend (January 31, 2:00 p.m.). The title of the program is Legends and True Stories: Misconceptions in Art, History, and Conservation. The idea for this topic came about almost a year ago when I ran into Dirk Breiding, an assistant curator in the Department of Arms and Armor, in the Museum's staff cafeteria. While I was chatting with him, I remembered a question that I'd always wanted to ask: "Were knights always tired from wearing such heavy armor?" He smiled and said that European armor was in fact lighter and easier to move around in than most people—including many historians—assume. I got my answer . . . and the Legends and True Stories theme was born. Over the course of the next few months, Dirk and I planned a wonderful program that focuses on stereotypes and misconceptions in art.

Sunday's first speaker will be Michael Gallagher, the head of the Paintings Conservation department at the Met. In "Painting Restored!—Is That Really Possible?," Michael will highlight common misunderstandings about the process of cleaning and restoration, using several paintings as examples, including the recently reattributed Portrait of a Man by Diego Velázquez. (Learn more about the current exhibition of this painting.) Michael will be followed by Helen Evans, a curator in the Medieval Art Department who specializes in Byzantine painting and objects. Her talk, called "Icon—a Word with Many Meanings," will explain that even though most people think of religious icons only as images painted on wood, many works—including panel paintings, ivory plaques, miniature mosaics, and engraved gems—are also considered icons. The day's program will conclude with Dirk's contribution, based on my question from nearly a year ago: "How to Mount a Horse in Armor, and Other Chivalric Problems." Dirk's presentation will teach us not only about arms and armor, but also about medieval life in general: who wore armor, how heavy and flexible it was, and how it was used. He'll explain why even some of the biggest misconceptions about arms and armor still persist today, in both public and academic circles!

While many of the Sunday at the Met events focus on current exhibitions, Legends and True Stories: Misconceptions in Art, History, and Conservation brings together specialists from three very different fields to give new insight on this particularly interesting theme. I hope to see you there!

Joseph Loh is an associate Museum educator.

Legends and True Stories: Misconceptions in Art, History, and Conservation
Sunday, January 31, 2:00 p.m.
The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
Free with Museum admission

Related Essays on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Icons and Iconoclasm in Byzantium
Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions

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