Tuesday in Strasbourg meant for me another day to explore on my own, while poor Therese continued the workshop with her customer (admittedly, that workshop was what brought us to France, so I can’t complain too loudly about it, although Therese definitely got the worst end of the deal). This day I decided to begin with once again exploring the area around Strasbourg’s Cathedral – in this case, their Musee des Beaux Arts, which is one of three museums housed in the Palais Rohan.
Once you enter the building, you have to climb a majestic staircase with a beautiful wrought iron balustrade to get to the museum’s galleries. The galleries of the permanent collection are laid out in chronological order. Entering the first of these galleries, you are confronted in the middle of the room by perhaps the most extraordinary painting in the entire collection, Hans Memling’s Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation. It consists of three panels which of course are painted on both sides, so that depending on how the panels are situated, you see a very different story – either the deadly costs of depravity or the promise of eternal life.
If you take my opening gambit, it is all down hill from that first room. But never fear, there are many wonderful pieces to capture the imagination. Representing the height of the Renaissance period, for example, are two wonderful portraits by Raphael and El Greco. The latter’s Mater Dolorosa may be my most favorite painting in the museum. The subject’s emotions are so palpable in looking into her sad eyes.
After a rich assortment of high Renaissance works, the collection to my mind gets a bit stagnant when it gets into its early Baroque collection. Too many Dutch landscapes and Vanity settings for my taste. The latter is a subject that is well-known to me – a musical group I belonged to in New York spent a year exploring the musical settings that focused on the seventeenth century preoccupation with the fleeting nature of earthly joys and the foreboding presence of death all around us. Two or three paintings on this subject would be illuminating – 20 is tiresome.
Luckily, this section of the museum is rescued to my mind by the portraits there, in particular another of the highlights of the entire museum, “La Belle Strasbourgeoise” by Nicholas de Largilliere. This well-to-do woman in her traditional Strasbourg-ian costume, including the magnificent wide hat, appears quite wonderful.
The final section of the permanent collection includes many first-rate nineteenth century portraits focused on women. Chasseriau’s salacious Interior of a Harem brought a smile to my face. And Comerre’s Portrait of his wife undoubtedly was a way of apologizing for all the hours he spent painting the portraits of pretty much every other attractive woman in the vicinity.
The permanent collection was just the right amount of art for my morning’s adventure. After wandering through the galleries for a couple of hours, I came out onto the same landing where I had begun, and felt myself quite ready to enjoy some lunch.
I had picked out a possible lunch spot just a 10 minute or so walk from the museum. So many of our meals in Strasbourg, I knew, would be centered on Alsatian cuisine, with sausages and sauerkraut; therefore, for this lunch I decided to go in another direction, and eat some Japanese food.
The funny thing is that, when I got to the restaurant where I thought I would eat, I discovered that it only sold take out meals. Since it was beginning to rain, I didn’t think this would work for me. Luckily, not far away, there was another Japanese restaurant, Le Kyoto, that not only had inside seating, but was also fairly empty.
I found a familiar option for my lunch, a salmon Chirashi entree. This dish of thin slices of salmon over sticky seasoned rice, preceded by house miso soup and salad that fully resembled cole slaw, was just right.
The rain had left the air feeling rather sticky, and it was actually feeling rather close in the restaurant. But after enjoying my meal, I was happy to discover that the weather had turned a bit cool and sunny, a perfect setting to enjoy the afternoon.