There’s something very disconcerting about spending time in a space you are both familiar with and at the same time a total stranger to. This is how I felt when I stood in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recently when I went to see the interior of the castillo de Vélez-Blanco.
I’ve just returned from spending a couple of months teaching in the US. Being based no more than a couple of hours north of New York, there was no way I’d pass up on the opportunity to visit our castle’s interior, which was bought and shipped out to America in 1913 via an art dealer in Paris who had bought and removed the patio in 1904. Between 1913 and 1945 the patio was installed in a house owned by banker George Blumenthal who donated it to the Met on his death in 1941. Between 1945 and 1963 the entire patio was kept in storage.
Apart from the weird sensation of standing among this mass of marble so historically attached to our home thousands of miles away, it was somewhat confusing trying to rearrange the space in my head – the walls are not in the same place as the shorter span of the balcony is placed at the ‘wrong’ end of the room when put next to the space in the castle.
Whilst visiting I had the please of meeting Tommaso Mozatti, one of The Met’s marble experts who is undertaking a research project on the patio combining scientific analysis of the marble itself and extensive research of documents pertaining to the history of the patio. It was fascinating talking to Tommaso, who pointed out to me various pieces of marble that may have been replaced over the years based on their crystalline structure and to learn how to easily spot the differences in colour and marbling between the original Italian marble and Spanish marble.
I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to visit the patio for anything – it was a fascinating experience. As for The Met itself, just WOW! What an incredible museum. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, you must. It holds, by a country mile, by far the most incredible collection of art I have ever experienced. Top tip though, if you are an art lover, don’t expect to take on The Met in just one day!