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Cavafy's world

 

continued

For instance, in one of his famous short poems, "For the Shop," Cavafy creates an artisan so in love with his work he chooses not to let anyone see it, let alone buy it:

He wrapped them up carefully, neatly,
in expensive green silk.
Roses of rubies, lilies of pearl,
violets of amethyst: according to his taste, his will
his vision of their beauty — not as he saw them in nature
or studied them. He'll leave them in the safe,
examples of his bold, his skillful work.
Whenever a customer comes into the shop,
he brings out other things to sell — first-class ornaments:
bracelets, chains, necklaces, rings.


Accompanying this poem is the Kelsey's Mummy Portrait of a Woman from Egypt in the second century A.D. This portrait, executed in encaustic — a process fusing hot wax with pigment — shows a beautiful young woman with jewel-encrusted gold necklaces and earrings. Almost realistic, her face is slightly elongated, much like the women in some of Modigliani's paintings. She looks calm, and her heavily lidded eyes are languid, even sensual. This woman becomes the customer in the shop Cavafy imagined in Alexandria, in a new relationship created by the curators' imaginations. Similarly, the other objects do not illustrate the poems. Rather, they provide a context that changes our reading of the poem and our impression of the art. The three exhibits are on display until May 5.    (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2002.]

 

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