Welcome to this long, narrow space, the “Chinese Loggia.” I’m Michelle Grohe, the museum’s Curator of Education, and I wanted to show you why this is one of my favorite galleries in the museum. It’s a transitional space, between the interior, and the outdoors. That’s what ‘loggia’ means: an enclosed terrace. But it’s also a transition between cultures. Let me show you what I mean: position yourself so that you’re somewhere in the middle of the space; maybe near the steps you took up into it. Face the wall of windows. Now turn your head to the left—and look at the far end. There’s a Medieval Madonna and Child statue there. Now turn your head the other way. Near that end, there’s a large Buddha carving, on a base. I think Isabella placed these two largest objects in this gallery—one Christian, one Buddhist—facing each other so that they could be in visual dialog with one another. And now look beyond the Buddha: at the very end, she installed a mirror! That places you—your reflection—within that cultural conversation.
Let’s move towards the Buddha. It was made for a Chinese emperor, around the year 500. The huge inscription on the base tells us that. The larger figures flanking the Buddha—with the crown, to the left, and the one on the right, missing its crown—are Bodhisattvas. Those are enlightened beings who choose to remain on earth to help others.
I like to show visitors the back of this carving too. Move around it to take a look: towards the bottom of the main part are dragons with wings. Wonderful creatures! The carver included the clouds that dragons fly in, as patterns on their bodies. They’re supposed to be ferocious guardian figures, but I find them kind of sweet. Children who visit this gallery love them.
Did you notice those stairs behind you? During Isabella’s lifetime they led to a private space that she used for meditation. She called it her ‘Buddha Room’. Above the stairs, in corner on the right, is a seated figure. It has a masculine face and chest, but the clothing and jewelry are female. It’s a 12th century Bodhisattva of Compassion—a deity which is often shown with gender fluidity. It’s to teach us that compassion is both male and female.
Now, let’s turn and move slowly towards the Madonna statue. On your way, go to the second set of windows after the doorway. On the windowsill, there’s a sculptural fragment—without arms or legs. It’s a torso of an ancient Roman god of the forest. He’s presenting an abundance of fruits. It’s one of the very few objects in the museum that Isabella’s husband Jack bought. It always makes me smile because it looks like the god is presenting a bouquet of flowers. Jack bought it as a gift for Isabella.
Now let’s move to the Madonna statue. As she’s nursing, she grasping her baby’s foot. On the underside of the baby’s robe you can see that there’s a lot of the original paint remaining. It helps us see how lifelike this statue would’ve looked in a French church, in about the year 1300. Any mother in that church would’ve been able to relate to this loving, human vision of Mary.
Just to the right of the statue, peer through the glass, into the next space. A Spanish knight, carved in alabaster, is laid out before us. It’s as if he’s on his deathbed. I love the detailed textures: including the ribbons on his shoes. And that chain mail!
Isabella created this small chapel as a memorial to her son Jackie, who died when he was two years old. When she died in 1924, age 84, her body was laid out for viewing alongside the knight.