Self-Portrait (as “New Woman”), 1896 by Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864–1952)
March 15th.–A week ago we went to the Vatican, to the halls of sculpture. They commence by a very long narrow gallery, the first part of which is devoted principally to inscriptions, inserted into or fastened upon the walls–on the right hand, pagan, on the left, Christian. All along the gallery of inscriptions there are sarcophagi, vases, torsos, capitals of columns, cippi, and various bas-reliefs of fine workmanship–cornices, and specimens of everything picked up and dug up about Rome. The second part of the gallery contains busts, and figures of heroes, gods, goddesses, emperors, philosophers, poets, children, and women. Here is the colossal head of Minerva, with the strange black eyes and black lashes, while the rest is snowy marble–the grand, colossal, sitting figure of Tiberius, with the civic crown. He seems to have been carved out for a god, though he became unworthy even of the name of man. Here also is the newly-discovered and only true Cicero. The Cicero that has hitherto been called the orator, is now supposed to be his brother, who was a soldier. It is only a year ago that this was found. It is very satisfactory–a refined, intellectual, penetrating head, with a mouth of wonderful beauty. Its authenticity is proved by its exact resemblance to a medal in the Vatican, inscribed with his name, and which the long-accepted Cicero does not at all resemble. It is delightful really to have seen Cicero. Here, too, is the celebrated young Augustus, of a delicate, poetic, musing beauty, with a lovely mouth and a perplexed brow. The trouble on his brow seems a prophetic shadow of his anxiety, at the close of his life, to know “whether he had played his part well.”
There is also an imperial head of Julius Cæsar, as Pontifex Maximus, with a folded drapery, and another fine Cæsar, not veiled. These are both far superior to the head in the Hall of the Emperors, at the Capitol, though still like that. A baby Nero was very interesting. It is not a pretty child, but it is not evil in its expression. I was disappointed in Scipio Africanus. I expected him to be very noble. It is an earnest, strong head, and full of care, and in nero antico. Praxiteles’ charming Faun is here also,–a happy smile embodied. There is an astonishing grace in the figure, and a cheerfulness, like a sunny afternoon. I became acquainted with this ever-enchanting creation in the Capitol. He stands in an attitude of easy rest, making multitudes of curves. Sunshine on rippling water is like the gleam on his face and form. The dolce far niente was never so exquisitely expressed. He is perfect bonhommie, idealized with a thousand fine amenities. It is one of those master-pieces of antiquity, in which “the marble flows like a wave.”
About half-way in the long gallery, the Braccio Nuovo leads off to the left,–a gallery with mosaic floor, and marble columns and arched niches, in which full-length statues stand–and half-columns of red, oriental granite, surmounted with busts: If it were not for what they contain, the halls of the Vatican would be visited for their own intrinsic splendor and state. But who minds the setting of diamonds? In the Braccio Nuovo is the Minerva Medica, which alone is worthy of a pilgrimage to Rome. I had never heard of this “statue in America, and first saw a cast of it, a very fine cast of it, in the Crystal Palace last autumn, pointed out to us by Mr. Silsbee, who greatly estimated it. Even then, in the disguise, and through the obstruction of plaster, it seemed to me the most majestic expression of profound and pensive” thought I had ever imagined. The plaster was as much as I could comprehend at first, and I am glad I saw it first; and now to see the marble is a privilege, for which I trust I am sufficiently thankful. There is a grand sorrow in the countenance and air, but it is the sorrow of an immortal–the pensiveness of profound insight–not a human emotion. The drapery is in fine folds, and falls round the feet in solemn flow. The expression is entirely introspective. The features are of perfect beauty, of a very high order of beauty–with no prettiness. She is the sister of the Apollo Belvedere. He is all immortal action, while Minerva is immortal Thought, and both heroic.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 15th, 1858. Collected in the “Roman Notebook” of Notes in England and Italy.
I had no interest in watching the Legion television show.
Bill Sienkiewicz is my favorite comic book artist of all time.
I like Sienkiewicz so much I can spell his last name correctly without looking it up. I like Sienkiewicz so much that he was the first artist I featured when I first started this silly Sunday Comics thing last year.
Sienkiewicz, along with Chris Claremont, created the character of David Haller (“Legion,” Professor X’s son). David first appeared in the last page of The New Mutants #25, Marvel Comics, March, 1985. (The issue is about the underrated duo Cloak & Dagger).
The New Mutants was/is my favorite childhood comic book. (By which I mean: Sienkiewicz’s run on The New Mutants was/is my favorite childhood comic book).
Here’s David’s début:
The next three issues of The New Mutants (27-29) tell the Legion story line.
I recall liking the Legion story of The New Mutants, although it never stood out as strongly as The Demon Bear Saga, or the issues where Magneto took over The New Mutants’ leadership. But that isn’t why I had no interest in watching the Legion television show.
I had no interest in watching the Legion television show because every single Marvel television show that I’ve seen so far has been boring, or garbage, or boring garbage. And don’t even get me started on the execrable X-Men films, which have squandered so many good storylines. (Although I thought Deadpool was great, which sort of counts as an X-Men film, and I do have an interest in seeing Logan).
Anyway, after a few critics and authors I admire tweeted that Legion was, like, actually really good/excellent/thrilling/etc., I looked up the show, and saw that the showrunner and creator is Noah Hawley. That’s the dude who did FX’s Fargo, another TV show I was also wary of which also turned out to be excellent.
So, over the past four nights, I’ve watched the first four episodes of Legion. (I’ll watch the fifth tonight).
The show is fantastic.
It’s the first “superhero” show I’ve seen that succeeds not just in its script, casting, and themes, but aesthetically as well. Hawley smuggles in references to the original New Mutants run in a way that doesn’t feel like fanservice—but the other reference points here go past comic books and into film: Legion openly steals from Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Alfonso Cuaron, and Wes Anderson. (I mean this as a compliment). Hell, there’s something Pynchonesque about the show too, in its themes of paranoia, its treatment of the concept of reality, its streak of dark but somehow zany humor, and its subversive sexiness.
The casting for Legion is pretty great too. The guy who played the guy who died in the car crash on Downton Abbey so he could leave that show and get better shows does an admirable job as David. The temptation would be to play David as batshit crazy, but the portrayal is measured, often archly comical, and ultimately sympathetic. (Shit, I just looked that guy’s name up—I saw him on a web episode of High Maintenance as a stay-at-home dad who enjoyed wearing women’s clothes and thought he was great, but also thought, Damn, hope Matthew Crawley can get some higher-profile gigs—anyway, that dude, Dan Stevens, is in that new Disney live action Beauty and the Beast film with Hermione Hogwarts, so I guess he’s doing fine).
Where was I? Oh, casting—yeah, there are solid performances here. Aubrey Plaza plays a dead junkie who may or may not be a ghost in David’s head. Jean Smart (aka my least favorite Designing Woman) plays the not-Moira MacTaggart/not-Prof. X character Melanie Bird. Smart was smart in the second season of Hawley’s other FX show, Fargo, which also featured Rachel Keller, who is basically the second lead on Legion as Sydney Barrett (not subtle, I know), David’s untouchable girlfriend. And the show basically had me when Bill Irwin showed up. Like I said, it’s great stuff.
Probably my favorite thing about the show so far though is that it doesn’t seem particularly interested in being anyone’s franchise. It stays true to the paranoid spirit of mid-eighties Claremont X-Men, and seamlessly combines plot and aesthetics in a way that a show about a telepathic and telekinetic mutant would have to to succeed. It’s also dark without being self-serious or self-important. (So many superhero films and shows fail utterly here).
Anyway, I’ve loved the first few episodes, and even if the showrunners fuck it all up, hey, it’s just TV, right?