Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Howard Theatre, Downing College: murals

Here is a nice thing to look at when sitting in the Howard Theatre of Downing College in Cambridge:

This mural appears above the theatre's stage. (Those red seats, by the way, are fiendishly comfortable...)

A company called Hare & Humphreys carried out the design.  Their website refers to it as a painted canvas of the "Three Graces" but this is patently not true.

This is Apollo and the nine muses (count them: more than three; in fact, ten -- I'll get to that).  And the painting upon which this is based is the German Neoclassical painter Anton Raphael Mengs' mural of Apollo, Mnemosyne and the Nine Muses, painted in 1761 for the Villa Albani-Torlonia in Rome.  Here is the Mengs:

© Wikimedia

Mnemosyne (which means 'memory') is the mother of the nine muses (Zeus was the father).  I take her to be the seated woman in white and blue.

Interesting variations:
•  the globe -- it appears to be mostly blue in the Mengs and has green continents in the Howard Theatre
•  Apollo's eyes -- appear to have been gouged out at some point in the Roman mural?
•  sandals -- is the Howard Theatre Apollo barefoot?

The nine muses are also on the pediment over the main entrance to the Fitzwilliam Museum (but that is food for another post).

The ceiling of the Howard Theatre is painted to look like a Renaissance or Baroque sky (also done by Hare & Humphreys).  It is quite lovely and reminds me of Mantegna and Tiepolo.

At any rate, sit in the theatre and be transported to another realm.

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