Thomas J. Watson Library: The Gates of Paradise

I spent most of the afternoon of November 7, 2007, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went there mainly to see for the second time the marvelous Ghiberti Panels described in my previous post, Golden Oldies With a New Sparkle.

I also took along a camera, even though I knew pictures weren’t allowed in the room that contained the panels. For I had noticed that above the entrace to the room were the words: Thomas J. Watson Library. I wanted to learn more about the Watsons — the founders of IBM — and their role in the Met.

It was a bright, sunny Wednesday. I arrived early in the afternoon:

Met Museum, early November, 2007

Here is the entrance to the exhibit (no pictures could be taken inside the room). Notice the writing above the door:

Watson Library and the Gates of Paradise

Though I could find the Ghiberti Panels, I could not find the entrance to the Watson Library, so I decided to go down to the library on the ground floor, where we had entered from the parking garage. I learned they had just moved into their new quarters a few weeks back. I also noticed a terminal with their search system, “Watson Line.” I typed in the string “Watson” and did a search, and then took a photo of one of the returned pages:

Watson Line at the Met

[Note to IBM CEO Sam Palmisano: WatsonLine running on an Apple? Work to be done, Sam.]

A small, discreet plaque nearby explained why it was called “WatsonLine:”

On the Met's Watsonline

I learned the entrance to the Watson Library was in the Greek Gallery, and took this photo before I wandered into the Watson Library:

Thomas J. Watson Library at the Met

I saw this on the South Wall of the main Reading Room in the Watson Library:

Nov2007 084

I spoke with the librarian briefly. She didn’t know much about the Watson family, and directed me back to the library on the ground floor, as you need special permission to use the Watson Library.

The librarian in the downstairs library kindly found me a table and showed me where I could look at old issues of the Metropolitan’s Bulletin. She told me which one had a special section on the architecture of the Met.

I arbitrarily picked out the issue from the month I was born:

December 1944 issue of Met Bulletin

I then looked to see if I could find the name “Watson.” I did. Can you?

Dec. 1944 Met Bulletin

I looked at the special issue on architecture and found a page with the word “Watson.” Can you find it?

Met Museum Floor Plan

I then went back to the Watson Library room with the panels and spent as much time as I could looking at them.

I won’t attempt to describe them. They are too miraculous.

However, I do think it worth noting that once these panels are returned to Florence, they will never leave it again. Never. This is your last chance to see them outside Florence.’

Once reunited, all ten panels will be re-installed in the original frame and then displayed indoors, never to be moved again.

The panels are arranged left to right, top to bottom, as follows:

1 2
3 4
5 6
7 8
9 10

The ones on display at the Met are (1), Adam and Eve; (5), Jacob and Esau; and (9), David and Goliath.

You can now view them from various distances, including just a couple of inches if you put your eye right next to the enclosing case.

Once the panels are re-united, you will never again get a chance to observe (1) and (5) close up, and even (9) won’t be as accessible.

By the way, there is a reproduction of the door at the back of the exhibit room. When we looked at it, my wife and I felt that the perspective is such that you appear to be viewing the lower doors from above, the middle doors at eye level, and the higher doors from below. It’s not just that this is the way you are viewing them, but this is somehow reflected in the perspective as shown in the panel.

My favorite, at least from the point of pure composition, is (2), Abraham and Isaac. At the top right is a high hill, and to the left are the distinctive trees with leaves only at the top, similar to ones my wife and I saw a few months ago when in Rome.

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