The Night-Time Met

By Rob Packer

The Met is one of the world’s greatest museums—and if you include The Cloisters, probably the greatest—and I try to swallow the $25 recommended entry fee every time I’m in New York. The collection is spectacularly wide-ranging and the large halls with windows looking out onto the park have beautifully modulated light streaming in through the windows. Though greyish, yesterday was the day for this trip, but by the time we’d come down from The Cloisters and been distracted by food and eyewear on the Upper West, it was already dark as we headed across Central Park.

During the day, the Temple of Dendur comes as a relief after enclosed room after enclosed room of Egyptian funerary art: the light changes and the park opens enormous to the side. At night, the effect is reversed: amply lit galleries come as exposition and give way to the demonstration of the temple* standing aglow behind an oily reflecting pool. The whole gallery feels so sparse as if you were looking at a scale model of a cosmos you barely understand.

The female pharaoh Hatshepsut from another room

Hatshepsut as sphinx.


* Maybe a historically inaccurate impression: the temple was built in post-pharaonic Egypt to glorify Augustus Caesar.


A Clash of Influences: Leipzig’s Völkerschlachtdenkmal

By Rob Packer

It doesn’t happen very often—or indeed, ever—that you go somewhere and think “Wow, this place is exactly how I’d mix Ancient Egypt, Star Wars, Tolkien and Heinrich Heine!” The Völkerschlachtdenkmal, the memorial to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, in a suburban park is just that kind of place.

My knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars has always been a bit patchy: history-teaching in British schools leaves centuries-wide chasms in historical knowledge (1688 to 1914 is just the most scandalous gap) and my university studies of German history started around 1815. It’s only par for the course to find things out that I really should have known; and unless we’re talking about something in War and Peace, Childe Harold or Goya—or the odd reference to Nelson or Wellington—there’s a high chance of it. The Battle of Leipzig (no Tolstoy, no Byron, no Goya, no British) is just one of those.

The battle involved 600,000 soldiers, of whom at least 80,000 died, which makes it (thanks Wikipedia) the largest European battle prior to the First World War. This more than lives up to its standard name in German, the apocalyptic-sounding Völkerschlacht—the unnuanced English translation is the Battle of the Nations.

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