PJ and I took the weekend off to celebrate her birthday in Boston. We stayed at our favorite hotel, the Lenox in the Back Bay, had a wonderful dinner at Troquet and generally spoiled ourselves. We also made a trip to our favorite museum there, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston’s Fenway.
Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was a passionate collector of art in the 19th and early 20th centuries and compiled an extraordinary private collection of master and decorative arts. She was advised by the great authority on Renaissance art, Bernard Berenson, and Okakura Kakuzō. She built her Fenway home, modeled after a 15th century Venetian palazzo, as a museum and residence, which, after her death, was endowed as a home for her collection.
We have always admired the eclectic and personalized taste that Gardner demonstrated in the selection and display of her collection of medieval art. PJ and I have spent many happy hours admiring the works over the years. This time, however, we were in for a shock. One enters the original section of the museum (a recent expansion in modern style is attached to the rear of the building) through the east cloister. Just next to this is the Spanish cloister which contains many Gothic and Romanesque sculptural works.
I was in the Spanish cloister looking at an equine figure when PJ called excitedly to me. I joined her at a Romanesque portal. The capitals on the columns on either side of the doorway took me by complete surprise – column swallowers!!!
As readers of Via Lucis might know, we are fascinated by these monsters which appear in France, Spain and England and have written a previous article about them. In this photo from “The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History” by Hilliard T. Goldfarb we can see the portal with the column swallowers
Photography is not permitted inside the Gardner, so I can’t post any detailed images, but the pair of column swallowers were authentic and just as compelling as they would be in situ in France.
Apparently the portal was from a private residence in La Réole near Bordeaux, but almost certainly it was originally part of a Romanesque church, possibly from the lost Prieuré de Saint-Pierre de La Réole given by Charlemagne to the Abbey of Fleury in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (although this information comes from the abbey records and may be falsified). The column swallowers are quite common in the Aquitaine region and we have photographed many of them there.
We are used to flying and driving long distances to find our beloved column swallowers, so imagine our complete delight to find a pair just 75 miles from us in Cape Cod. The most famous monster in Boston certainly must be the Green Monster at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. But to us, the twin monsters at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum will be our favorites.