Question of the Week is a new blog series inspired by our Masterpiece of the Week tours, offered daily at the Getty Center at 4:00 p.m. Featuring an open and upbeat discussion among visitors and gallery teachers, the tours feature a new object and pose a new question each week.
Helen of Troy, the subject of this week’s object, a Renaissance plate (full object here), was the most beautiful woman in the world. But beauty makes trouble. Rivalry to possess Helen, say the Iliad and the Odyssey, led to the decade-long Trojan War.
In Renaissance Italy, beautifully painted ceramics were decorated with favorite stories of the day. Francesco Xanto Avelli depicts the fateful moment in which Helen is abducted by the Prince of Troy and his strongmen (despite their comparatively puny biceps). In this detail, she’s dragged onto a ship, perhaps against her will; some say she gladly abandoned her husband and daughter, but maybe those people were just gossips. Does she look willing here?
So, beautiful reader: what is your experience: Is beauty a gift or a curse? Does the subject of the Renaissance plate shed light on your answer?