We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.
This week, curator Nicole Budrovich reflects on debate and discourse through an ancient plate. To learn more about this work, visit: www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/10598/.
Listen to the full series of short reflections here.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
NICOLE BUDROVICH: Hi, I’m Nicole Budrovich, a curatorial assistant at the Getty Villa. With Election Day and political debate in the air, I recently found myself thinking about an object in the Antiquities collection—a large silver platter, about the size of a baking sheet, which I’ve come to call the “Debate Plate.”
At the center of the plate, two older men are seated on either side of a celestial globe. A woman stands behind each man, and above them sits a figure on a throne. The men chat, books in hand, and the women lean in, taking part in the conversation. Thankfully the artist has included names above the figures identifying them.
The man on the left is labeled “Ptolemy,” the astronomer and mathematician. The woman behind him is captioned “Skepsis,” a personification of skepticism and inquiry. She thoughtfully holds a finger to her chin and a book in her other hand. Ptolemy’s debate opponent is labeled “Hermes.” This is Hermes Trismegistos, a god of writing and secret wisdom. His female companion’s name is not preserved, but she must be another personification, perhaps Sophia, knowledge, or Pistis, belief.
A discussion is clearly underway, but what are they debating? The creation of the earth and planets? Scientific inquiry versus Faith? In any event, in today’s heated political climate this complex object is oddly comforting—these figures appear to be having a civil debate supported by logic and reason, reference books ready. While their worldviews may differ dramatically, they seem to be talking it out, presenting their arguments, and listening.
Looking at this object, I can’t help but reflect on my high school debate team, all those years ago, and the challenging thrill of presenting and defending a position to someone with an opposing view. While we may not have discussed the origins of the world, we dug into divisive issues around voter representation, marriage rights, and bioethics—our talking points scrawled on 3×5 notecards.
This plate also reminds me of how, during high school, politics would come up at the family dinner table, and discussions would often get heated—but even in disagreement, we would find our way to the heart of the issue with mutual respect.
After a tumultuous election season, this “debate plate,” serves as a heartening reminder of the enduring tradition of civil discourse—a tradition, I hope, we have the tools to maintain, both in our private lives and on the public stage.
CUNO: To view this Byzantine plate with relief decoration, made between 500-600, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll fin...