Latin Makes Me Free: Silverpoint at National Gallery of Art
By Mrs. Krumwiede
Many make the argument that Latin is useful but this summer on a trip to the National Gallery of Art in D.C. with my family, Latin was more than just useful. Latin is for leisure and joy. Latin is for finding joy in higher things and it is also for freedom: the freedom to self-educate.
A few weeks ago the museum had a glorious exhibit of drawings in metalpoint from Leonardo to Jasper Johns. The drawings by Albrecht Durer showed a great knowledge of human and animal bone and muscle structure. One room had a few portraits sketched in silverpoint by Flemish artists. A portrait of a young boy interested me because of the symbol on the top right hand corner.
At first I thought it was a capital Greek letter lambda next to a number 8, but that did not make much sense at all. As I moved on in the gallery, I observed another Flemish portrait of an older man in silverpoint. It had lettering in the top right corner which I immediately recognized as Latin! This time the artist wrote out the Latin word for age or year and the number 40. Of course! The boy was 8 years old and the artist used the symbol for the Latin dipthong: ae.
Being versed in another language (especially Latin) gives one the freedom of discovery and joy! I was so excited about my discovery that I had to explain everything to my husband. I suppose that if I had studied art in college that I would've known what the symbol meant but through my knowledge of Latin, I taught myself.
On another visit to the museum I noticed in another gallery that this same word has been used in many other portraits. Here you can also see a sketch I made from Joachim Wtewael’s self-portrait on display at the museum. I’m glad they don’t allow you to take pictures, because I had a blast sketching!