Art Appreciation

Art Appreciation

In Baltimore, visit the Walters Art Museum's Chamber of Wonders.

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Friends recently stayed in Baltimore, and we decided to visit the Walters Art Museum in the Mount Vernon Cultural District. The Walters has an exceptional collection of art objects: Paleolithic axe heads, mummies of women and cats, and child-sized suits of armor.

Roman sculptures in a sun-filled, marble-floored courtyard; Impressionist and Renaissance paintings; vases from Ancient Greece; Fabergé eggs; Tiffany vases; ossuaries; and sarcophagi are also on display.

Some rooms are so crowded with ornately framed artworks that you feel as though you’re in a Victorian salon. This freed me from the need to approach each individual piece with academic intent, absorbing and retaining information from the accompanying information plaque. Instead, I stood happily immersed in the visual cacophony.

The museum (three buildings conjoined; each with its own architectural style) is a delight to walk through. The center, and original museum building, has a room you can’t miss—the Chamber of Wonders.

My friend Gail describes visiting the Walters to be like rambling around in a curio cabinet and the Chamber of Wonders is the distillation of that feeling. Inside are nature’s wonders displayed in shadow boxes and glass-fronted bureaus, hung on every inch of wall space.

Cheetah skins; giant mounted butterflies; the head of a moose; shelves of seashells; enormous beetles pinned in a case; and the body of an alligator above the doorway with a plaque that reads, “Through Such Variety is Nature Beautiful,” also fill the room.

The Egyptian Room, however, displays artifacts in spare groupings. The space is hushed, the lighting muted. It’s a room to speak in a whisper. One could barely hear me say, “Look, a cat mummy,” before I tiptoed over to a set of mounted and carved tablets, etched and painted in 2000 B.C.

And when you think you can’t possibly be more amazed, walk past the statue of George Washington atop the obelisk, just outside the Charles Street exit, and cross the street into the Peabody Institute.

You can walk right into the famous library and see the Peabody Stack Room, which, according to the Institute’s website, “contains five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor.” It could be an adjunct to the Chamber of Wonders—a work of art in its own right.

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