Thesmophoria

Artist: Francis Davis Millet
Thesmophoria, a painting

Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912), Thesmophoria, 1894-1897, oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 61 1/2 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Ira and Mary Lou Fulton.

Commentary by Lynda Palma
Museum of Art Educator

This elegant spectacle of Demeter and her attendants causes me to reflect on a procession of my own, although much different in nature, along a similar path. Unlike the graceful pageant of beautiful people, however, my entourage was a group of tired, weary travelers—BYU students on semester abroad having just arrived in Athens. It was already evening; but reluctant to waste even a moment of our precious time in this great city, we embarked upon a long trek through winding, congested streets toward our ultimate destination. In direct contrast to the delicate footsteps of the fashionably gowned maidens in Millet’s mural study, we trudged ever upward, our 1992 Reeboks and Birkenstocks rubbing sore blisters on our tired feet. Rather than the mellifluous strains of panpipes wafting through the air, we endured the raucous sounds of urban bustle—the shouting of street vendors, the festivities of outdoor café patrons, and the commotion of traffic. Ours was not a harmonious celebration of the bounteous fruits of the land amidst wheat fields and cypress trees. Ours was a determined struggle in a seemingly endless metropolis toward a single objective.

And there, just around the next turn—it stood. With the rising moon shining serendipitously through the Doric marble columns, we had arrived. Transported to what seemed like a dimension beyond our immediate circumstances, our ragged group halted in silence as if one body, absorbing the majesty of scene. The Acropolis—the Parthenon—the cradle of Western civilization—the birthplace of democracy! Although Millet’s pristine pageant exceeded our little march in all other respects, the atmospheric, misty Acropolis in the far reaches of his pictorial plane can’t begin to compare with our transcendent moment.

 

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