Good vs. Medieval

There are so many things we still don’t understand: cancer, death, the popularity of Dancing With the Stars.

When 19th-century artist Elihu Vedder lost two children and then fathered two more, he found his answers in the Rubáiyát, a collection of medieval Persian poetry depicting the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. His dark, intensely spiritual illustrations of the work are featured in the “Elihu Vedder’s Drawings for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” exhibit.

The show, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, features 54 of Vedder’s original drawings plus The Cup of Death, a gorgeous pre-Raphaelite painting of a dark angel. The first time the Rubáiyát was published in English, it was a failure that “ended up in the penny bin,” says Jerry Smith, PAM’s curator of American art. “Vedder’s version really caught on with a Victorian populace questioning science and the existence of God.” The Lord versus the lab? Sounds just like modern America.

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Nov. 15. Continues through Feb. 8, 2008


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