Oh, I had such things! Things so splendid, magnificent and rare, they could take your breath away. Beautiful objects made with such pride of craftsmanship, with love for the act of creation, by hands dead far longer than mine.
While I, myself, created nothing, by owning and cherishing such things, I felt part of the creative process. Beauty cannot exist anywhere except in the eye of the beholder. I was completing my part of the bargain, to behold, appreciate, and preserve it for future generations.
These things were precious and rare but it was neither preciousness nor rarity which drew me to them. Even though they were inanimate objects, they contained in their making the best of humanity. What I loved was the singularity of their beauty, the detail of workmanship. When it takes a master a year or a decade or a lifetime to create a project, such a thing will be, by definition, rare. And rarity makes for preciousness. Those were simply by-products
In my entry foyer, stood a carved, antique mahogany desk with half a dozen secret drawers which revealed themselves only when other drawers were opened and levers tripped in a specific order. The desk surface was an intricate mosaic of exotic veneers from trees which grew in the far jungles and forests of the world. In the center was a writing surface of polished green leather the color of Irish moss, tooled around the edge in gold in an ivy pattern. It was made for an Italian prince centuries before I acquired it at auction.
In the living room was a magnificent silk Tabriz rug, 400 knots per inch, of a design so intricate the details were like a fine painting. I tried not to think how many young girls went blind working on it. But it too was an antique when I bought it, and those young women were long dead before it came into my possession. I was not insensitive to their sacrifice for art, willing or not.
There was gold enamel tea set of fine detail, set with pearls and semi-precious stones. To drink from it was merely an excuse to admire it.
To fill my house with such masterpieces was to bring into my home the energy of genius. Sometimes, I felt as if I could slip inside the mind of the creator. I had, you might say, an emotional relationship with beautiful objects.
Perhaps that is why I never felt the need to marry or have children. I had an older brother who died in middle age. In my old age, the only blood relative who remained was his son. My nephew was rather boorish, despite a cultured upbringing, with little appreciation for anything fine. He knew the cost of everything but had no aesthetic sense whatsoever. If he owned anything beautiful, it was only because he was impressed by the price tag. This was his only criterion. Not surprisingly, he had been fooled more than once by a dealer who could spot an ignorant mark.
Despite this, I did not dislike him. He was pleasant enough, if one didn’t mind his lack of a good eye, the complete absence of discernment. But I was not so shallow as to judge him too badly for that. He was a good a kind man, who loved his wife and children, and checked after me from time to time out of genuine concern. It would have been cruel to leave my beauties, which comprised the bulk of my fortune, to a museum or to someone who would have appreciated them more. I assumed he’d sell it all off and use the proceeds for other things more to his personal liking…expensive but tasteless, gaudy and new. Someone else would then come into possession of my beloved objects, just as I had, and they would love them as I did.
After I passed, he had the contents of my home appraised by professionals with the intention to sell. They ooohed and ahhed and gushed over the collection, and in hearing them speak of these things and their history and their singular beauty, he began to regard them with a new eye. His mind had been opened to the pleasure of the exquisite hand-made object. In the end, he sold most all of my possessions, not because he did not understand their artistic value but because he understood it too well; he recognized such things would need more care than he was willing to give. He did retain a couple of small items which he came to appreciate, perhaps not as emotionally as I did, but at least intellectually. He began to develop an aesthetic sense.
He and his family made good use of the money. They applied it to things and experiences that made them happy, and that was well and good, but I consider his late-in-life appreciation of beauty the more valuable inheritance.
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(When looking for an image to illustrate this post, I did a Google search using some basic keywords per the description (antique inlaid mahogany desk) and this came up. It’s so close, it might seem as if I found the image first and simply described it…but not so!)