text: seven walking tours through historic Philadelphia

Museum of Art

Ben Franklin Parkway 27 Ben Franklin Parkway 28

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is almost too large to comprehend and the best way to savor it is to ascend the steps slowly, taking in the prospect in stages. Begun in 1919, the first section was opened in 1928. The Minnesota dolomite building covers ten acres of space and is breathtaking when seen floodlighted at night.

The pediment or tympanum on the north wing was done by C. Paul Jennewein and illustrates the theme of sacred and profane love. There are thirteen classical figures, the central one of Zeus signifying the creative force, with Demeter, the laurel tree, Theseus, Aphrodite and Eros to the sides. Unfortunately, funds were never available to complete it with similar groups on the central and south buildings.

Ben Franklin Parkway 30

Movie-lovers will remember the long set of steps in front of the museum as the spot where boxing underdog, Rocky Balboa, made his triumphant run — arriving at the top with hands raised aloft in triumph. Today, tourists reenact Rocky's run (or at least the last few steps), posing for photos at the summit of the stairs.

Inside, the Great Stair Hall is awesome in its magnitude and provides a fitting setting for the thirteen magnificent tapestries from the Palazzo Barberini in Rome (a gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation), "Diana" at the top of the stairs whose poised figure once graced — as a weathervane — the first Madison Square Garden in New York (Gotham, likely, would like to have it back) and "Ghost," a mobile by the present-day Alexander Calder, son of the sculptor of the Logan Circle fountain and grandson of the man who created William Penn on the top of City Hall. Because of the name of the mobile, the three sculptors have often been irreverently called "the father, son and unholy ghost."

Every museum has its most popular works and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is no exception. Through the years it has found the favorites of the public to be: "Nude Descending a Staircase" by Marcel Duchamp, Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," the large "Bathers" by Cezanne, Picasso's "Three Musicians," and Brancusi's sculptures, variations on his "Bird in Space" theme and "The Kiss." Leaving the museum, descend the steps, cross over to the fountains and take the righthand walk down the Parkway.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway