I don’t have a thing about shoes, either for or against. There are lots at the bottom of the wardrobe, most differing only in wear, and, yes, most are Ecco lace-ups, nothing to get excited about. I don’t know which ancestor donated me broad feet with a high instep but I’m not grateful.
It was therefore a surprise to me when on my recent visit to the Naples Museum I became obsessed with footwear. Part of this interest was pragmatic. I had already explored the upper galleries and marvelled at the mosaics brought in from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I had looked with wonder, and tried to snap through their glass cases, small figurines, silver beakers and glass portraits. I had strolled round the Secret Rooms with their dangling phalluses and faint, faintly erotic paintings. I had established that the room with the frescos I really wanted to see was closed. I had had coffee. Done the shop. There was over an hour until it was time to get back to the bus. Daunted by the thought of the marble staircase once again, the ground floor was where I decided to be.
This floor was predominately statues of Roman and Greek chaps and deities. Many sported togas, though one, the embodiment of an old head on young shoulders, wore only a cloth on his left arm and seemed to be enquiring, who, by Jove, had nicked his gear from the pool locker. Most had bare feet. I set out to look for those who did not.
Still trapped in the error that life was pretty basic in ancient times, I had assumed that shoes or sandals were a base of leather lashed together with thongs. Well yes, and no.
A statue labelled Apollo (seated with a lyre in porphory 2nd century AD) though I have my doubts (perhaps he’s in drag for a party?) ran little risk of corns, and I admired the sculpted sole.
I made a note on my handy little hotel-supplied pad to revisit Greek and Roman myths when I got home. I was particularly concerned about a statue of goatish Pan, of whom one could believe anything, dallying with a well-set-up young man, allegedly ‘Daphne’. I had always taken Daphne to be female…
Asclepius, on the left below, (late 2nd AD of Greek original of beginning of 4th BC) had sensible sandals with plenty of room for the toes.
Dionysius (1st BC), as you might expect, was decked out in elaborate party boots.
A kneeling and abject barbarian had opted for trainers. Not at all the thing…
On the other hand, the military, as evidenced by the statues which caught my eye, knew what was needed. They hoped to take on the properties of the lion (“I am Sir Bryan, bold as a lion…”). A lion’s head topped the boots, even if on dress occasions flowers and twiddly bits were permitted.
At the entrance to a side room there’s a pair of statues which make a poignant statement of attitudes.
On the right as you enter a warrior whoops, brandishing his sword, he is a winner no doubt about it. By the opposite wall an Amazon, of the race of warrior women, is tumbling, breast exposed, from her horse. Both warriors have lion-head tops to their boots but each of hers seems decorated also with a heart.
But enough of footwear and so finally to my favourite of all the statues. An old woman, Agrippina (1st century, school of Phidias) sits with her ankles crossed, waiting.
PS why all these tumtumtetumtums? These are my best at present way of getting images approximately where I want them.
PPS I wish I could have sandals like these; and I salute their creators, those workers in leather, yes, but most of all those artists and craftsmen who envisaged and formed them from stone for me to wonder at.