For five years now, Amy Herman has been teaching a class called “The Art of Perception” to law-enforcement agents of every level, from the Secret Service and CIA on down to the NYPD. CBS tagged along with Herman and a group of detectives during a recent visit to The Met, and though they spent most of their time looking at a John Singer Sargent, we can think of at least ten better pieces from the Met’s collection for sharpening police’s perceptions.
“Joab Murdering Abner” (1510—1520) by unknown artist: The wealthy gentleman with the crown and over-sized, bejeweled, novelty letter-opener is clearly trying to help the younger man who’s sustained a major head wound, likely inflicted by the suspicious perp in the background.
“The Death of Achilles” (1520-1525) by Nicolo da Gabriele Spraghe: While the man with the bow and arrow politely points out that Achilles should keep his sandals on in the cold marble palace, the young woman in green at the center of the composition is about to inflict a lethal blow to the young warrior’s head.
“The Death of Harmonia” (ca. 1740-1) by Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre: Her billowing robes held several concealed weapons and a smuggled crocodile; the shirtless man with the dagger clearly acted in self-defense.
“The Death of Socrates” (1787) by Jacques-Louis David: a group of fanatics (possibly Muslim extremists) are carrying out a suicide pact, passing the deadly elixir in the bronze cup at the center of the scene.
“Death of a Roman Matron” (date unknown) by Bartolomeo Pinelli (1781—1835): a Roman warrior hands his female roommate a cup full of deadly snakes, a hilarious prank that’s about to go horribly wrong. Later, he’ll use the large dagger he’s clutching in his left hand to kill and eat the snakes, a traditional Roman delicacy.
“A Woman Murdering a Sleeping Man,” from Images of Spain Album (1817-20) by Goya: Goya’s use of perspective is typically misleading here. The wife is chopping wood to burn the corpse of her husband—long dead as evidenced by the trail of blood left behind his body by an exit wound—in keeping with centuries-old Spanish custom.
“Human Head Cake Box Murder” (ca. 1940) by Weegee: The man in the center with his head under the napkin is looking at the victim’s head, concealed in a metallic cake box he holds to his chest. The cake that came with the box has been unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk (issue ticket for littering).
“DEATH WISH” (1975) by Paul McMahon: The frustrated swimsuit model and yoga instructor, unable to find work at the city’s health clubs and fashion houses, is about to throw herself into the river. Radio for a water unit.
“Death Ship of No Port” (1967) by H. C. Westermann: Likely Somali pirates; proceed with extreme caution.
“Passionate Crime” (1990) by Tulio Diaz: The perp, at left, in consort with a giant anthropomorphic heart, kills his wife to collect her life insurance policy before making a run for the border.
(ArtInfo, all images courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)