What is it that makes something so unique that it resonates with people of virtually any era? The question is difficult as those of us existing now certainly cannot answer it in reference to things made in the last fifty, perhaps even as far back as one hundred and fifty years. We are too close to these things. We cannot possibly know what future generations will think of our contemporary world as much as we would like to think we do.
You might think that aesthetics play a role in this equation. I would say, however, that the Egyptian pyramids are grand, monumental and an engineering marvel for their day, but I would not say that they are intriguingly beautiful. They are haunting, impressive and resonate strongly with people who have seen them, but beautiful, unless you include their spectacular setting and their timelessness as being a measure of beauty, they are not. The idea is that timelessness is something beyond beauty, something that relates to the nature of the human condition.
Fine art is particularly difficult to ascribe for being timeless. The Mona Lisa is iconic and timeless for western civilization, but is that so for any other culture? Which of our painters will continue to be lionized in two hundred or five hundred years? Who can possibly know? It may just happen that post Renaissance painting to 1950 might just pass into an anachronistic side bar in the distant future.
There is furniture that I consider timeless. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has a quantity of David Roentgen desks which are simply stunning. To me, these are timeless. Oddly, the steel furniture from the Tula armaments factory isn’t nearly so timeless. The problem is that my sense of timelessness is built on my knowledge of furniture. Any object that you wish to classify as timeless should also not require specific knowledge.
The activity that man seems most suited for is the tearing down or the destruction of things. If the grave robbers of Egypt had had their way, they would have gladly removed the pyramids for what they thought was inside of them. If we can’t agree on what is timeless, how can we ever hope to save what might be timeless? This is the appropriate question and like many of the riddles we are faced with, we won’t know what is or isn’t timeless until it is gone. At that point, we get to be human and regret.
Without naming specific objects, buildings or works of art, it is terribly difficult to isolate the factors that make something timeless. Obviously, that is what the World Heritage sites are all about, identifying that which makes something so unique that it should be preserved for future generations. In a way, there is a plethora of such sites and in another way, there are very few.
For me, the natural world is is replete with places, things and organisms that are timeless. But what is so interesting is that the natural world is always changing be it in tiny developmental or evolutionary steps or in big movements that can be natural or man made. In other words, nothing is really made to stay the same no matter how timeless that place or thing or organism might be.
Timelessness therefore is an anachronism in nature and if that is so, it is also with man. Further, you will find that man strives for the new and as a rule respects the old less often than not. This is true save for in plastic surgeon dreams where the goal is to create a timeless face. The essential contradiction is just too good to ignore and as an antique dealer, I revel in it.