Blackpaint 150


So, the World Cup has started and knowing the close correlation between the love of football and that of art, especially abstract art, I am assuming a downturn in readership.  Nevertheless, I will continue to write to my usual high standards, even if no-one is reading.

Bruegel and Bosch 

Last time, I highlighted some of the similarities in their beasts and monsters; today, I’ll look at themes.  It’s easy-

  • Trickery
  • Knavery
  • Dishonesty
  • Foolishnesss
  • Proverbs
  • Scenes from the scriptures

All the above themes are touched on by Bosch in the Haywain and the Ship of Fools.  In the Conjuror, a foolish man is tricked by the conjuror into  thinking he has coughed up a frog, whilst a youngster in the little crowd cuts off the purse of an onlooker.  In the Stone Operation, a quack surgeon apparently removes, not a stone, but a tulip from the head of his patient (this operation was supposed to cure stupidity; tulips, for some reason, were symbolic of the same.  Bruegel also painted a stone op).  Then there is, of course, his Garden of the Earthly Delights, which is part of a triptych with paradise and hell as the wings, but very little in the way of religiosity in any of the three.  Those giant birds, the goldfinch, green woodpecker, kingfisher and robin (?) on the left look weirdly threatening and there are the giant strawberries, mussel shells (what’s going on in there? and under the transparent umbrella?), globes and Disney towers – and the impression of serial shagging, if not the actuality.  And in Paradise – an albino giraffe thing.

As for the scriptures, Bosch painted Epiphanies, two Ecce Homos, Christ carrying the cross, the feast at Cana (in which no-one is actually eating), Paradise, Hell, the Ascent of the blessed and the Fall of the damned several times each, Christ on the cross, Christ crowned with thorns, St Jerome and St.Anthony (although these latter appear to be an opportunity to do more feverish visions, rather than to inspire holy thoughts.

Turning to Bruegel, he did a whole series of works based on Flemish proverbs (which are, in most cases, the same as English ones), mostly  illustrating foolishness, greed and knavery.  Other works include the Magpie on the Gallows, in which a man takes a shit, and others dance at the foot of the gallows, the Peasant and the Birdnester, in which a peasant points and laughs at a boy falling out of a tree, just as he himself steps into a ditch – and the Parable of the Blind, in which the blind men are led by a blind man into a ditch.  In the Misanthrope, he has the world portrayed as a boy cutpurse in a glass globe.  In the Land of Cockaigne, he portrays gluttony in a way that reminds me of the old Tommy McClintock song, the Big Rock Candy Mountain (original version, very different to Burl Ives’, which few readers will remember).

The Triumph of Death is of special interest, in that it is untouched by any relief in the form of an Afterlife.  It is unique, I  think, to either artist’s work in this respect; a sheer, unmitigated nightmare vision without the possibility of salvation. 

Bruegel’s religious pictures differ from those of Bosch in that they take place in his contemporary Netherlands, in the villages, often in winter, with peasants being peasants.  They are portrayed naturalistically, eating feasts, playing, working, skating…  Furthermore, in his seasonal pictures (Hunters in the Snow, Haymaking, the Wedding Dance), he encompasses a much wider spectrum than Bosch.  Bosch’s characters are often – usually – grotesque; Bruegel’s always, give the impression of being true to life.  For that reason, I think he is the greater of the two.  Check out the codpieces on the bagpipe player and foreground male dancers in wedding Dance in the Open Air, by the way.

Listening to Willie Nelson, Whiskey River.

“Whiskey river, take my mind, don’t let my memories torture me;

Whiskey river, take my mind, you’re all I got, take care of me.

I’m drowning in a whiskey river….”

Blackpaint

13.06.10

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