The Metropolitan has a marvelous exhibit of the works of Jan Gossart (he is known by a variety of names) that I visited today. A northerner, in the pictorial tradition of van Eyck and other pioneering artists in oil, he, like Albrecht Durer, went south, and was enthralled by the ruins of the classical world and the Humanist revival in Italy. He fuses this taste with his northern gothic tradition and produces something that is at times downright weird, but compelling. The exhibit was unusual, I thought, in its emphasis on the sources in contemporary art of the north for many of his works. Gossart was on the cutting edge; one of a group of humanist-scholar-artist afficianados who found deep-pocketed patrons to finance their new vision.
As always, click on the images to enlarge them.
The image at the top was one of my favorites – a disguised portrait of a young girl as Mary Magdalen, so simple, plain, and lovely compared to the other Magdalen below.
His debt to Durer’s popular engraving is clear and direct, but he drops some of the classicizing of the print’s image.
Here, he cuts loose a bit and depicts Adam and Eve as actual human beings, rather “than Biblical Figures”, who are obviously quite attracted to one another.
The Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen: The first is calm, contemplative, and shows that strange marble-like texture found in so many of his portraits. He seems to enjoy painting people as though they were sculpture, sometimes to a degree that it appears trompe l’oeil. The second is strange, twisted, writhing, and definitely tipping in the direction of mannerism.
Hercules and wife, classical architecture, bodies – see, her breasts are perfect hemispheres – and a weird, erotic entangling of legs. The picture on the right makes use of blue pigment created from lapis lazuli that was as expensive as gold.
A bit of weirdly erotic classicizing…
A portrait of a man who was in charge of municipal toll collections, an important and lucrative post. From his look, he seems right for the job. If you look very closely at his eyes, at the white highlight on the iris reflecting the incoming light, you can see the image of the mullions of the window from which this scene is illuminated.
I went to a wonderful exhibit of prints by Albrecht Durer today, including many of his most famous – The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Melancholia, and St. Jerome in his study. Looking at the detail from an image in his Apocalypse series shown above, (full image) I was struck by the forlorn aspect of this beast from hell as he vomits fire onto the world. He doesn’t want to do it, but he must. It’s his life. Laying waste to the world. Godzilla had his tragic aspect too, no?
I was also struck by the vomit imagery, so much like this visual trope that is to be found in Maakies again and again. (See the whole strip here.) It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Tony Millionaire were a fan of Durer.
And then, there is that beautiful image of the Prodigal Son at the moment when he is inspired to return to his father and beg his forgiveness. I can’t help but think that the pigs, on which Durer has lavished so much loving attention, are looking at the wayward son slyly, a little knowingly…”Oh, you’re leaving are you? Well, be gone with you. We have eating to do…”
I was much taken as well by this image of Christ before Pilate, a woodcut from his Small Passion series. I love the slightly crazy steps, rendered carefully in perspective but not like any steps I’ve seen lately. They give it a slightly dreamlike atmosphere, I think.
Robert Burton, author of the raging bestseller of the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, Anatomy of Melancholy, provides us with a look at what our intellectual world might be if our friends, the advocates of Intelligent Design, have their way. After all, Professor Michael Behe testified under oath that according to his definition of science, Astrology would be considered a scientific discipline. Perhaps we would return to the intellectual world of Mr. Burton, before the scientific method was accepted, by some, and the chief source of authority was textual. Not that the IDers will insist on literal interpretation of the Bible, but their constant insistance on the false notion that evolution is just a theory, and that their “theory” therefore deserves equal time, opens up the vista of science classes clogged with references to all current notions about this or that, all of which are treated equally.Here is an excerpt from Mr. B. on the influence of the stars on melancholia:
Paracelsus is of opinion, that a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease, either of this or gout, not so much as toothache; except he see the peculiar geniture and scheme of the party effected. And for this proper malady, he will have the principal and primary cause of it proceed from the heaven, ascribing more to stars than humours,”and that the constellation alone many times produceth melancholy, all other causes set apart. He gives instance in lunatic persons, that are deprived of their wits by the moon’s motion; and in another place refers all to the ascendant, and will have the true and chief cause of it to be sought from the stars. Neither is it his opinion only, but of many Galenists and philosophers, though they do not so peremptorily maintain as much. This variety of melancholy symptoms proceeds from the stars, saith Melancthon: the most generous melancholy, as that of Augustus, comes from the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Libra: the bad, as that of Catiline’s, from the meeting of Saturn and the moon in Scorpio. Jovianus Pontanus, in his tenth book, and thirteenth chapter de rebus coelestibus, discourseth to this purpose at large, Ex atra bile varii generantur morbi, etc.
Notice the deference to published sources, the voluminous quotations, the piling on of examples from stories, annecdote, and text. Notice the tone of, “So and so says,” “while, Mr. X said…” Never an attempt to TEST any of them. His book, highly entertaining, goes on like this for thousands of pages, and I recommend it enthusiastically as a literary diversion, and a window into another world, but science it ain’t! Can’t you see it? “Darwin’s theory of evolution says this, and predicts that, all of which have been borne out by field evidence and laboratory experiment. On the basis of this theory, now proven, we can develop vaccines, improve animal breeding, create new strands of wheat….The theory of Intelligent Design, on the other hand, asserts that there must be a guiding force behind this process. We can’t say what it is, but we suspect that it is God, whatever that is. There are a lot of authors who feel this way, and even some with Ph. D.s in science…”