Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Limited Collection - Part II


On of the great joys of museum going is when a curator successfully leads you from one contrasting media to another.  I always remember stumbling out of the Green Vault at the Albertinium Museum in Dresden bedazzzled with the baroque splendor of its gems, gold and silver and being confronted by the stark Tim Burton-like sculptures of Thomas Reichstein and Andreas Feininger's black and white photographs of a long past Amercia.  It was a strange juxtaposition of periods and medium and even stranger it worked.

Much the same effect was achieved with the Rijksmusuem's mounting of a small exhibition to mark the publication of a catalogue of the complete works of the Dutch engraver Hendrik Goltzius (left in a self-portrait).  In the preceding room are two enormous works: the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum's collection, Rembrandt's The Militia Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (The Night Watch)  faced by The Company of Captain Reinier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw, Amsterdam painted in 1637 by Frans Hals.  Rather amusingly the crowds around the Rembrandt were thick (in more ways than one said he rather smarmily) and the cameras were clicking like mad while few people spent any time looking at or recording the Hals.  Yes the Rembrandt is the more dramatic and more justly famous but the Hals is as worthy of time spent for its details of dress and the smug arrogance of the posers or poseurs if you will.

Frans Hals' treatment of a Militia Brigade has a static quality to it that is typical of its time - this was all to change when Rembrandt approached a like subject five years later.  Though not as popular as its Gallery companion the Hals is still a magnificent study in individual portraiture and no doubt pleased it sitters.  
 
But I digress - in moving from the two huge canvases with their broad painterly strokes reflecting the development of Dutch art of the Golden Age to the small fine lines and cross hatching of the engraver's art there was a pleasantly startling contrast that magnified the achievements of both art forms.  Not as bold perhaps as the experience at the Albertinium it still was a master stroke on the part of the Museum curators.

Golzius was the leading Dutch engraver of the Baroque age, he excelled at both creating his own painterly scenes and adapting the work of others.  Strangely a childhood accident left him with a deformed right hand (right, in an engraving by Golzius) that was perfect for holding the engraver's burin.  It allowed him a control of the tool that expanded the effects which gave his engravings a depth and dimension that changed the art of the engraver for future artists.   He is credited with over 399 engravings and more than 500 of his  designs were used by other print makers.  He also adapted the work of other artists, most principally the Flemish painter Bartholomeus Spranger.

‘Eer boven Golt’ (Honour surpasses Gold)  the title is taken from Golzius's motto, features only a fraction of the engravings in the collection at the Rijksmuseum.  As usual I was transfixed not by the major engravings (beautiful as they were) but by a set of pen and ink drawings, possibly based on works of Spranger, that Golzius did as preparatory work for four engravings depicting Old Testament defenders of Israel.   They are shown carrying the weapons they used to defeat their enemies and in the background the scenes of their heroic acts.  From these drawings Golzius engraved the plates which were then printed by Jacob Matham, Golzius's step-son and one of the master printmakers of the time. 

DAVID


And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.
And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands.
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came, and drew nigh to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.
Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.
1 Samuel 17: 40-51

YAEL (JAEL) The Song of Deborah


Extolled above women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Extolled above women in the tent.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
She brought him cream in a lordly dish.
She stretched forth her hand to the nail,
Her right hand to the workman's hammer,
And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,
She crashed through and transfixed his temples.
At her feet he curled himself, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he curled himself, he fell;
And where he curled himself, let it be, there he fell dead.
Judges 5:23-27

JUDITH - The Canticle of Judith


Begin ye to the Lord with timbrels, sing ye to the Lord with cymbals, tune unto him a new psalm, extol and call upon his name.
The Lord putteth an end to wars, the Lord is his name.
He hath set his camp in the midst of his people, to deliver us from the hand of all our enemies.
The Assyrians came out of the mountains from the north in the multitude of his strength: his multitude stopped up the torrents, and their horses covered the valleys.
He bragged that he would set my borders on fire, and kill my young men with the sword, to make my infants a prey, and my virgins captives.
But the almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman, and hath slain him.
For their mighty one did not fall by young men, neither did the sons of Titan strike him, nor tall giants oppose themselves to him, but Judith the daughter of Merari weakened him with the beauty of her face.
For she put off her the garments of widowhood, and put on her the garments of joy, to give joy to the children of Israel.
She anointed her face with ointment, and bound up her locks with a crown, she took a new robe to deceive him.
Her sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty made his soul her captive, with a sword she cut off his head.
The Persians quaked at her constancy, and the Medes at her boldness.
Then the camp of the Assyrians howled, when my lowly ones appeared, parched with thirst.
The sons of the damsels have pierced them through, and they have killed them like children fleeing away: they perished in battle before the face of the Lord my God.
Let us sing a hymn to the Lord, let us sing a new hymn to our God.
The Book of Judith 16: 2-15

SAMSON


Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi.
And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us.
Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.
And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.
And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.
And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi.
Judges 15: 9-17

Though the engravings are nothing less than masterpieces for some reason I find the pen and ink drawings, though lacking in detail and dimension, the more interesting and for me satisfying.

30 June - 1886: The first transcontinental train trip across Canada departs from Montreal. It arrives in Port Moody, British Columbia on July 4.


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2 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

How fortunate for him that his deformed hand was not a disability in the least but an enhancement of his artistry! Everything is relative.

I've always been fascinated by the stories of Jael and Judith. And of course, by the Victory Song of Deborah (and Barak, her general).

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