Tag Archives: Dutch Masters

#FineArtFriday: River View by Moonlight, Aert van der Neer

 

River View by Moonlight, Aert van der Neer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Aert van der Neer, or Aernout or Artus (c. 1603 – 9 November 1677), was a landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age, specializing in small night scenes lit only by moonlight and fires, and snowy winter landscapes, both often looking down a canal or river.

Description:
View of a village on a river by moonlight. In the foreground two horse and carriage on a dirt road. To the right a fisherman on a small boat on the water. On the horizon two windmills.
Date: Circa 1640-1650
Medium: oil on panel

Credits and Attributions:

River View by Moonlight, Aert van der Neer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rijksmuseum neer.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rijksmuseum_neer.jpeg&oldid=194438646 (accessed October 27, 2017).

Wikipedia contributors, “Aert van der Neer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Aert_van_der_Neer&oldid=770891498 (accessed October 27, 2017).

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#amwriting: do the reasearch

People always ask what you do for a living, as we are a society of people who define ourselves by our occupations. For many years, I was a bookkeeper, and also, I worked in data entry for several large corporations. Before that, during the 1980s and Reaganomics, I worked as a hotel maid, a field hand, and had several other odd occupations, often holding down three part-time jobs.

When you tell people you write books, they are, generally, interested. When you tell them you write speculative fiction, you get a range of reactions, from pitying condescension to confused, but sincere, respect.

Sometimes people laugh and tell me how easy it must be since I can make any old thing up and it will fly. Despite the old saying that “in wine there is truth,” nothing could be further from the truth.

Readers know when you have gone off the track and into the shrubs of “that can’t possibly happen.”

This means you can’t just make any old thing up because world building must combine enough realism with the created world to make the fantasy plausible. It involves research.

I spend hundreds of hours researching the most trivial details for every book I write. If I get it wrong, it’s because I failed to do the research in the right place.

In the process of writing Huw the Bard and the subsequent stories set in that world, I’ve learned as much as many medieval scholars about how people dressed, what they ate, how they earned a living, how they preserved food and every intimate detail of their lives that is researchable.

I know all of this because I read scientific papers written by experts on the subject, all of which are available to us via the internet. My files are full of the fruits of other people’s efforts, with the sources documented and the authors credited, so I know where to go to find out more if I need to. Lists of links to websites for further research is critical because when one book goes to press, a new book is already falling out of my fevered mind and onto the paper.

Readers are smart. If something is impossible, and you don’t somehow make it probable, you will lose your readers. The best way to make the impossible probable is to mix your fantasy with a good dose of real history. Be historically accurate as often as you can, so that when your blacksmith makes a weapon, readers who know about smithing will not be jarred out of the story by inaccuracy.

Most of the time, these things you spend untold hours researching will only get one line in your narrative, but if that line is inaccurate or impossible, your readers will know you were too lazy to do it right.

The following is my short list of go-to websites for in-depth, accurate information for when I am writing, including grammar questions. They are self-explanatory and are easy to make use of. Submit your questions via their query box and, while figuring out what you really need to know may take several tries, you will soon have answers.

Medieval Histories  http://www.medievalhistories.com

Academia http://www.academia.edu/

NASA https://www.nasa.gov/

Physics http://www.physics.org/

Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Grammarist  http://grammarist.com/

I’ve learned a great deal from reading the literature of medieval times. If you really want to know how people lived, read a modern translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. They were bawdy, irreverent, and loved nothing more than a good joke.

For example, if you are writing a story set in a medieval environment, you may need to know what clothing the common European people wore in medieval times. Or you might want to know what their home looked like, or a village. For that, I suggest you seek out the art of the Flemish Painters. There you’ll see what men and women looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working. You will see what their towns looked like, and the public places they gathered in. The interiors of their homes are also found in the great Flemish painter’s works.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need to look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) via Wikimedia Commons

They painted their subjects with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life—both the Inquisition and the Reformation were under way, and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed. If you are going to write medieval fantasy, you must understand how strong the influence of the Church was and how entangled it was in politics. You must inject that religious realism into your work, and show how the Church, even a fantasy religion, and its politics affect the common person’s life.

My regular readers know I love the work of one family of early Dutch painters from Flanders, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters and printmakers.

The internet is your friend, and researching your fantasy novel can be incredibly entertaining. Research is what slows me down more than anything. I spend far too many happy hours on Wikimedia Commons, looking at 16th-century Netherlandish paintings.

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#Inspiration: Oppression, rebellion and art

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Writing, even writing fantasy, involves a certain amount of reality checking. You need to know how things actually worked.

Say you need to know what clothing the common European people wore during the renaissance looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working.

I go to the 16th and 17th century painters and artists for that information. They always painted their subject with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life–both the inquisition and the reformation was under way and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category:Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

During the 16th century, the Netherlands fought an 80 year war, trying to gain their independence from Spain, during the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. This was a period of extreme oppression and religious rebellion, and the art of times portrayed that very clearly.

I have learned, by rooting around the internet (so it must be true), that everything in the paintings of the time, no matter how commonplace, was allegorical, symbolic of some higher message. In art history (which I have always wanted to study), iconography is a visual language. This means that the way a subject is depicted and the way the image is organized, such as the number of figures used, their placing and gestures, all have specific meanings. The allegories they painted made heavy use of this visual language.

One particular family of of early Dutch painters from the county of Flanders pique my interest, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters, and print-makers.

One of my favorite early Dutch paintings is the Wedding Dance, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder:

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

What makes this painting so spectacular to me is the amazing detail of the clothing. They loved color. From Wikipedia: The painting depicts 125 wedding guests. As was customary in the Renaissance period, the brides wore black and men wore codpieces. Voyeurism is depicted throughout the entire art work; dancing was tabooed at the time by the authorities and the church, and the painting can be seen as both a critique and comic depiction of a stereotypical oversexed, overindulgent, peasant class of the times.

All of these people are depicted as plump, which was a desirable trait–they were prosperous and not starving. All the things that (to this day) make a great party are there: music, food, and dancing. The men wear codpieces, emphasizing their male anatomy in the same way that in today’s society, women’s breasts are hyper-sexualized.  Perhaps codpieces should make a comeback in the men’s fashion world. I’ll show off my babyfeeders, if you parade your babymaker–that way we’ll both be sure we are getting something worth having. (or not.)

Anyway, back to the renaissance. They paid taxes, and this his how their IRS office looked to Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter Jr. As you can see, not a lot has changed between then and now–we still pay in chickens and eggs. (heh heh.)

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Younger_(or_workshop)_The_Payment_of_the_Tithes_

The Payment of the Tithes (The tax-collector), also known as Village Lawyer, Pieter Bruegel, the Younger, signed P Brueghel

Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter the Younger,  was never considered as fine a painter as his father or his brother, Jan Brueghel. He was considered a fine print-maker and his work shop was highly regarded. But he was not respected as an artist. Critics of the day felt he copied his father’s style, rather than developing his own. While he did paint in a folk-art style reminiscent of his father’s, his is sharper, more refined, taking it to the next level.

Notice how the people in the above picture are looking lean and ragged though, as opposed to the wedding picture painted by Pieter the Elder. The Little Ice Age had really gripped Europe, and times were hard.

So here is a painting by the second son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and a man who fathered his own dynasty of artists, Jan Bruegel the Elder. This is called People Dancing on a Riverbank and by their dress, with the neck-ruffs, you can see it depicts a wealthier class than his brother’s images, perhaps the merchant class rather than the peasants.

People_dancing_on_a_river_bank_by_Jan_Brueghel_the_elder

People Dancing on a riverbank, Jan Bruegel the elder, via Wikimedia Commons

One hundred years later, the Dutch were famous for their painters–and everyone wanted to own a Dutch masterpiece. Times had become quite hard, as the climate had cooled and crops regularly failed. Once-prosperous families often lived in the ruins of their family manors.

Peasants_in_an_Interior_(1661)_Adriaen_van_Ostade

Peasants in an Interior, Adriaen Van Ostade (1661) via Wikimedia Commons

In the above picture by Adriaen Van Ostade, these peasants are living in an enormous, decrepit farmhouse, almost like squatters. They are no longer plump, and are living in filthy conditions. The fire in the fireplace is very low, as if fuel was scarce.

Another famous Dutch painting, from the same time period but showing a different segment of society is The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer. In this painting, Vermeer shows an everyday task, a small glimpse of something that occurred daily in every household, a woman cooking.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons

In the background on the floor is a foot-warmer which was filled with coals and was an essential luxury, showing this was one of the wealthier households.

According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: By depicting the working maid in the act of careful cooking, the artist presents not just a picture of an everyday scene, but one with ethical and social value. The humble woman is using common ingredients and otherwise useless stale bread to create a pleasurable product for the household.

I love art depicting the lives of ordinary people. I find the small details intriguing. It shows us that in many ways we are not that different than they were. We want food, decent shelter, and of course, stylish clothes to attract a mate.

And back then as it does now, a hint of anything taboo would most certainly find its way into even a religious painting.

The best part of all this is, a woman with an average education and on a tight budget (like me) can enjoy these wonderful works of art at will. I can examine them  in as much detail as I want, and take all the time I want, and no one will stop me or throw me out of their museum for loitering, because the internet is open all hours and is free.

Wikimedia Commons is a great resource to just roam around in, even when you are not looking for something specific.

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