Tag Archives: Flemish Masters

#FineArtFriday: The Fall of Phaeton, Peter Paul Rubens

The story: The Fall of Phaeton is a history painting, recounting the myth of Phaeton. A teenage boy seeks assurance from his mother that his father is the sun god, Helios. She tells him the truth, and advises him to turn to his father for confirmation.

Helios promises to grant him whatever he wants, and despite his father’s reservations, the boy insists on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day.

Unfortunately, he is unable to control the horses. The earth freezes when the horses climb too high, and then is scorched when they come too near.

To prevent further havoc, Zeus strikes the chariot down with a thunderbolt. Phaeton falls to earth and is killed.

The painting itself is bold and heroic–the entire story is laid out for the viewer to see. Painted in 1604, the Fall of Phaeton demonstrates the style and power that would characterize Rubens’ later work. Nothing is subtle about this composition–this is in-your-face fantasy with a heavy dose of “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

I have also thought of it as a warning to parents of teenage drivers, lol!

Quote from Wikipedia: The Fall of Phaeton is a painting by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, featuring the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton (Phaethon), a recurring theme in visual arts. Rubens chose to depict the myth at the height of its action, with the thunderbolts hurled by Zeus to the right. The thunderbolts provide the light contrast to facilitate the display of horror on the faces of Phaeton, the horses and other figures while preserving the darkness of the event. The butterfly winged female figures represent the hours and seasons, who react in terror as the night and day cycle becomes disrupted. The great astrological circle that arches the heavens is also disrupted. The assemblage of bodies form a diagonal oval in the center, separating dark and light sides of the canvas. The bodies are arranged so as to assist the viewer’s travel continually around that oval.

About the Artist:

Quote from Wikipedia: Sir Peter Paul Rubens  28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640) was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens’ highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain  and Charles I of England. Rubens was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File: Peter Paul Rubens – The Fall of Phaeton (National Gallery of Art).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art).jpg&oldid=197894421 (accessed September 7, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Peter Paul Rubens,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peter_Paul_Rubens&oldid=858142256 (accessed September 7, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Joos van Craesbeeck

Joos van Craesbeeck (c. 1605/06 – c. 1660) was an interesting character, standing out among the many interesting characters of the seventeenth century Flemish art community. He was a Flemish baker and an artist, a friend and contemporary of  Adriaen Brouwer. They most likely met while Brouwer was jailed in the citadel of Antwerp, although why he was imprisoned is unknown. But the bakery in the Antwerp citadel was operated at that time by Joos van Craesbeeck.

Van Craesbeeck was fascinated with the portrayal of violence and the senses of taste and smell. He painted the dissolute side of life, shocking in its intensity and honesty. Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, is an excellent example of his almost brutish depiction of peasants brawling. Blood flows, one man lies dead, and in the lower right hand corner, Death smiles, pleased with that night’s work.

He often painted himself, as is seen in The Smoker, a self-portrait that was at one time attributed to Adriaen Brouwer, depicting the senses of smell and taste. He shows himself clutching both a bottle of hard liquor and a pipe, as if they are the dearest things to him. He exhales a stream of smoke, savoring it.

He also painted his own self-portrait as the central nightmare from which other nightmares spawn in the Temptation of St. Anthony. Note the way his mouth is full of little demons entering and leaving, and his head is open to reveal an artist painting beneath wild dark hair in which geese nest. St. Anthony himself is small, placed to the right, almost unnoticed in the onslaught of demons and temptations, both physical and moral. A cacophony of violence and evil rages as Anthony clings to the scriptures. This is a revealing portrait of how the artist viewed himself and the demons he battled, in my opinion.

The work of Joos van Craesbeeck is not comforting or warm. It is always allegorical, showing us something we don’t like about the world we live in. Violence and vice were as much a part of life in his time as they are today, and perhaps will always be.

Quote from Wikipedia: Van Craesbeeck painted at least five portraits which are presumed to be self-portraits and in which he depicts himself in a ‘dissolute’ manner. The dissolute self-portrait was a genre that had taken root in Dutch and Flemish genre painting in the 17th century. It was an inversion of the Renaissance ideal of the ‘pictor doctus’: the artist as an intellectual and gentleman. This ideal was replaced by the new model of the prodigal artist who is characterized by his creative inspiration and talents. These self-portraits emphasized the artists’ dissolute nature by creating associations with traditional moral themes such as the Five Senses and the Prodigal Son in the tavern. Van Craesbeeck painted himself four times in low-life guises depicting the sense of Taste.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Joos van Craesbeeck,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joos_van_Craesbeeck&oldid=823865809 (accessed July 20, 2018).

Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, painting by Joos van Craesbeeck, ca. 1630 – 1635 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Smoker, Joos van Craesbeeck ca.1635 – 1636 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Temptation of St Anthony, Joos van Craesbeeck ca. 1650 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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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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