The Low Countries - 2018, № 26
28 March 2018
‘About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters’
Dutch and Flemish Artists Around the Globe
On 20 January 2017, a mural appeared on Barthélémylaan/Boulevard Barthélémy on the Canal in Brussels, of an imminent beheading. The knife and the fear on the face of a child in the depicted scene raised a furore. People thought of IS executions, and panicked.
Until it transpired that the anonymous street artist responsible had copied a section from a Caravaggio painting, The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603). The hand with the knife belongs to Abraham, a father who is about to murder his son. The hand on Abraham’s arm, holding him back, belongs to the angel, to whom Abraham surrenders at the last moment. But the anonymous imitator has expertly severed the image: we only see the child whose mouth hangs wide open in fear, a hand with a knife, another hand on an arm, a third hand holding the child’s neck. Knife and jaw attract the most attention.
A few days later, the bloody figure of a man with his stomach cut open hanging upside-down by a rope materialised on a facade on Brigitinnenstraat/rue des Brigittines. Here the painter had been inspired by The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers, a work attributed to the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Jan de Baen.
As if to say – since an understanding of traditions, in this instance of painting, the Bible, and the crisis of 1672, the ‘disaster year’ of the Dutch Republic, radically changes both perception and experience of the image –, it’s all about the context, stupid. Panic and indignation give way to uncertainty and hesitation. The complexity of the images invites us to think. Our judgement no longer comes down like an axe, but is suspended.
Art, like everything really, exists in context: every thing refers to other things, from the past or from elsewhere. Artists always build on the work of their predecessors. That network provides a frame of reference.
It is therefore worth our while to keep learning more about the canon, traditions, the history of Christianity and the history of art, for example. Because the Old Masters were never wrong about suffering… nor about so much else. It was about time we paid tribute to our Flemish and Dutch Masters in this yearbook. They are renowned worldwide, and appreciated for their masterly use of light, colour and detail.
The theme of this yearbook was developed jointly with CODART, the international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish art which this year celebrates its twentieth year. At present, CODART connects almost 700 curators from more than 300 museums in almost fifty countries. The fact that works of art from the Low Countries of the fifteenth through to the nineteenth century are widely disseminated means that CODART’s network is extensive and unique.
This twenty-sixth edition of the yearbook The Low Countries will be the last ever in print. With pride – and a little melancholy – the editorial board looks back on those twenty-six volumes: ‘It has not gone unnoticed.’ But don’t worry. From next year you can find us at www.thelowcountries.eu where we will continue with the same fervour and depth to publish information, comment and essays about the Low Countries. For more people. We still have a lot more to tell about ‘this undigested vomit of the sea’.
Articles in this issue
- “About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters”. Dutch and Flemish Artists Around the Globe
- An Enigmatic Laugh in Cologne
- The Bon Vivant Back in the Hermitage
- An Explosive Struggle in the Prado
- Double Dutch in Dublin
- A Miniature Netherlandish Treasure in Detroit
- In Careful Hands. Exceptional Private Collectors
- A Portrait of the Market as a Seismograph. Dutch Masters on the Art Market
- Lantern Bearers and Pathfinders. The Journey to Italy in the Sixteenth Century
- Rubens in Holland, Rembrandt in Flanders
- Bruegel Revisited. A Look at the Master in Anticipation of Bruegel Year 2019
- These Things Are Immortal. The Wanderings of Rembrandt’s Polish Rider
- The Ambiguous Art of Hyperrestoration. The Case of Jef Van der Veken
- Portrait of the Museum as a Rendez-Vous. Posthumous Conversations Between Artists
- The Africa Museum in Tervuren and Orhan Pamuk’s White Gloves
- On Its Own Two Feet. Dutch Design in 2018
- ‘We Playact It Because We Mean It’. The Absurd Oeuvre of Annelies Verbeke
- Middelburg. The Town in the Middle
- Nature and Woodland in Flanders. Policy in Times of Short-Term Thinking
- Tradition as Scenario. On the Work of Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
- Film as a Reflexive Medium and a Productive Space. The Artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh
- The Dutch Revolt Began 450 Years Ago. William of Orange and the Wilhelmus Still Alive and Kicking
- Poetics of Postcolonial Art. The Installations of Ana Torfs
- Tension in Controversy. The Cabaret of Hans Teeuwen
- Looking for Leeway. K. Michel as Alice in Wonderland
- The Cuckoo in the Artistic Nest. The Work of Jef Geys
- Individual in an Undivided World. Charlotte Van den Broeck, Maud Vanhauwaert and Ellen Deckwitz as New Romantic Poets
- Intimacy Without Borders. The Photographs of Bertien van Manen
- Sonic Imaginings, Creative Mementos. The Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels
- Writer in Service to the Underdog. On the Oeuvre of Chris De Stoop
- Losing Terrain Yet Thriving. The Position and Status of Afrikaans Anno 2018 in South Africa
- The Benedictine Monk Who Showed Us How to Build. Dom Hans van der Laan
- The Successful Balance Between the Commercial and the Creative. Dries Van Noten
- An Inverted Orpheus and Eurydice. Le Fidèle by Michael Roskam
- The Elites Consistently Charted a New Course. A Concise History of the Netherlands
- What The United States Learnt from The Netherlands. John Lothrop Motley’s History of the Dutch Revolt
- From Ghent to South Korea. Ghent University at 200
- A Reynard for Our Time
- Alone on the North Sea Coast. Adriaan Roland Holst
- A Piercing Eye Alert to Every Detail. Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels Legacy
- A Soldier at a Typewriter. Alfred Birney’s Novel about Java
- Turning Windmills and Exploding Ships. Popular Music from The Low Countries
- More Than Ideal Grandchildren. The Jussen Brothers
- For the ‘Ordinary’ Dutch Citizen. The Third Government Led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte
- Brussels, I Love You But You Make Me Cry
- A Bridge to the Future
- At the Heart of Society. The Nation by Het Nationale Theater
- Adriaen Brouwer Returns Home
- Drama with a Touch of Humour; Jan Steen at the Mauritshuis
- The Catalogue of Rubens’s Oeuvre. Fifty Years of Work in Antwerp