Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Work of (No) foreign architect.

The new version of ‘Blogger’ does not always seem to retrieve pictures properly, nevertheless, this post is solely about a picture, this interior by Bartholomeus Van Bassen. This is, of course, sumptuous living, as depicted in what is really an architect’s visualisation of what a building might look like, if erected, and then inhabited.

Just to focus on the architecture of the room, the coffered ceiling, the great windows (shutters all thrown open to allow light to stream in), the magnificent pillared dais for the serving board, the tiled floor: this is baroque era Holland, unembarrassed by its riches.

What seems to have happened with Van Bassen’s pictures was that, his architectural interests satisfied (and, perhaps, those of his potential client), he would hand over his painting to another artist, who would add the staffage figures. Quite often, these are much diminished by Van Bassen’s aggressively assertive perspective. He generally seems to design the very opposite of Appleton Houses, a ‘hollow palace’, with his collaborator adding figures of people dwarfed by the immoderate size of their residence.

But in this case, a charming departure: in a sudden satiric freak, the staffage figures are wealthy versions of ‘boors carousing’: the worse-for-wear aristocrat, being looked after by two women, and all three of them covertly echoed by the animals: the red-headed parrot and the ginger-haired woman, both in profile, the man less dignified than the chained ape, and the other woman at the same angle as the patient dog.

The other revellers are about to be served a decorated pie by the aproned servitor. There are paintings, including a religious triptych, some blue and white china, the usual up-against-the-wall furniture, including what looks like a massively ornate false fireplace to support the nativity triptych. The women’s clothing, with those ‘bum-rolls’, would stop them from lolling even if there was the right kind of furniture for reclining, which there isn’t. The sideboard radiates wealth: even the fireplace itself is made subordinate to that purpose of ostentation.

The monkey already is half ghostly, with pentimento of the tiles apparently showing through him. Over on this site:

one of those zealous photoshoppers has, as part of a competition, rendered all the figures ghostly, returning the picture half-way to how Van Bassen (perhaps) left it – and also creating a nice National Trust-like haunted house.

The major galleries world-wide seem to compete to have the best and most snazzily interactive on-line collection. The Detroit Institute of Arts has a marvellous Van Bassen, one of those Dutch paintings with a biblical scene grafted into the present:

It is a ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’, and the zoom-in detail, carrying you into Van Bassen’s architectural fantasy, is very rewarding: the son, kneeling to his father glimpsed through an archway, a courtyard, the banqueters rising to look out of the window at what the fuss is about. Just for a spell, you are in the past, where I tend to like to be.


Adam Roberts Project said...

I like the photoshopped version of the painting very much, with all those spectral figures in the room. Not so much haunted, I'd say, as time-lapsed; like those early C19th photos with very long sunlight exposures, where buildings stand massy and solid and human beings are reduced to transparent streaks and blurs.

DrRoy said...

There's a whole series of paintings treated in this manner: and another competition of alien abductions grafted into Renaissance art - and an alien anatomy class!