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Showing posts from August, 2012

Johannes Vermeer, The Procuress (1656)

Frans Hals, Buffoon Playing a Lute

Very rarely are Frans Hals’ people appeared without cheerful countenances or unpretentious smirks. Happiness reigns Hals’ portraits of people of his time, the aristocracies and the peasants alike. It therefore came not as a surprise if music should be served as an instrument for the paintings’ permeation of felicity. The buffoon in the picture has himself dressed to the festivity, gleefully plucking away the lute, glances sideward as if to engage the attention of the apple of his eye, whom the music is dedicated to. What makes his music tangibly and palpably felt is the tresses of his hair, which scamper about joyfully in midair.

From centuries on painters have tried to materialize the infectiousness of music among the listeners. Or the essence of music could be rendered with ingenious exactitude, as seen in Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (1432), in which some art historians alleged to identify the precise notes of the music solely through close study of the angels’ humming mouth. In …

Gustav Klimt, Judith I

The story of Judith beheading Holofernes reveals more violence than female heroism. Paintings or sculptures often depict Judith carrying triumphantly the head of her victim, in a fashion of the notorious Salome. Or she can also be seen stepping suavely on Holofernes’ head, like that in Giorgione’s, in which the heroine leaves her majestic beauty and elegance untarnished even when carrying out the bloodiest business. The pervasive serenity of Giorgione’s painting only augments the lurking horror.


Gustav Klimt whips up a different degree of horror in his depiction of the tale- the kind of horror that, at the sight of the painting the viewers blush. Or they might constantly dither between evading their furtive glance and transfixing boldly their eyes on every telling detail. In Judith I (1901), Klimt introduces a rare sentiment- that of an unreserved sexuality, which contradicts brazenly how Judith was originally portrayed- a widow with unquestionable virtue. Klimt’s Judith is modernize…

Caspar Wolf, Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen (1777)

Swiss painter Caspar Wolf was known primarily for his landscape paintings, those with the Alps to be precise. Wolf’s imagery of glaciers, waterfalls, caves or creeks are epic, and so much so that with the aid of the grey tone of colourisation in his paintings, those natural formations seem cold and impervious- a lurking hostility that welcomes not the viewers’ ready absorption. One can imagine standing before a grand painting by Wolf and not awed by its overwhelming magnificence but woefully dwarfed by its monstrosity.

Seen here the 1777 painting titled, Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen. A precipitous bridge straddles between the gorges, which magnitude dominates the majority of the canvas, and reduces the sky to merely a conical view. A rumbling stream of water races to its still pool, and the boisterous spirit within, reluctant to be transmuted abruptly to insipid sedateness, bubbles still white and frothy. I am immediately reminded of the great Flemish landscape painter, Joachim P…