Thursday, February 19, 2009

Judgment shall dwell in the wilderness

This is the first of three (probably) postings on art in The Hague, which I visited earlier this week. The Mauritshuis has two side panels from a triptych painted by Gerard David c1510-15 which at first sight appear to be sections of an early independent landscape painting. However, the animals that can be seen by the pond - an ass and an ox - may refer to verses in the Bible (Isaiah 32): 'Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Then judgement shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field... Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.' On Feast Days the doors of the triptych would be opened to reveal the fulfilment of this prophecy. This interior can be seen at The Met: The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard.

According to the Met website, Friedländer thought these landscapes originally included the figures of Adam and Eve; 'however, no trace of such figures is visible with the naked eye, and, as many authors have observed, there is hardly room for them in the landscape as it is.'

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