In 2008 Vienna Museum featured hugely successful showcase of Vanitas in art. What would I give for the catalogue of it....
Favourite symbols beaming from the canvases
asking the question of Essential Melancholy:
|In ictu oculi ("In the blink of an eye") a vanitas by Juan de Valdés Leal|
Ubi sunt?¿Qué se fizo el rey don Juan?
Los infantes de Aragón ¿qué se fizieron?
¿Qué fue de tanto galán,
qué fue de tanta invención como trujeron?
The Spaniards made the genre and the motives of Melancholy and Nostalgia and functionally distilled symbolism of vanitas so attractively convincing in the ear of Baroque that it proliferated along the sphere of the Habsburg-related political and cultural influence that it flourished abundantly in the Northern Europe.
Portraits, usually created posthumously were created on metal or wood and attached to the coffin or a catafalque as part of the Castrum doloris (a castel of Grief) in the Theatrum funebris.
In the Western Northern Europe, in the Netherlands, the still life, one of the favourite genre of Vanitas in painting continued its Spanish traditions with painters such as Pieter Claesz, Willem Claeszoon Heda and his school. The paintings continued to influence the sense of mystical, unsettled, the dark.
It also, quite characteristically, literally flourished with the specific sub-genre with flowers as the main subject of still-life paintings, that were not just a mere botanical showcasing but carried serious layers of symbolism, manifested by the flowers providence, as well as its various stages of either vitality of weathering, hence bringing up the passage of time, or Tempus fugit.
|C.H. Vroom, source Wikipedia|
The mode of nostalgia had subtly emerged in Netherlands on the airy canvases of particularly Protestant painters: Cornelis Hendriksz Vroom, Salomon Ruisdael and mysterious landscapes of his nephew, Jacob Isaakshoon van Ruisdael*.
|Jan Vermeer, source Wikipedia|
It is especially scenes such as the vast skies and expanses of water of Vermeer’s View of Delft of the View of Harleem by Ruisdael that sublimated the tone of nostalgia at its utmost levels of quietude and peacefulness. The subject matter of those landscapes often included the images of the sea or river fearers, the fisher people, inherently suggestive of solitude, hardship or longing made some of the paintings much less desirable as a wealthy Dutch home décor item.
This particular style with its naturalism and distinct notions such as solitude, loneliness, vastness, were later continued by the Romantics, especially in the North, with particular light in the Baltic region.
This nostalgia, however, has nothing to do with melancholy.
|Ruysdael, View of Haarlem, ca 1670; source Wikipedia|
It almost denies the traits of melancholy. Nostalgia is always in danger of becoming a kitsch, while melancholia never strays in the direction of the familiar.
|Ruysdael, View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds|
ca 1665; source: ww.wga.h
* All mentions of Ruisdael I would like to dedicate to my Mother.
She is a great one for absorbing and contemplating art and literature.
There were paintings by Ruisdael in the National Museum in Poznan, where she has been taking me since I was so young that I had to look up to the paintings.
The vastness and expanse of the views, the airy breathy atmosphere obviously made an impression on the kid. Once important "Old Masters" by Eugène Fromentin was always at her reach.
Fromentin, maintained that "art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible".She has given me this book in the mid-1990ies.