“World Paintings”

“The aesthetic regurgitation of geological awfulness was exactly what Karel van Mander meant when he described Pieter Bruegel the Elder as swallowing whole mountains and rocks and vomiting them up again on canvases and panels. Leonardo’s god-like shaping hand set on the awesome mountainside now became the Fleming’s gift for making mountains palatable. For while many of those who bought the etchings made from Bruegel’s Alpine drawings were merchants, we can be sure that they were not drawn to the images as souvenirs of the road. In fact they were something like the very opposite: an idealized composite of the world taken in at a single Olympian glance. For the point of view of Bruegel’s Dark Day (February,), for example, is not so much mountainous as avian. The prospect hangs from an elevation so impossibly high that it can travel, pushed by Bruegel’s firecely strong lines of composition, through a whole sucession of arbitrarily stiched together, discrete landscapes: Flemish cottages, Mediterranean river mouth, and Alpine needle-peaks. As Walter Gibson, who has written preceptively about these so-called “world paintings” has observed, they came toWorld Paintings be a painterly equivalent of the extensive maps that were produced as a speciality in Antwrp and later in Amsterdam. And the scenes, painted a decade after Gesner’s descriptions, certainly correspond to his exhilaration that from high altitudes an entire cosmography might be surveyed and vicariously possessed. Even Bruegel, though, refrained from attempting to convey Gesner’s claim that from a mountatop one might “observe…on a single day…the four seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (as well as) the whole firmament of heavan open to your gaze.” – Schama, Landscape & Memory, p 431

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s