Recognize this Rembrandt? The Princess of Lichtenstein gave it to the National Gallery of Canada in 1953, the year I was born, and now it’s here in Winnipeg till August. Don’t miss your chance to see it. This painting was originally called The Jewish Bride and Rembrandt might have been thinking of the biblical Queen Esther when he painted it. Certainly the central figure’s gold jewelry, elegant attire and doting attendant indicate she was a woman of wealth and her face suggests she was contemplating something serious. If you know Esther’s story she certainly had plenty of serious stuff to think about. Likely Rembrandt’s wife Saskia or his sister Lisbeth were his models.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery director has borrowed a hundred famous paintings from galleries all across Canada to put on display in honor of the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s 100th birthday. I gave my first three tours of the 100 Masters exhibit this week! It was very exciting! I had a group of grade fours who peppered me with excellent questions, a group of grade ones who were such great art detectives and a group of grade tens who were intrigued by the work.
In this blog post I’ll tour the first room called The Old Masters 1500-1700. I can’t write about every piece of art so I’ll just highlight a few I find interesting.
Lucas Cranach was obsessed with Adam and Eve. He did over thirty paintings of their story. Although the Genesis account tells us Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness before they succumbed to the wily snake (coiled around the top of the tree) Cranach still tastefully conceals the couple’s lower genital regions. However he makes no attempt to hide Eve’s breasts. This painting depicts the Garden of Eden story in a way that has caused undeserved persecution of females throughout history by portraying women as seductive temptresses who get men into trouble. As if males have no minds and wills of their own! Eve is shown luring Adam into sin with the apple and her body. Some say the stag is a symbol of Christ. Cranach was good friends with religious reformer Martin Luther. It’s interesting to ponder Cranach’s painting depicting the origin of sin while thinking about Luther’s theology of salvation by grace.
A stag and a beautiful nude female also play a prominent role in this art piece. Diana the goddess of the hunt rides on the stag. Diana was bathing nude when a young hunter named Actaeon spied her. An embarrassed Diana splashed water on him and he turned into a stag. His fellow hunters didn’t recognize him, set their hounds (shown under the stag) on him and killed him. Once again we have a beautiful woman causing the demise of a tempted man. This piece has a mechanical base and when it was placed on a dinner table it actually moved from diner to diner and stopped in front of them. Each guest could then lift the stag’s head and drink wine which had been poured into the artwork’s hollow interior.
Why is this guy sticking his finger in a skull’s nose? Apparently to show how short our lives are. The artist only lived to be 46 and when he was 34 he became a Jesuit priest. Ten years later he decided to go to China to save souls but the other priests on the journey sent him away because they said he was ‘unstable’ and ‘incompatible.’ He then spent two years in a Jesuit community in India before he died.
Jesus and his mother are looking at each other sadly in this pair of panels. Blood runs down Jesus’ face, tears trickle down Mary’s. Jesus’ robe is red and the background in his mother’s painting is red. Mary’s robe is black and the background behind her son is black. Her head is covered with a white cloth, his with prickly thorns. His hands are open showing the nail holes, hers are closed in prayer for her wounded son. These paintings remind me of my walk down the Via Delorosa (the Way of Sorrow) in the old city of Jerusalem.
The 100 Masters is at the Winnipeg Art Gallery till August. I want to do more posts about all the rooms in the exhibit. The exhibition is well worth a visit!
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