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was so fascinating about the aeroccino
sonnet is one it was old
reputed to be one of the first
pornographic printed books that so many
celebrities were involved with it great
artists great authors the papacy itself
so many people were prosecuted people
went to jail people had to flee for
their lives what I found most
interesting about the illustrations is
that other than the crudity of the wood
cuts the images were extremely modern if
people today somehow think that they
discovered sex or sex in the 20th
century is different from sex previously
they’re very very mistaken during the
400 year absence of the mo D it became
the desired erotic artifact emulated and
adapted by subsequent generations of
artists it established a prototype for
erotica in Western culture that endured
for nearly three centuries by banning
erotic imagery the papacy had created a
defining precondition for pornography a
transgressive taste for the forbidden
the story of the censorship of the Modi
is interesting in the sense that it was
not only a delightful delicious scandal
but it really was was a sort of
unprecedented attempt to censor and
circumscribed what artists could produce
and offer to their society the matter of
censorship of erotica certainly
developed as erotica became available to
the masses quote/unquote when you had
rich powerful people who were able to
have erotica produced specifically for
them it wasn’t it wasn’t a problem they
were the government they didn’t see
themselves being corrupted by it if
anything they saw themselves immune from
it yet they were very afraid of the
effect it would have on other people
in 1559 responding to the circulation of
what was seen as heretical and immoral
works Pope Paul the fourth issued the
first index of forbidden books but the
growth of erotic literature continued to
spread throughout Europe the 18th
century a time of fierce religious and
social upheaval witnessed an explosion
of sexually explicit publications
many of these were written by
philosophers of the Enlightenment period
who often congregated at the Procop cafe
in Paris they embraced the popular form
of erotic literature to produce what
historian peter Wagner terms libertine
propaganda
these publications lifted the skirts of
whores and the Kasich’s of priests to
engage the reader in issues of freedom
from the oppressive moral strictures of
church and state
when the filler self tried to get their
ideas across along the way they will hit
to the Catholic Church because it stands
in the way to their to their ideas to
what they want to get across to the
people so what they do is they take holy
figures and turn them into ridicule a by
connecting them with erotic or sexual
acts
I talked mostly about 18th century
publications that have an a
philosophical overtone and philosophical
aim that’s quite obvious but they use
erotic material or pornographic material
to come on to you’ve got to get your
audience interested if you just talk
about ideas and 1000 year old debates
people will not read the books john
Cleland’s infamous Fanny Hill the first
English work to enter the pornographic
mainstream in 1748 was despite its
reputation as mere titillation an astute
social satire it appeared at a time when
revolutionary forces in France were
calling for democracy and the abolition
of the monarchy erotic literature now
aggressively promoted the rights of the
individual to express a sexuality that
was free of control from church and
state but sexually explicit literature
had touched on serious political
questions long before this Michele
Molly’s lay cold a fee for example was
published 100 years earlier this was a
very important book as far as
pornography is concerned and the
functions of pornography you have again
a classical situation there’s an older
experienced woman who knows it all who’s
seen it all and there’s a novice who’s
got to be introduced to the trade there
is an enlightening aspect to the whole
thing as a young girl learns quite a lot
about the body about the sexual
activities about functions of the body
this was a kind of necessary information
that you get and the only area that
provided you with it was the
pornographic market but there is also a
very explicit part of it think about
samuel peeps buying a copy of it and
masturbating over it
afterwards
[Music]
dramatic advances in print craftsmanship
particularly in France made possible a
far greater degree of realism in erotic
book illustration
this shifted the emphasis of
publications away from the philosophical
text towards much more explicit
masturbatory images
[Music]
pictures cannot speak but they are
stronger than words and so when you have
illustrated books and there are lots of
them in the Renaissance and later in in
the 18th century I think then the
pornographic aspect takes over
especially if those representations are
realistic and if they are explicit
because you might have something else
you might have the English comic prose
as with Thomas Rollins and for instance
that destroys the aim of pornography
which is sexual stimulation the
cartoonist Thomas Rowland since most
outrageous work epitomizes the British
approach to sexual imagery at the time
moral trepidation expressed through
humor and the grotesque but it also
reflected Rowland sense passionate
interest in the dramatic events taking
place across the channel the French
Revolution of 1789 some people would
call this pornographic I wouldn’t it’s
not a celebration of sexuality it is
rather a warning against the powerful
female less women of often shown be
nymphomaniacs and here the grotesqueness
and the futility of seniors and he picks
up on the long tradition of English
caricature faces that partly come from
Hogarth for instance you might get the
idea that there was prototypes of
pornography but there is nothing that I
know that is being truly newly invented
it’s always almost always taken over
from earlier sources the woman again is
a typical example of her Reynolds or
Gainsborough lady transported here into
pornography and her body is there to be
invaded as a Churchill we have this
before even in Shakespeare we have a
many of these are being produced during
or after the French Revolution there is
a revolution or aspect about the whole
thing I mean for the first time in
English art somebody comes along and
shows you the sexual act
Hogarth never does it nobody before
rowlandson I know does it in this way
the Palais Royale in Paris
in 1789 at the outbreak of the French
Revolution this was the pleasure center
of the city home to prostitution
gambling and the sale of erotic
literature as revolutionary forces
strengthened and the freedom of the
presses became a political reality
traditional erotica written by the
aristocracy for the aristocracy was
overtaken by pornographic pamphlets
written by all manner of would-be
philosophers and printed cheaply for the
people these pamphlets ridicule data
generate monarchy and ruling class with
explicit tales of wanton sexual deviancy
and corruption hundreds of street
vendors and booksellers now walked
pornographic pamphlets aimed at
demolishing an entire system
Dahlia hachoo revolution a pornography
cases unlike other forms of pornography
pornographic literature during the
Revolution was designed to be read out
loud in public his cock is limp for me
and stiffens for some asshole rage
despair my poor little pussy likley to
your vile man may become one the writing
was far less refined and literary open
previously it was rather journalistic in
style a running commentary on current
and political events the way in which
these works were read out loud and heard
was itself quite unique as a rule the
street hawkers would encourage
passers-by to gather round them in
public they would then read these texts
to a sort of makeshift audience it was
very much a case of attracting a crowd
of bystanders or potential buyers it was
an effect a kind of street performance
spectacular the poor flip on a graphic
atif every kept the print shops were
located in the Latin Quarter on the
other side of the River Seine and the
place where these works were read was
right here in the Palais Royale okay I
figure I could mess so there was a
full-blown smuggling operation which
involved the street hawkers often buying
these books from the printers then
bringing them back here to the Palais
Royale to sell them directly to the
public to the book so is he open my
young cat Susan salt it’s what the
snippet about four or five hundred
different titles were produced and sold
any street hooker might have had several
hundred books on him and sometimes
police raids on book shops netted
several thousand of these little books
deucey deucey
louis xvi was an obvious target
pamphlets attached the sacred body of
the king accusing him of homosexuality
and impotence if he wasn’t a real man he
wasn’t fit to rule since his matchstick
is about as thick as a bit of straw and
always limp and curled up his cocks only
good for his pockets instead of fucking
he is fucked but their main target was
the king’s wife Marie Antoinette in an
unprecedented attack on the morals of a
queen pamphlets accused her of sleeping
with the king’s brother her maids no
allegation was too extreme
she was depicted as a nymphomaniac a
kind of arch betrayer of true love it
was even suggested that the Queen wanted
to keep all the pleasure for herself and
she was accused of being a lesbian rumor
had it that the Queen together with her
ladies-in-waiting was out to rob man of
their rightful pleasure
so through pornography the Queen was
subjected to truly violent attacks to
such an extent that by the beginning of
the revolution she had become the victim
of ridicule appreciate if a body hunched
naked stark naked sometimes at night on
the down of a soft wing chair she
unburdened herself of the day’s
restraints with the help of a certain
finger Love’s Porter she arrived all
alone in her bed a throbbing tips her
lovely eyes and her mouth half parted
softly panting seemed to invite the
challenge of a good fuck this
constituted a form of revenge taken by
men against the Queen the pamphlets were
extremely misogynistic and violent
against the Queen as a symbol of
femininity
– Wow the female of the role Vito is
ranking ugly wrinkled worn-out faded
hideous frightful monster in every way
one cannot look at you without trembling
or imagine you without thinking of
Jezebel
there is no Jehovah to sacrifice you –
we despise you too much but there are
dogs to feast on your course they are
waiting for you
pornographic pamphleteering had been
instrumental in preparing the masses for
the eventual execution
the word Renaissance was originally
applied to the flowering of Arts and
learning that occurred here in Italy
underlying the term was the idea that
present attainments were a rebirth of a
golden age local to Italy namely ancient
Rome
Italy’s real monopoly on artistic
rebirth began in the 16th century with
the first modern historians of art most
of whom as it happened were Italian
filled with local pride they obscured
the nature of the great century of
change for 100 years earlier in the 15th
century even Italians look northward to
the art of yawn van Eyck for examples of
supreme artistic achievement
yawn van Eyck made paintings that for
the first time resembled almost
perfectly the real world
so much so that he transformed the craft
of painting into the supreme art his
work launched an artistic Renaissance in
northern Europe that rivals the
achievements of his Italian
contemporaries and that remains
uncannily relevant to us today I’ll be
telling the story of this other
Renaissance this northern one
it’s an astonishing movement that
founded some of our most deeply held
beliefs about art and about artists
it begins with a new way of painting but
it soon expands to become a true image
revolution at around 1500 a young german
painter harnessed a new technology that
transformed everything the printing
press made images available to a vastly
expanded audience and this painter used
it to become the first world-famous
artist
soon the image revolution of the North
became a revolt against images instead
of making images people passionately
broke them and in the wake of that
destruction modern art was born taken
together these breakthroughs created a
Northern Renaissance that changed art
forever
in the year 14 20 year was a continent
in the shadow of an unprecedented
catastrophe just 60 years earlier plague
had wiped out more than a third of the
entire population the church stood
divided with rival popes in Rome and
Avignon meanwhile the old political
powers of the north England and France
were locked in a conflict that would
last 100 years
but one area above all others was
flourishing Flanders in present-day
Belgium in Holland and from there a
profound artistic revolution spread out
across the continent
st. bhavas Cathedral in Ghent still
holds the painting a great altarpiece
that started that revolution
the Ghent Altarpiece has overwhelmed
viewers since it stood complete in 1432
people of the time pronounced it the
most beautiful work in Christendom and
its chief creator Yann van Eyck was
deemed the prince of painters today it
remains arguably the finest single
painting in the world and of all its
many wonders the one most singled out
for praise is the figure of Adam to
early observers this painted Adam looked
like a living being paint captures the
minut subtleties of flesh blood seems to
pulse beneath flesh and the skin of
Adam’s hands and face is visibly tanned
by the Sun one detail intensifies this
semblance of animation Adam raises his
big toe so that you can see its
underside the toe seems even to stick
out of the stone niche where the figure
stands allowing Adam to appear to step
into our world
remember this is Adam Adam who sinned
who therefore died and who as the
ongoing consequence of his sin made us
all mortal
in the painting Adam lives again
resurrected he strides towards the
paradise he lost for the first time in
the history of art the dead were seen to
live again
and with this rebirth a new historical
epoch began here in northern Europe this
period had a different shape and
different hero’s than the more famous
Renaissance in Italy yet in a sense the
Northern Renaissance is the more
stunning rebirth and the man who
launched it here in Ghent was according
to the people of the time the greatest
painter who ever lived and through
astonishing paintings like this Yan van
Eyck reinvented what his craft at its
highest level could do more than any
single artist he made painting into the
ultimate art
during the preceding century all across
Europe the Supreme Arts both in price
and in status were luxury objects made
of a mixture of expensive materials
today these are generally consigned to
museums of decorative or applied art the
market for these objects was
international centered on the courts of
royalty and nobility and because these
artists themselves circulated through
these courts all works no matter what
their medium or purpose have the same
recognizable look and the same elegant
style style advertised a person’s
belonging to a certain lifestyle it
exhibited the magnificence that
distinguished Nobles from ordinary
people things in the courtly style aim
to look expensive
ideally they consisted of the most
expensive materials worked in the most
time-consuming ways this explains the
dominance of tapestries as an art form
the finest tapestries would be woven of
silk thread individually entwined and
silver and gold they told stories
commemorating famous victories or
religious scenes but by the beginning of
the 15th century the hunger for such
ostentatiously luxurious objects such as
tapestry began to be replaced by a taste
for something new and this change took
root in the most lavish culture in
Europe of the time the court of the Duke
of Burgundy to recover that now
forgotten world we need to travel south
from Flanders
the dynasty of the Dukes of Burgundy
had its traditional seat in the wine
growing regions southeast of Paris but
through marriage diplomacy and war their
territories eventually stretched all the
way back to Flanders in this culture
magnificence publicized power indeed the
Dukes sincerely believed that their own
lavish spending trickled down to benefit
the entire population of Burgundy
according to economic theorists of the
day courtly expenditure was like the
wind that drives the windmills like the
rain that fertilizes the fields
the works the Dukes commissioned
included hundreds of huge precious
tapestries enough to cover their many
residences inside and out useless but
staggeringly costly objects made of gold
gems pearls and opaque enamel were
displayed briefly only to be melted down
to make new confections indeed like the
fabulous foods served at Burgundian
court festivities such works took long
to prepare but were swiftly consumed the
first Duke of an expanded burgundy
assembled a dazzling team of artists
including one momentous innovator the
Netherland ish sculptor Klaus looter and
it’s in his work in the medium of carved
stone that a new realism first appears
before Schlueter in the great cathedrals
of Western Europe monumental sculpture
remain subordinate to architecture inert
figures stood contained by the
structures they embellished sluder
changed all this imagine who lived in
the year 1400 and you were asked to
predict which art would reign supreme
over the next six hundred years I think
if you came to the well of Moses here in
Dijon you would place your bet on
sculpture
the sculptor of this well Schlueter has
been able to do things with stone which
no one previously had been able to do
he’s able to give each of these figures
of Old Testament prophets a gravity and
a presence which makes them look like
living beings
it’s not simply the way he represents
them in the round as figures capable of
movement but it’s also the way he
individualizes each of the figures the
way the shoes are built the way the
clothing hangs such that each of the
figures seems both alive and completely
individualized
while painting was an important art in
this period it was not yet the art of
arts indeed it was often little more
than an embellishment to sculpture altar
pieces of the period show clearly that
sculpture was the dominant craft
paintings occur in these ensembles on
the shutters on the outer part to the
everyday side they tell stories and
prepare the way for the glorious
spectacle that will occur when they open
up and that spectacle that climax both
ritually as well as aesthetically of the
altarpiece occurs in the medium of
sculpture not painting the painting on
the wings of this altarpiece in Dijon
was created by the artist Melchior
brooder lamb just 12 years before the
Ghent Altarpiece it’s typical of
painting of the time and while the
stories at towels are clear the figures
in them and especially the spaces
between them look awkward to the modern
eye
Courtley patrons did value highly one
form of painting however books of ours
the illuminators of these private prayer
books were the cutting edge painters of
their day working within the miniature
confines of the prayer book illuminators
of the period were masters of spatial
manipulation for them an inch of vellum
was enough to invoke an entire world
and in the decades around 1,400
manuscript illumination raised its
prestige through spectacular artistic
achievements first pictorial space is
confined to a sort of box like a doll’s
house that looks as if it projects
outward from the surface of the page
then in the second half of the 14th
century a new standard is set sealed off
from the rest of the page by a frame the
illuminated image reads like a view
through an opening or window into a
coherent world
once opened that world could be
infinitely expanded encompassing whole
landscapes in which sacred scenes as
well as the activities of everyday life
get played out
now instead of a flat surface covered by
writing an ornament
there could be windows everywhere each
one opening to a burst of
three-dimensional space
these experiments served a particular
aim namely to enhance the viewers
experience of sacred persons and stories
so illuminators fostered an intimate
dialogue between image and beholder that
achieves what we expect of great art
today
at the climax of this tradition there
emerged a master who could do everything
from infinite landscapes to perfectly
realized interiors in paintings by this
exceptional master the painted image
escapes the bounds of the illuminated
book art historians have attributed
these wildly innovative miniatures to
the young yan van Eyck
yawn van Eyck self-portrait painted in
1433 brings the painter alive in a way
that written historical documents of the
time cannot only fragments of his life
story have survived but those fragments
are more than we know about any other
northern painter of the time in this
period painters didn’t enjoy a special
status among craftsmen in fact they were
ranked rather low on par with tanners
and Undertaker’s maybe because they got
their hands dirty but maybe because they
made graven images something frowned on
by the Bible what is surprising is how
much we do know about Van Dyck and we
know about a mainly because of the
quality of his work sheer artistry
caused people to save and to gather
facts about the artist Van Dyck smiliar
helped to the Burgundian court
cultivated new ideas about personal
skill and about Fame
finally van Eyck’s artworks themselves
speak about the artist
unlike the anonymous paintings which
preceded them his pictures include
signatures dates personal mottos even
self-portraits to a degree never seen
before van Eyck’s works celebrates the
person who made them already a famous
artist by 1425 Yann Van Dyke’s
achievements drew him to the attention
of the ultimate patron of the day Philip
the good Duke of Burgundy he undertook
secret missions for the Duke traveling
around Europe
as his ambassador while traveling he
produced portraits of prospective
spouses for Philip none of which
survived but we do know that one
likeness of Isabella of Portugal please
the Duke so much that he chose to marry
her in 1430 for his artistic and
ambassadorial services Van Dyck received
lavish payments when a bookkeeper tried
lowering his salary the Duke intervened
stating that he could find no other
painter equal to our tastes or as
excellent in matters of art and science
and because the Duke held him in such
esteem Van Eyck was free to work for
clients who were not based at the courts
more than any other single work the
altarpiece in the town of Ghent in
Belgium launched the Renaissance in
northern Europe it was donated to st.
Baba’s Cathedral by one of anacs other
clients a merchant and the mayor of
Ghent yost fight with its shutters
closed the altarpiece commemorates the
donors piety van Eyck shows fight and
his wife in niches praying to sculpted
effigies of saints
above them in what seems a cutaway view
of an upper room of the actual church
the Virgin receives Christ in her womb
Fite financed an entire private chapel
within the cathedral and it was there
behind the altar that van Eyck’s great
work originally stood the name is used
of eight was mayor of the city of Ghent
in the fifteenth century and a very rich
man and on the other side today a
full-scale copy lets visitors experience
the perfect fit between the chapel and
the altarpiece over the centuries
reports survived of artists astonished
by the work in 1521 the world-famous
painter albert durer came to view it and
pronounced it a priceless painting of
profound understanding by then less than
a hundred years after it was painted it
was already a tourist attraction
visitors paid high fees to see it let
fountain to back she’d John during the
iconoclasm that swept northern Europe in
the 16th century when Protestants
smashed the images and churches van
Eyck’s altarpiece was spirited to safety
under Napoleon the work was taken to
Paris and then was divided up scattering
individual panels across Europe these
were only reunited after the first world
war in 1919 two of the panel’s were
stolen and held ransom in 1934 this one
was never recovered a copy still marks
its place
the Ghent Altarpiece was designed and
painted for this Chapel every painted
object in the altarpiece is shown
reacting to light as if it’s a real
object here in space and you can see
this immediately in the closed form of
the altar in which all the statues and
the two donors the fights are all lit
exactly from that part of the chapel
where the Sun streams in and wood if
these were real statues cast shadows and
highlights in the way they do in Van
Dyke’s picture the closed state is
complex the open state is even more
complex
again everything in the picture reacts
to the light and the space exactly as
real figures would in such a situation
but here because of the nature of the
subject and because he’s added this
stupendous element of color because he’s
multiplied the detail the level of
relations between the world out here and
the world of the picture becomes almost
infinite every one of the jewels every
part of the complex tapestry of this
picture is carefully programmed to react
to the light that’s in this room so for
example the figure of Adam who comes
from the left has highlights in his eye
whereas the figure of Eve who is shaded
in this real space has no highlights in
her eye
there are even certain jewels ones on
the angels on the left which reflect the
actual shape and position of the window
which lights them today the actual
painting has been removed from the
setting van Eyck’s masterpiece stands in
another part of the church encased in a
chamber of bulletproof glass
it’s a willfully complex ensemble
two-tiered like the closed shutters and
dominated by a vision of God
throned at the center looking straight
out the deity subordinates everything to
himself including the viewer constantly
in his gaze
below him in the landscape of heavenly
paradise the saved worship eternally on
an altar the Lamb of God symbol of
Christ’s sacrifice for Humanity
and from that altar the water of the
fountain of life flows into our space
along a small dish two paradises flowery
lawn
this little gali is one of the most
momentous passages in the history of
European painting van Eyck’s entire
spectacle invites us to soar visually to
the distant horizon infinity had never
been depicted as compellingly as this
the gully carries the waters of
salvation from infinity back to us
drawing close we notice amazingly the
earth is filled with jewels this makes
sense paradise will be paved with
precious stones it also makes symbolic
sense for at this altar mere bread is
transformed into the divine body of
Christ but the golly
is more than just a religious symbol it
distills the essence of the painter’s
craft in its transformation into jewels
paint itself performs the kind of
miracle that the scene depicted
celebrates through sheer artistry the
base matter of paint has been
transformed into precious jewels through
Van Dyke’s labor earth itself has become
the perfect image of heaven
how did van Eyck do it how did he make
paint mere pigments resemble transparent
reflective gemstones his early admirer
suspected that he had discovered some
secret process they assumed that the
process was of a chemical or even
alchemical kind the idea that yan Van
Eyck possessed a secret technical skill
was amplified by the first two story in
of Western art Vasari who claimed that
this northern painter personally
invented oil paint
Vasari was wrong oil was an ingredient
in painting long before Van Eyck as this
painting the Westminster edible created
a hundred and fifty years before Van
Eyck shows but for sorry got right the
dazzling new effect Van Eyck achieved in
oil and I’ve come to the Hamilton Kerr
Institute at Cambridge University to
discover how yan Van Dyck transformed
base materials into beautiful images
they conserve and restore paintings here
and to do this you have to know how
paintings were made well this is
ultramarine lapis lazuli it’s a mineral
but he would have got from what’s now
Afghanistan it’s transformed into the
pigment ultramarine a very rich blue and
by a very complicated procedure of
processing yes it seems like there are
some imperfections yes there are there
are impurities in the mineral copper
mainly which they would have extracted
and during them the process to purify
the blue to purify the blue so that when
they were painting with it is actually
very high quality and it would have been
very expensive for that reason and and
also because of the transportation in
those days going all the way and into
northern Europe from across the sea
Ultima reen yes what materials might he
have used for his Reds in the period
there were two particular red lakes that
were most common madder matters a plant
and it comes from the root
and or cochineal and which is made from
the crushed up shells of beetles ah you
can see their little bodies still yes
yes and none are moving huh nay that
very joy right more what yon van I did
more expertly than any other painter of
the time was to build up layers of paint
one on top of the other to create deeper
richer colors then on top of these he
would add layers of different oil-based
glazes like this one an almost
translucent substance made from the
plant matter and pine oil then on top of
these layers he would add more layers
layers of oil-based glaze these were
made and applied with incredible care so
that different sections of the painted
picture would come to reflect light in a
precise and distinctive way similar to
the way the surfaces of the represented
objects would in reality reflect light
this is different for previous painting
and it’s completely different from how
we imagined painting to proceed this
isn’t about capturing a perception with
the brush it’s not about painting forms
that resemble through outline in color
real objects is about recreating the
object itself by simulating and paint
the inner structure of its materials the
effect is a remarkable illusion that
what we see is real and not painted yet
it is all just paint
and this is what amazes me most about
yon van Eyck earlier painting can be
exquisite in its own way with elegant
lines and plausible details while parts
of these pictures are painted the
artists pursue their effects
inconsistently the most vivid example of
this is when it comes to the
representation of gold and jewels
something that much of the painting of
the time uses to signify holiness it’s
notable that that I didn’t use gold leaf
to represent gold objects in his
pictures instead he painted objects as
gold and he never introduced foreign
elements into his victory never placed
upon the panel that he works for example
an actual jewel that was common in the
period before yan Van Dyck he creates a
consistent surface and that consistency
allows the picture to achieve a another
order of consistency namely that
whatever is in the picture appears
consistent with the world outside of the
picture that is that the whole picture
builds up an illusion of a global
consistency which we ourselves inhabit
so to the viewer the illusion of his
paintings the fiction of the painted
world as real never breaks
and if these pictures look real to us
today what might they have looked like
when they were first painted it’s hard
for us to imagine today how Van Dyke’s
pictures would have been understood by
people of the time today were bombarded
by virtual realities which make even
photographs look inert remember what
pictures looked like before Van Eyck
certainly the culture was filled with
images yet these looked like man-made
artifacts like beautiful things in the
world rather than like windows open to
the world to what then could van Eyck’s
pictures be compared only to natural
images which is to say to reflections
such as could be most vividly observed
in mirrors this picture of the Canon
George Van der Pella before the Virgin
and Child shimmers with reflected light
it shows the cleric brought in front of
the Virgin by his patron saint Saint
George the figure in Armour yon van Dyck
deliberately fills the scene with
reflective surfaces inviting viewers to
observe the similarity between painting
and the mirrors that painting can depict
these surfaces multiply the world around
the Saints armor even reflects the
artist himself working on the painting
we behold
a sentence written on the frame adds
meaning to these reflections it compares
the Virgin to perfectly reflected light
with God as the illuminating source van
Eyck’s picture then is like the Virgin
being itself a mirror of that same light
from God today
painters get their paint ready-made in
tubes but the Forgotten alchemy of
pigments that van Eyck mastered still
fascinates part of the reason his
innovations in oils is important is
because they haven’t been improved on
it’s absurd to think that given all the
other innovations over the centuries oil
painting is still the best way of
depicting a human being in the to
develop two-dimensional form it’s
because of the way in which you can use
glazes to suggest a certain kind of
vibrancy of light and reflections which
make it feel like there’s something
coming out of the picture towards you
but also using the dark colors to
suggest space going away behind plus
because it stays wet for a little while
if someone comes to sit for you a day or
two later and you see something see them
in a different way you can put that in
straight into the picture I’m having to
start a whole nother layer over the top
even photography with all its huge
benefits and exciting innovations it
still can’t create the same illusions
that a painting can when it’s there
because of the way the oil painting is
built up in layers and those layers play
play games and with the light in a way
that nothing else can do it’s hard now
to just to imagine what life was like it
aren’t art turned before that before he
was around
almost more than any other product
paintings are the embodiment of labor
they require not particularly expensive
materials they’re made just out of oil
and pigment some expensive but but
broadly speaking inexpensive compared to
golden jewels and what makes them
valuable as the labor that went into
making them yan Van Dyke’s labor raised
the status of painting almost
immediately the illusions he created
were so convincing that in some ways
painting could hide that it was painting
and since his products didn’t look
handmade he could claim a higher status
than that of mere craftsmen working with
his hands but there were also advantages
to consumers
instead of paying for gold and jewels
now they could buy painted substitutes
at a fraction of the cost so to whom to
this new art appeal
the Bruges archive holds an amazing
collection of records dating back to the
early 15th century when Bruges was the
economic hub of Europe full of wealthy
merchants the townspeople who lived and
worked here noted all the important
events in the life of their town and one
of these remarkable records takes us
back to the birth of a whole new market
for painting
this is an important piece of the puzzle
it’s an extraordinary document dated
1432 it records visit made by the city
magistrates and the mayor to the Atelier
of Yann Van Eyck in Bruges
it speaks of their wanting to see the
work of his assistants which means that
by this point van Eyck’s not working
alone but that he has already an
extensive workshop it also indicates the
interest that the citizenry took already
in Van Dyke’s art the visit of the
Bruges magistrates documented here marks
the beginning of a long mutual
relationship between a new type of
painting and a new urban elite and the
kind of painting they desired more than
any other was a portrait of themselves a
portrait is and ever was a lasting
memorial to you it’s something that
grants you posterity it’s something your
family will keep and value portraits had
been only there for Saints and kings the
new portrait painting allows more modest
families to have a replica of grandpa
that can be hung on the living room wall
that’s a new idea it also allows you to
say I have had the great Van Eyck paint
my portrait courts of kings and Dukes of
Burgundy get Van Eyck portraits this
tells you how important I am there’s a
fashion for having yourself painted it’s
a very secular urge because this isn’t
on a per honor an altarpiece this isn’t
somewhere where people will say he’s
very godly but it is a conspicuous way
of showing that you are a match for
princes yan Van Dyck excelled in
portraiture and he created innovative
devices such as the 3/4 view where the
sitter turns half way towards the
profile position still today the classic
portrait format after Van Eyck portrait
painting became a kind of industry its
master was the Bruges painter Hunt’s
Memling Memling took van Eyck’s
innovative format and developed it with
backgrounds and more detail his work is
remarkable as a document of the people
who lived in Bruges and Flanders almost
600 years ago
but in van Eyck’s hands portraiture does
more than simply record a person’s
physical appearance it realizes in the
form of a concrete vision the sitter’s
deepest spiritual desires as well
this is one of Yan Vinayak’s most
celebrated works it’s a painting of the
most important man in the administration
of the dukes of burgundy the Chancellor
of the entire Burgundian realm
a man named Nicholas Rowland Rolla rose
from a humble estate to become one of
the most powerful men in Europe one
chronicler wrote that it was humanly
impossible to imagine how rich Nicholas
Rolla was to enter Roland’s world we
need to go to an extraordinary place
south of Dijon and encounter there the
work of another supreme Flemish painter
it’s an altarpiece painted by the great
painter Roger van der Weiden who emerged
slightly later than van Eyck and who
developed under van Eyck’s influence
commissioned by Nicolas rola it was
painted in Flanders and transported here
Nicolas Rowland was a master calculator
he was the chief administrator of
Europe’s wealthiest region and he knew
how to turn a profit on every
transaction he handled
like others of the time rollin believed
that heaven had an economy too but a
different one than here on earth this
idea of a divine calculation appears at
the center of the great Last Judgement
altarpiece that Rowland commissioned for
his hospital here in bone-like the Ghent
Altarpiece this great ensemble has been
moved out of its original home it once
sat just across the courtyard from its
current position in the Chapel of the
Charity Hospital dating from the early
15th century entirely funded by Nicholas
Rowland the sick would have laid in beds
like these and from there they could
have seen the altar and the Mass
celebrated for them on ordinary days
with the altar closed they would have
seen a portrait of their benefactor
rollin and on feast days when the altar
opened up they could have beheld a
spectacle of the faith that awaited them
and from that spectacle God himself
would look down upon them and beyond
them to the spectacle of Nicholas
Ronan’s own generosity his hospital with
its altarpiece would have been a
striking public show of generosity the
picture he commissioned from yon van
Eyck is both an emblem of piety and an
inventory of role as staggering wealth
it shows rola praying to the Virgin in
Christ who appear beside him
but the painting invites us to pass
beyond this foreground dialog to the
extraordinary landscape that opens up
behind them Vanek draws our eye there by
placing on the parapet at the exact
geometric center of his panel two
figures one dressed in a red turban is
probably Yan Van Eyck himself he shows
his companion the view just as his
painting allows us to see it and what he
shows is his life world a bustling
northern european trade city built upon
a river open to the world and behind
rola we find one amazing detail
Vineyards this is the world into which
Van Eyck sends us as he launches our eye
into that glorious view among his vast
possessions roll our own vineyards in
Burgundy such as these already then
burgundy produced some of Europe’s
finest wines vineyards generated the
region’s wealth and they contributed to
Roland’s riches and thus in a way made
possible Van Dyke’s picture itself by
showing Rowland’s vineyards Van Eyck
takes us back to the artworks economic
source
he shows us that this is as much a part
of his painting as are the pigments of
which it’s made Roland’s vineyards
directly funded the running of the
hospital and produced the wine drunk at
mass before the altar and while the
painting documents both the source of
Roland’s great wealth and his charitable
works it also represents something else
the painting fulfills one of the deepest
desires of Christians of the time
physically to see sacred persons in van
Eyck’s day people understood vision
differently than they do today they
believed that when once saw an object
something of its physical substance
entered the eye they believed therefore
that sacred things such as religious
images could enter the soul through the
portal of the eye this belief explains a
key aspect of late medieval religion
during Mass the bread of the host was
held to be the body of Christ
and because in seeing something one
participated in its substance by simply
beholding the host when communed with
Christ’s body
within churches there were special
places for visual communion this is one
such place a private chamber built into
the side of a church but it’s also part
of a domestic space this here is an
amazing survival it’s a private prayer
gallery in brugge and these windows
behind me overlook the Church of Our
Lady but it’s built right into someone’s
private home visual experience of the
private person is thrusting itself into
sacred space by looking from this prayer
Chapel towards the altar in the church
we enter into the mechanics of vision as
they were understood in van Eyck’s day
suddenly the painting of rolla
and the madonna takes on a new meaning
in their prayers Christians sought above
all to visualize the person they
worshiped and so in Van Dyke’s painting
Nicholas rolek can see this wish
fulfilled the content of his prayer sits
there as real and palpable as he paint
has made the Virgin as present as
material as it were in Rowland’s
experience as the book he holds as the
vineyards he owns
the story of how van Eyck transformed
painting into the art of art’s must end
somewhere else however this final
chapter unfolds in a panel that hangs
here in London this is van Eyck’s most
haunting painting
it’s an incredibly modern looking image
of a man and a woman from long ago
inside a bedroom everything about the
picture is revolutionary the full-length
portraits the profusion of detail the
sheer complexity of it all the sequence
of its owners attests to its
preciousness it passed almost
immediately into royal collections where
it stayed until it came to Britain in
the early 19th century and it’s been in
the National Gallery
ever since where it remains one of the
most popular pictures it’s partly the
paintings realism that fascinates
capturing perfectly the room in its
inhabitants the picture is like a time
capsule of lived experience once arrived
in this room in Bruges at 1434 we become
fascinated even unsettled by what’s
taking place in this bygone here and now
early documents record only a name
Arnolfini a simple portrait of a man and
his wife then but the pictures too
unique and the details too intriguing to
leave it there historians have proposed
theories including a persistent one that
yan Van Dyck with his brush testified to
the event of the couple’s marriage two
years ago an art historian published a
new theory of Van Dyke’s masterpiece
which put everything in a completely
different light as it happens this
historian is my wife and her simple
solution to the great puzzle was
published the day before our marriage
the center of much of the debate has
been the identity of the couple
portrayed since nothing in the picture
itself as it now survives tells us who
they are
for a long time scholars have known that
it was likely to be a member of the
Arnolfini family who are from Lucca and
Italy but lived in Bruges Giovanni
Arnolfini was decided upon as the likely
candidate and he had married someone
called Costanza treinta and everything
seemed to be right until it was
discovered that she had died at least by
1433 which is the year before the
painting is dated there are several
possibilities one is that it’s a
different Giovanni Arnolfini or a
different Arnolfini altogether another
is that there was another wife that’s
not documented or you could decide that
it is this woman Costanza and perhaps
it’s not a wedding or a betrothal and in
fact it’s not even a straightforward
portrait
but everything about it is calling out
for kind of explanation so for example
mr. Arnolfini the way he seems so
melancholic and his gesture so enigmatic
what is he doing the difference between
the portrayal of his face and her face
most people had said well she’s
idealized because she’s a female and
that’s true I mean she definitely looks
you know you’d be hard-pressed to find a
person who looks like that in real life
she looks like porcelain doll whereas he
really looks so convincing as a facial
type so what could that discrepancy be I
started to look at the details that for
some have been seen as supporting the
marriage claim and for others were seen
as just details of objects the mirror at
the back which has a lot of connotations
but one of the details of the mirror are
scenes of The Passion of Christ around
the outside all of the scenes of Christ
living or on the side where Giovanni
standing on the left side and all the
scenes of Christ’s dead and resurrected
her on the right side it’s a daytime
scene but there’s a candle burning I
mean why would van Eyck include a lit
candle in a daytime scene and why would
he bother to show the detail of only two
candles one of witches has gone out and
one of which is burning
the actual juxtaposition I think of a
lit candle over Giovanni and a gutted
candle over Costanza indicates a kind of
literal illustration it’s like to just
write it off as a kind of snapshot of
reality he really misses the point I
think that’s being made the point that’s
being made is that she’s dead and he’s
not that he is basically honoring her as
a as a very important part of his life
that’s now gone
I’m certain that mine won’t be the last
theory it’s a painting that provides
endless opportunity for interpretation
it’s not for nothing but the mirror is
an age-old symbol of death the images in
a mirror are fleeting and thus mirrors
remind us of the fleeting character of
our lives which passes quickly van
Eyck’s mirrors are of a completely
different kind they preserve what they
display yon van Eyck still stands there
now in our present moment with his
companion he writes above the mirror yon
van Eyck was here in the past tense
and yet the painting remains always in
the present tense
van Eyck is here in the inscription in
the mirror in the painting and yawn van
Eyck’s painting is like the mirror it
depicts it makes people present
eternally it brings the living together
with the dead it joins together time and
keeps in the same present the artist and
his beholder
he created beautiful fictional worlds
perfectly consistent with the optical
reality we inhabit and Van Eyck puts all
this artistry to the highest possible
end to defeat death and time and to
glimpse as if from outside of our world
paradise itself
van Eyck’s impact on the way other
artists painted was immediate and huge
in the Netherlands his art was the gold
standard of a painting industry that
flourished in that region until the 17th
century and beyond his lasting influence
is felt whenever ambitious artists of
any era staked their claim to greatness
whenever painters proposed that painting
is the supreme art and indeed whenever
they reflect on painting through
painting the ghost of Van Eyck is
somewhere to be seen no van I didn’t
invent oil painting but he did introduce
something even more momentous when we
stroll today through art museums when we
consider from a certain distance what it
is that these galleries display as art
we observe a certain kind of thing not
sculpture not tapestry not fabulous
ensembles of gold and jewels rather rows
and rows of one kind of thing namely
paintings each framed and moveable each
a little world unto itself without Van
Eyck I do not think these peculiar
things would have possessed the magic
necessary to launch their extraordinary
career so this is another of Van Dyke’s
legacies our picture of a picture
gallery
van Eyck inscribed his self-portrait
with the words else ich kann it means
literally as I can the motto says in
effect this thing this spectacular
painting of myself shows not only what I
look like but also what I can do what my
powers are
and so the artist draws us to the puzzle
we’ve been pursuing all along the Enigma
of yon van Eyck of that oneself and its
amazing capabilities self portraiture is
natural to the images van Eyck makes as
he builds up a world with paint as he
uses paint to resemble gems and
reflective surfaces it is inevitable
within the logic of that image that this
world and with it van Eyck the painter
will be represented in His image
it’s this in deliberate accidental form
of South portrait that is more natural
to his art in a sense it’s a humble
gesture it says that the artist isn’t
the center of his creation he’s at the
periphery of things he’s part of the
world as we are part of the world and
another level though it’s a statement of
the greatest ambition for it says that
painting this supreme art is capable not
only of resembling nature but of being
nature the moment painting becomes a
mirror it must represent itself as in
some sense without an author without an
inventor as natural since no one invents
or makes the world except perhaps God
next time albert durer and the birth of
the modern artist how one northern
european genius advertised himself as a
god-like creator
Northern Renaissance continues tomorrow
with the birth of the artist slightly
later at 1:45 here on BBC Four