Tag Archives: northern renaissance

The Worm at the Heart of the Rose

Songs of innocence and of experienceAs I’ve confessed before, William Blake tends to wax a bit too metaphysical for me. I do appreciate their very visual nature. After all, who reads The Tyger without fantastic images filling their mind?


Even if it’s the images of others and not his own that come to mind first!


I think perhaps one of the Flemish floral still life paintings would suit this poem more than his own illustration.

I suppose they are big, enveloping pieces too large for a small poem, but the textures and fine details seem to fit it better.


Take his poem,


“The Sick Rose”


O Rose thou art sick.

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm:


Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.



In the case of still life painting during the Northern Renaissance they might even have shared a certain metaphysical/metaphorical point of view.


Hans Gillisz. Bollongier. Floral Piece. The most expensive bloom was normally placed at the top. In this it is a Semper Augustus tulip, the most expensive bulb of its time. This unique pattern was caused by a particular form of mosaic virus and died out with the last of the affected bulbs.

Hans Gillisz Bollongier. Floral Piece.

Flowers in still life painting were popular because they were a way to show off detail, and also the wealth of the individual. Often the flowers were rare, a tulip bulb could cost more than a painting!


The most expensive bloom was normally placed at the top of the bouquet. In the painting to the right it is a Semper Augustus tulip, the most expensive bulb of its time. According to some records it was worth 100x the average working man’s yearly salary! Its unique pattern was caused by a particular form of mosaic virus, so the only way to get it was in offsets of the original bulb. It no longer exists.


Sometimes they would be collections of flowers from different continents, or that bloomed at different times of the year. An artist might use a reference book for the flowers and/or insects-something similar to what Maria Sibylla Merian would be creating a century or so later.


Besides being prestigious, they could also act as a subtle vanitas painting- after all, flowers very beautiful but don’t live very long!



Roelant Savery. Still Life. It includes 44 different animal and 63 floral species.

On a tour the guide told us that in some of the paintings the flowers are slightly overblown and that the insects were symbols of the coming decay. So there was a hint of mortality about overindulgence tucked into some of the paintings.


The worm at the heart of the rose, if you will.

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The Dutch Room

Landscape with Obelisk, Govaert Flinck

I just finished the book Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony Amore and Tom Mashburg.

I enjoyed it, though it felt it a little cluttered in style to me, referring forward to events not yet defined and backward to references not memorable enough to stick. (While I understand that Rembrandt is the focus of the book, it also felt that they avoided even mentioning the other pieces included in heists, which seems like it should be a potentially pertinent detail.) It was fascinating, and at times, very sad read.

(Seeing as I view art theft pretty much up there with murder I’m a bit biased, I will admit. Especially when from museums, that steals from everyone, from the future, and is destroying the only remnant left of the artist…)

It was fun to read about the heists described, and shows (to no surprise) that the movie villains and scenarios have little or nothing to do with the reality of art crime. I’ve run across the assertion that major paintings are used as collateral in the drug trade several times, so it was interesting to see that theory pretty thoroughly debunked.

My biggest issue with the book was a lack of color photos! No about of describing the subtlety of his light/color/whatever can approach the reality,  but for a book about art crime a decent quality color photo on proper art paper should be a given. Grainy black and whites on regular paper do not cut it!

I was telling a friend a month or two ago about how one of the poetry challenges my creative writing teacher posed was to write three poems all connected, but in a not obvious manner. So I wrote three poems under the heading the Dutch Room, about three of the paintings that were stolen (and are still missing) from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.


Boston, Mass. March 18, 1990

    The  Gardner  Museum  was robbed  by two unknown white

males  dressed  in police  uniforms and  identifying  themselves

as   Boston   police   officers.   Upon   gaining   entry,  the  two

unknown  subjects  abducted  the  on  duty  security  personnel,

securing  both  guards  with  duct tape and handcuffs  in remote

areas  of the  museum’s basement.  While  in  the museum  from

the  hours  of  1:24  a.m.  to  2:45  a.m.,  the  unknown  subjects

seized  thirteen  works  of  art,  the  values  of which  have  been

estimated  as high as 300 million dollars.*


The Dutch Room



The dark seas roil,

angry waves crash

in white tops, they toss a boat.

Light pours from a crack in the clouds,

spilling onto a swollen, flapping sail,

pale and bowed, a tired dove’s wing.

Breaking Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

The light of the sky and water merge

-cream clouds billow, liquid sparkles,

pushing the ship into the dark.

The world is tilted sideways,

falls out of its frame

And is gone.



Feeble winter light

falls aimlessly from the left.

It lands on a chessboard floor

with arrogantly perfect perspective.

Two paintings on the wall stare,

dead eyes revealing nothing,

looking down on a tight trio.

A girl in a yellow shirt,

perfect satin folds

with a touch of pigment,

her hair primly pulled back.

She plays an instrument,

pale face concentrating,

while a lone pearl earring

glimmers, a single star.

The man has his back to us,

wrapped in the music,

The Concert.

A woman sits,

serenely unaware.

We could almost see her face.

Red drapery pulls it all together.

The table in front, the clothes,

the back of the man’s chair.

It folds on itself,

and is lost.



Storm clouds spread,

a blackish purple bruise

overtakes blue sky.

Grey haunts the horizon

and melts into the far off cliffs,

lurking in the background,

approaching the obelisk.

It stands alone,

proud and distant,

outlined in reflected white.

A shimmering spear.

Landscape with an Obelisk.

Much closer are the twisted trees,

their twigs vainly reach for light.

A dry brush vaguely hints

at a tired stone bridge

arching under the ages

and a warm town,

cowering before the storm.

A river meanders through,

trapped piece of azure

reflecting the lost sky.

Puzzle in middle tones,

confuses the experts

and is missing

before it is solved.

*largely appropriated from the FBI’s website

I’m sorry to say that I never got to see the paintings in person, I had to rely on photographs and knowledge of the artists’ other works. Though I have since seen the empty frames still waiting for their paintings to return. It’s a gorgeous museum, and they’re planning quite an expansion, stop by for a visit if you’re in the Boston area.

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