Wednesday, November 15, 2006

(57) vanitas

Here is where the question of the “viewer” seems to have to be considered, since to any reasonable person it seems cold and harsh for “vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas (vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity)” to be the major theme of a history painting representing the conquest of Mexico. It seems likely that this is the reason that there is no surviving Dutch commentary on the tapestries based on The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias that were completed in the Netherlands in the 1560s for two successive governors. The tapestries were in the style of a Dutch artist and seemed to prioritize sunbathing and fruit eating over thinking about events in Mexico or the 1527 sack of Rome, with the implication that northern artists and perhaps by extension the rest of the population took a frivolous view of things.

Although there is as far as I know no record of Juana la Loca having received the original triptych, the bizarre iconography would have made some sense in terms of her circumstances when she was living at Tordesillas, since she was criticized for neglecting her health to the point of refusing to eat, but was also observed on occasion to be lucid and rational, and she had been reputed to be well educated and intelligent as a girl. It would have been reasonable to focus on health first, then news of the world.

A famous biombo represents similar ideas in a different way, where the rebuilt city on one side of the screen obviously comes after the war shown on the other side.


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