Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This issue’s cover shows a detail from The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose life and work are the subject of an article by John Canaday:

Breugel lived through a time of social, political, and religious upheaval that affected him directly, but his convictions are known only through deduction from his art. In the case of Dürer a little earlier, we can follow in his letters, in his writings and in the recorded comments of his friends the moral agonies and aesthetic arguments that determined the nature of his art. But we have not one single helpful word from or about Bruegel in this respect; it is impossible to think of him as orthodox in politics or religion at a time when orthodoxy was so often tainted by bigotry or tyranny, but what deviations he admitted, what loyalties he held, we cannot know.

Horizon caption: ‘Bruegel’s scenes of peasant life are so rich in human detail that they repay the closest scrutiny. Above is the full painting from which a section has been reproduced on the preceding two pages. Opposite is a small detail of that detail.’

Even in rudimentary summary, Bruegel’s premises are quite obviously his answers to questions that men have always asked themselves. The concept of man as heroic but men as faulty has cousins everywhere. In ancient Greece it was the noble being with the tragic flaw, but to Bruegel the flaw is no longer tragic but contemptible, because remediable; no implacable fate declares that there is no way out. In the Book of Genesis innocence in Paradise is lost through original sin, but in Bruegel man need not suffer forever for having yielded to an appetite in a moment of weakness; he is free to enjoy his appetites so long as he has the strength not to abuse them, and he needs no Redeemer to restore him to bliss because he finds his own bliss in identification with the cosmos.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Dulle Griet or “Mad Meg” (above), probably painted in 1562, displays the kind of fantastic invention that often appears in Bruegel’s work alongside his sharp observation of peasant life. The detail opposite shows Meg herself striding through Hell.’

 

Bruegel’s cosmos and its rhythm have an even more thickly branched family tree, spreading in one direction as far as India. Some of his own landscapes (as we shall see) were immediate continuations of a section of the theologically organized universe of the Middle Ages, in which every single activity had its defined place. But the medieval universe was almost too neat, like a tremendous globular filing cabinet surrounded by a void; its minor virtue of tidiness imposed the major flaw of static definition. In Bruegel’s universe nothing is static: everything moves, grows, and responds in endless harmonies of action and interaction. Finally, in his more vigorous way, Bruegel anticipated intellectually the nineteenth-century romantics’ emotional identification of man with nature, but without falling into the romantic fallacy of endowing nature with emotions corresponding to man’s.

 

…[When] he painted Biblical subjects he painted them in his own terms, neither manufacturing them according to the formulas that enabled even the most unreligious painters to turn out satisfactory holy pictures nor giving them any Christian-mystical turn of his own.

The Massacre of the Innocents…beneath its nominal subject, is a sub rosa indictment of the devastation of the Netherlandish populace by Spanish military force. The Procession to Calvary becomes an execution scene concerned less with the victim than with exposing the baseness of human beings who can watch his sufferings with callous indifference. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, ostensibly a parable pleading for charitable compassion between human beings, is extended to a social allegory of religious intolerance…

This ‘religion’ of the cosmos was surely not something that Bruegel thought of as religion. But a man’s true religion is whatever he believes most deeply, and by this definition Bruegel was a pantheist.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Though Biblical in subject, The Massacre of the Innocents, 1565-67, is set in a wintry Netherlandish locale. In the slaughter of Jewish infants by Herod’s soldiers, Bruegel may have seen a parallel to the cruel occupation of the Netherlands by Spanish armies. The detail opposite shows a horseman of King Herod (or Phillip II) riding down a Jewish (or Flemish) woman.

Also in this issue:

In ‘Breslau Revisited’, Francis Russell writes about his time as a 20-year-old American student in the then-German city in 1931-32, and his return to the now-Polish Wrocław  in the 1960s:

It is a name expunged from the maps. Five hundred thousand inhabitants of Breslau, the old Silesian capital, have long since been driven out, replaced by strangers of another culture and another tongue. German Breslau has become Slavic Wroclaw. The baroque university buildings by the Oder now house a Polish state university. It is not given to many of us to have lived in a city that no longer exists. But it was given to me in my student time in Germany.

Illustrations by James McMullan:

So a thousand years of German history vanished, unique as the pattern of Breslau itself was unique. For the pattern was woven of curiously contrasting threads. Breslau was a German city founded by a Bohemian count with the Polish name of Wratislaw, who cared nothing about nationality. It was a gothic city and a baroque city, a city of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, a free city of the Holy Roman Empire without the title of Free City, that gave its varied allegiance to Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian kings. Under the Habsburgs it was the equal of Prague, and in modern times under the Hohenzollerns the second city of Prussia, a European as much as a German city, and the German gateway to the Slavic east…And even now, the ghostly outline of the German Breslau has become the fourth city of Poland.

After an unpleasant time at his first accommodation, he found a happier place to stay with Herr and Frau Lieb, and their 16-year-old daughter Juta:

Before the First World War [Herr Lieb] had been a factory owner in Kattowitz, a man of wealth and position. Frau Lieb still had letters of thanks that they had received from Admiral von Tirpitz after he had been their house guest. But the Liebs had lost their money in the aftermath of the war, and he had lost his factory when the Poles had seized Kattowitz with the rest of industrial Upper Silesia in 1919. Without possessions, he had taken his family to Breslau, where he had prospered modestly as a manufacturer’s wholesale representative until the depression stuck him down…But for the rent money from their student rooms, they would have had to leave the Monhauptstrasse.

Election day, March 13, 1932, fell on a Sunday, as was customary in Germany to give more people the chance to vote. It was also the end of the university semester and the day before I was to leave Breslau for good. Frau Lieb had a loin of pork and red cabbage for my last Sunday dinner – the two dishes I liked best. ‘Well,’ she said, as they four of us sat at table, ‘I went down bright and early and voted for our President von Hindenburg.’ Herr Lieb’s jaw set and his monocle quivered slightly in his teutonic face. ‘I voted for Hitler,’ he muttered challengingly. I said nothing. Nobody said anything. At the end of my meal I went to my room and closed the door, still without speaking. A few minutes later there was a knock. Herr Lieb stood on the threshold without his monocle, his face apologetic, his eyes sad, ‘Herr Russell,’ he said, ‘I don’t like the brown shirts either, even if I did vote for Hitler. But what else can a man do? Something has to change. Nothing can be worse than the way it is now, nothing.’

In the ‘News of Art’ section, there is a report on Loft on 26th Street, a scale model by pop artist Red Grooms:

 

In ‘A Return to Manliness’, J.H. Plumb of Christ’s College, Cambridge considers the 1960s young man’s adoption of long hair and flamboyant clothes in the light of the past:

To the middle-aged, long hair and effeminacy seem synonymous: the well-balanced, virile man was crew-cut in youth and close-cropped in age. Artists, weirdies, homosexuals, composed the long-haired brigade. Hence the sense of outrage in American and British homes when adolescent hair began to lengthen. Beatle mops might be cute on a five-year-old; at fourteen they were irritating; at eighteen an outrage. Yet worse is probably to come. Every Oxford and Cambridge college now has a dozen or so undergraduates with shoulder-length, Cavalier-style hair…Even at Eton, hair is beginning to curl along the famous collar.

 

Horizon caption: ‘James Stuart (1612-1655)  and John Emelin (1945-    ) consider their cultural ties.’

…If mothers and fathers knew their history, perhaps they would be less excited about the hair and more preoccupied with the deeper problems of the young male, particularly the affluent adolescent in a permissive society. Give young men money, and sooner or later they will dress like peacocks and behave like goats.

Plumb traces the combination of flashy dress, violent behaviour and sexual experimentation among young men in Renaissance Italy, and in Elizabethan, Restoration and Georgian England, such as William Hickey, and concludes:

This is not a problem of our society; it is a problem of humanity, made worse, it may appear, because we are richer and more numerous today…The problem, if it is a problem, might be eased if parents, headmasters, and the like took changes in young male exhibitionism more lightheartedly. It might help, too, if aging men grew less choleric when faced with the all-too-obvious evidence of youthful virility…Since before Samson’s day, long hair and virility have been, shall we say, bedfellows.

In ‘Christmas at Chatsworth’, an excerpt from the first volume of his autobiography, former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan describes Christmas in the 1920s and 30s at one of England’s grandest stately homes, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire:

Macmillan had joined the Cavendish family by marrying one of the Duke of Devonshire’s daughters.

At least two people in this picture (probably taken at Christmas 1928) died in World War II: Ivan Cobbold in the June 1944 V-1 attack on the Guards Chapel in London, and William Cavendish, Lord Hartington, killed in Belgium in September 1944, leaving Kathleen Kennedy (sister of the future US President) a widow. Lord Hartington’s brother Andrew eventually inherited the Dukedom, after having married Deborah Mitford; her brother Tom was killed in Burma in 1945. Lord Charles Cavendish married Adele Astaire and died of acute alcoholism in 1943. The suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams was present when the Tenth Duke died in 1950 at the age of 55. Lady Elizabeth Cavendish never married but had a long term relationship with Poet Laureate John Betjeman; as lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret it is believed she introduced her to Lord Snowdon.

Advertisements