Fishing Boats off an Estuary: the longer I looked at it, the more red I saw in..." />

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[AUGUST 2017.]

Jan van Goyen, Fishing Boats off an Estuary: the longer I looked at it, the more red I saw in the gray.

What I wanted to say about Velázquez goes back to my last London visit and Christ Contemplated by the Christian Soul, an allegory with no allegorical layering. There’s no landscape, no sky. The child and angel and Christ all occupy the same level, in the same close and dark interior space. And in a frightening frame-breaking, the streaked line of sight indicates not the child’s gaze on Christ but Christ’s gaze back on the child, piercing the heart under his clasped hands.

A personification is meant to flesh out the abstraction, but I can’t follow the child anywhere other than back to itself. It’s too much a child. The situation is too near what I remember as the child’s experience of Christianity, that inescapable presence before the mind is able to reason anything away. The tortured man and the instruments of his torture are right there, as in a dream. You’d see them if you opened your closet at night. And what are those dark, heart-piercing eyes asking, except that you intervene?

You don’t intervene. The angel over your shoulder sees to that.

I probably spent the most time in front of the Velázquez Kitchen Scene, a companion to the one I almost saw in Dublin, only no supper with Christ in the background. J. thinks a patron must have seen that painting and asked for a version with the supper left out: “That’s a bit intense... can you just do it in vanilla?” I thought the supper might still be going on behind the wall. Who’s to know? There’s something about the Counter-Reformation there; but either way the things were all so present, the light on the earthenware nothing like the light on the brass.

And yesterday I was in Chicago. I know, it’s not even that often that Courbet anticipates Cézanne, but when he does I forgive him all the embarrassments, at once and without thought.

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