Thursday 22 March 2018

ens representans

Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop, 1716
Rachel Ruysch
The still lifes were my absolute favourite paintings at the recent summer exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Rembrandt & the Dutch golden age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum. The room entitled "Arrangements of life and death" contained exquisite examples covering the floral, the breakfast piece, the ostentatious still life - all is vanitas!

Still Life with Fruit, Oysters, and a Porcelain Bowl, 1660-1679
Abraham Mignon

Mr Pipistrello and I spent an afternoon lingering in the company of our splendid audio guide Miriam Margolyes and lush Dutch baroque music. Glorious art, entertaining insights by a favoured actress and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra make for a hat-trick of pleasures, in my book. Plus, we were saved a trip to Amsterdam, which was a nice economical bonus.

Praedia of Julia Felix, Pompeii

Mosaic, Pompeii
Still lifes throughout the ages are a particular interest of mine. Low-brow, according to the theory of the hierarchy of art, but never really out of fashion. From the Roman frescoes and mosaics in Pompeii to the Australian modernist Margaret Preston and the photographs of Bas Meeuws, I love them all.

Implement blue, 1927
Margaret Preston

Still life (detail), 1927
Margaret Preston
Still Life (#67), 2012
Bas Meeuws
However, there is something about the works by Dutch golden age artists that takes my breath away. It is more than the composition or incredible detail and skill involved; neither am I so interested in the symbolism, where the "reading" of which needs to be spelt out to most modern viewers (my hand is up!). These paintings speak to me at a more basic level. And more than a month later, I'm still thinking about them.

A few days ago, I came across Arthur Danto's philosophy that humans are essentially beings that represent our world, ens representans. This has had me thinking that this may be reason for the enduring appeal of this style of art. We may no longer, in the main, read firstly the symbolism of such artwork; it's an assemblage of familiar and fanciful, commonplace and idealised which instead resonates and draws us in. When you don't know much about art, but you know what you like, perhaps this is why?

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