|Titre :||Noble Spirit in the Garden : The Gray Horse in the Paradise Landscapes of Jan Brueghel the Elder and his Contemporaries|
|fait partie de :|
|Auteurs :||Sarah R. Cohen, Auteur|
|Type de document :||document vidéo|
|Année de publication :||2018|
|Format :||27 min.|
EquivocÉpoque Moderne (XVIe-XVIIIe) ; Peinture ; Symbolisme
On the decades around the turn of the seventeenth century Jan Brueghel the Elder produced a series of landscapes portraying the Garden of Eden, in which a single, large, gray-white horse presides over a teeming population of other creatures both domestic and wild. His Flemish contemporaries Roelandt Savery and Joris Hoefnagel, as well as numerous other lesser known and anonymous artists, likewise featured a large gray horse prominently in their own paradise landscapes, as well as in related subjects such as Orpheus charming the animals. These gray horses always veer toward white in their personal coloration, ranging from virtually all white, to a mixture of gray and white with flowing white manes and tails. They also stand out from the animals that surround them by their isolation as a species: while the other creatures often appear in male and female pairs, or at least with some companion species nearby, the gray horse is almost always the only equine representative in the entire Garden. Even in scenes depicting the entry of the animals into Noah’s ark, whose protocol demanded a male and female of each species, the gray horse remains prominent yet strangely unaccompanied by a mate. What could account for this artistic emphasis upon the lone gray horse?
Part of the answer to this question likely rests in the distinctly noble character attributed to the horse among the European elite who would also have formed the main audience for the paintings. Even before Brueghel and his contemporaries began producing their paradise landscapes gray horses, usually veering toward pure white, had been appearing as prominent players in sixteenth-century paintings of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s ark, although these animals were generally accompanied by an equine mate of a darker coat color. Although sometimes possibly symbolic in meaning—such as denoting lust in depictions of the Fall — these horses sooner represent the enormous value that the European elite were coming to place upon the horse not just as eminently useful to human enterprise but as a creature of outstanding moral character in its own right. This is how Conrad Gessner began his long entry on the ‘noble spirit’ of the horse in his Historiae Animalium of 1551. In the first decade of the seventeenth century Peter Paul Rubens produced two equestrian portraits, that of the Duke of Lerma in 1603 and that of Archduke Albert in 1609; Arianne Faber Kolb has convincingly argued that these works, together with a now-lost painting of equestrian studies by Rubens known as The Riding School, served as prototypes for the magnificent gray horse that dominates
several paradise landscapes by Jan Brueghel the Elder from 1612 and beyond. Archduke Albert himself believed that his own gray horse saved his life at the Battle of Nieupoort in 1600, by rearing to receive the full force of a fatal shot. Whether or not Brueghel’s horse refers directly to Albert’s beloved equine martyr, the notion of valorizing one particular horse, in the manner of a cel
ebrated hero, was becoming common currency in elite European culture.
But such valorization was predicated upon the interconnection of noble horse and rider: Brueghel’s, Savery’s, and other artists’ gray paradisiacal horses are by contrast free of human control. Thus the ‘collected trot’ gait displayed by Brueghel’s horse in emulation of Rubens’s Andalusian steeds appears to be a manifestation of the horse’s unique, inherent nobility. It is this quality of an innately noble spirit, as well as the horse’s gray coloration, and especially its isolation as a species, that propel the final part of my inquiry: the possible descent of this realistic equine from the unicorn, an animal once believed to exist deep in the woods and now gaining the status of legend. Well known for its solitude, the unicorn combined a number of species in its variously described anatomy, but artists gave it many horse-like characteristics and also almost always represented it as white. Purity was, moreover, its principal virtue: simply by immersing its horn it could make water safe for other animals to drink, and Gesner reported the common belief that it served the human as an effective remedy against poison. Notoriously untameable, the unicorn could only be captured by humans through use of a virgin young woman as a lure — another testament to its purity as a species. Associated in the Middle Ages with Christ, especially in the context of the story of the hunt for and killing of the unicorn, the animal made a number of appearances in paintings of the Garden of Eden in the century that preceded that of Brueghel and his contemporaries, notably in the left panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Early Delights, in which a white unicorn performs its water purification in the background beyond the seated, fallible Adam.
The Council of Trent had in 1563 discouraged associations of the unicorn with Christ and Christian salvation, and a general shift toward more attentive study of nature itself on the part of both artists and their patrons also contributed to the unicorn’s decline as a key presence in landscape art. But in many ways the gray horse of the early seventeenth-century Paradise landscapes appropriated and updated the unicorn’s role, standing alone among its species and evincing a spiritual air, but also newly civilized, naturalistic, and bearing a striking resemblance to the Andalusian
gray horses so prized by the European elite of this era.
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|En ligne :||https://vimeo.com/275653772|