Flemish Paintings from Prague, Okuda Genso Art Gallery: From the Mysteries of the Flesh to the Mysteries of the Spirit…

The attentive reader of this blog, if there is one, may recall that its author has a penchant for the things of the flesh, preferably female and of ample but pleasing proportion and a comely countenance. Save your fasting for Lent and Advent, sweet ladies mine, and in the meantime be good Christians and follow the council of the Ecclesiast, who was a cheerful Epicurian and of the healthy opinion that there’s

…no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry &c.

Vast, e x p a n s i v e, as boundless as the sea and as voluminous beyond proportion or girdling restraint as the subject of the female form may be, may it not be summed up in an adjectival phrase as brief and to the point as a bodkin, videlicet, “voluptuous and Rubenesque“?

Now it just so happens that an exhibition of Flemish paintings from the National Gallery in Prague is currently being held at the Okuda Genso Sayume Art Gallery which features several works by our hero, Peter Paul Rubens, as well as some by Peter Breughel the Younger, and even one or two by our old quaffing partner Teniers the Younger, who hardly ever failed to include a relatively inconspicuous fellow pissing against a wall in his pastoral scenes.

Almost as inconspicuous as the pisser-against-the-wall in TeniersPeasants in Front of a Tavernis the Nativity scene in Breughel‘s The Adoration of the Magi, one of the first paintings the visitor to the exhibition will see. The setting is Flanders in the middle of winter. The bustling crowd of peasants are going about their daily affairs and look as if they are chilled to the bone. It makes you feel chilly, just going over the details of the painting.

The Rubens collection did not contain so many voluptuous beauties as one would hope for after making the effort to drive out to the gallery. Moreover, several of the paintings are copies by accomplished imitators, although we can’t complain about the painting by one of Rubens‘ protégés, Jan Boeckhorst, The Virgin with the Sleeping Infant (right).

There were still several exhibited works that are credited as being orignals, including two of his copies of panels from Mantegna‘s The Triumph of Caesar and a beautiful monochrome painting of The Visitation. That painting alone, a fine study of composition and gesture, is worth the trip to the gallery.

There is also a fine portrait in profile of a bearded man looking up which looked like a contemporary work to me and not as if it had been painted more recently than 400 years ago.

The biggest work by Rubens at the exhibition is his portrait of St. Augustine of Hippo in full bishop’s regalia. He is by the sea, and appears both monumental against the low horizon and intimate as he stares into the sea in contemplation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. His hands stretch in blessing towards a child who is attempting to ladle out the sea with a scallop shell.

O altitudo divitiarum sapientiae, et scientiae Dei: quam incomprehensibilia sunt iudicia eius, et investigabiles viae eius!

The exhibition continues until 2nd December.