Saturday, 11 May 2013

Three Hares & Beuckelaer's Air

    Joachim Beuckelaer's 4 elements, which I've just viewed at the National Portrait Gallery,  foregrounds sturdy peasant women- proletarians, in the strict sense of serving the State primarily by bearing children- while juxtaposing still life studies of various types of food with hazy depictions of Gospel episodes which, in each picture, populate one of its multiple perspectives' vanishing points.
  Thus, every canvass has a triadic structure such that the producers of food appear in the novel role of vendors or wage slaves, self-consciously connected to the cash nexus, while food itself is presented as an objective materiality nevertheless subordinate and doubly subject to two types of epiphanic Supervenience- that of the Market and that of the Messiah.
    Beuckelaer's canvass, 'Water' has 12 types of fish (for the 12 disciples) and, in the background, the resurrected Christ filling the fishermen's nets at Lake Galilee. Similarly, the canvass titled 'Earth' features various types of vegetables and fruits in the foreground, with the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt- that fabled land of agricultural plenty- in the background. 'Fire' depicts various types of meat and poultry with Jesus sitting with Mary and Martha (the first, the type of the Paschal lamb, the last a dab hand at turning a spit) in the background.
  What is puzzling is that, in Beuckelaer's 'Air', while we have various sorts of fowl which clearly have a relationship to the air, we also find cheese rounds and a brace of rabbits. Why?
  Well, I suppose, Dutch cheeses are air dried so that explains their appearance in the picture, but what about rabbits?
  True, they go hippity hop but they also spend a lot of time below ground in their burrows- so why do they feature in this canvass?
  Regular readers of my blog might be tempted to answer- 'Yes, yes, we well know what you are getting at. Cut to the chase already and just come out and say- 'All is the fault of this Tory Govt. Appearance of rabbits in Beucklelaer's 'Air' is a damning indictment of Govt. under funding of the Arts for which I, personally, blame David Cameron. That boy aint right. Etc, etc.'

While far from foreclosing this hermeneutic option, I ask you to suspend judgment a little while longer. The fact is, the Biblical episode featured in this canvass is that of the prodigal son- here depicted as an inebriate clutching a brace of supposedly aphrodisiac fowl while leaning against a comely vendeuse of sturdy peasant stock.

Prodigality has the meaning of extravagance- luxuria- which, in Catholicism, was replaced by lust as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Perhaps extravagance and prodigality appear to be 'airy' properties and thus the extravagantly hopping, if not also lecherous, rabbit and the prodigal, if not also debauched, son share a common property.
The fact that Beuckelaer's canvass presents the two rabbits in conjunction with a basket of eggs suggests an association with Easter- eggs, Bunnies- resurrection, rebirth, fertility- hares, in medieval Europe were believed to be hermaphrodites who propagated their race without loss of Virginity- thus becoming a symbol for the Virgin Mary.
The 'three hares' motif- shown below- was popular in the Sixteenth Century.
Some have traced it to China and suggested that it was brought to Europe over the silk road. It's appearances in Churches and Cathedrals suggests that it was taken as a symbol of the Trinity.
In Beauckelaer's other 3 canvasses we find Trinities in the Biblical material- for Water, there is Christ, the Apostles (the Church) and the fish (the laity); for Earth there is the Holy Family- Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus; for fire, there is Christ, Mary (the contemplative life) and Martha (the active life); but for Air, we have only the Prodigal son- the two women depicted beside him having no place in the Biblical parable.
The three hares meme can be considered an 'impossible object' like the Penrose triangle, achievable only in a higher dimension. This suggests that the fifth element, the quintessence, the aether, the akasha, which, I suppose, comes closest to Air out of all the Four elements, arises out of an incompossibility or heteroclite conjugation in Air- which, it may be, breeds in an unbounded way- such that Fredric Van Eeden's therapeutic Walden is the lucid nightmare of a now irretrievably ontologically dysphoric & poisoned Eden because the incompossible Empedoclean Elements must yet ascend, but ascend only to their own fulmination, the Etna of the Aether and return only as brooding malevolence and topological rupture of perspective- as in the swell of the floor tiles in 'Fire' shown below- which must inevitably destroy the sustainable self-coincidence of the foregrounded proletarians who pause to look back pitilessly into our eyes as if not oblivious to their doom.

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