Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Barthel Bruyn

Barthel Bruyn, Vanitas with Concert Tickets and Bong, 16th Century

Bartholomaeus Bruyn, the dominant painter in Cologne in the first half of the sixteenth century, was born in 1493 in the region of the Lower Rhine. No signed paintings by the artist are known, but his oeuvre has been reconstructed around two documented altarpieces. Several dated works permit the establishment of a general chronology. Earlier paintings (to the mid-1520s) show the influence of Jan Joest and especially Joos van Cleve. Beginning in the late 1520s Bruyn's work reflects the Netherlandish "Romanism" of Jan van Scorel (1495-1562) and Maerten van Heemskerck.

This undated painting, Vanitas with Concert Tickets and Bong, functions as a showpiece, demonstrating Bruyn's scope in talent. It breaks from the bulk of his work in portraiture: images of the patrician, or upper bourgeois, citizens of Cologne. It is painted with the same detailed precision as the portraits but here Bruyn trades the living for the dead.

We find a dismembered skull and an extinguished candle. A placard reading Omnia morte cadunt, mors ultima linia rerwn ("Everything passes with death, death is the ultimate limit of things") sits below the broken jaw and the bone-dry bong. The concert tickets are conspicuous and neglected. In his painting Bruyn has created an inventory of the expired. The only suggestion of life comes in the form of a fly, the carrion creature that feasts from the dead and living alike.

1 comment:

Jan Peeters said...

Your insight on life's expiry is trenchant, Prof. Wundrum. But as I see it: the candle can be relit, the bong refilled. Only the skull remains dead; Bruyn reveals the great chain of being in that he who lights the shelf's candle and bong must then reflect on death as well. The same patrician citizen whom Bruyn painted studies his memento mori as he sets his flint to steel.