Thursday, September 25, 2008
Lucas van Leyden
Lucas van Leyden. The Chess Game with Bong, ca. 1508.
Ah, van Leyden – beautiful, overlooked, Low Country link between the aloof mastery of van Eyck and the gristle of Hals and the Brueghels. Let us look at his painting: a group of laconic, distracted members of the middle class, engaged in a trivial game of chess. The chess board, with its bong and disposable lighter, draws the eye quickly, but it is not conceptually central here. What is meaningful are the everyday moments for which the game and bong serve only as a visual center: the fat merchant's meddling, the brewer's idle headscratching, the gossip, the idle flirtation, the perfectly captured dullards' gazes. In terms of technique, Leyden's use of purple in the disposable lighter is quite unusual but not obscure. And while his painting is certainly not perfect, not so much as his brilliant etchings, it is a precursor to the noble mundanity of 17th Century Low Country art with bongs.