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Émile Verhaeren: Essays on the Northern Renaissance

Rembrandt, Rubens, Grünewald and Others- Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Albert Alhadeff

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Edited By Albert Alhadeff

Émile Verhaeren (1855–1916), art critic, poet and homme de lettres, was a man whose vision transcended his native Belgium. With close ties to Mallarmé in France and Rilke in Germany, Verhaeren, a peripatetic student of the arts, readily traveled to Paris, Berlin, Cassel, Vienna and Amsterdam. From the mid-1880s until his death in 1916, his many trips abroad resulted in a raft of essays and short monographs on the arts of the Northern Renaissance. Yet, despite the insights, scholarship and markedly precise and revealing descriptions of these studies, they have long been neglected in art historical circles, overshadowed, perhaps, by Verhaeren’s own poetic outpourings and his numerous essays on contemporary art.
In this book, Albert Alhadeff translates, edits, annotates and contextualizes these often brilliant and always revealing studies on artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Memling, Bruegel and Grünewald, masters from the North who worked mostly in Flanders, Holland and Germany in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Alhadeff reveals, Verhaeren’s studies of the masters of old in Germany, Flanders and the newly born Dutch Republic are as much about Verhaeren the man as they are about the subjects of his inquiries.

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Rubens the whole of this master’s oeuvre is an ode to joy. This ode that all major artists realize at certain lucid moments of their existence, that Dante, with the golden circles of Paradise imagined crowning his Divine Comedy, that Shakespeare injects into his convulsive and bloody theatre under the guise of féeries [Verhaeren’s ital- ics], that Beethoven inserts in his tumultuous and tragic symphonies—Rubens, voices with joy and a unique resonance throughout his life. Therein lies the mir- acle that is Rubens. Before him, we could not find throughout the entire history of art a like triumphant prodigy. The high notes were hardly there in the human choir—they burst, subside, vanish—yet Rubens played them tirelessly without ever suspend- ing his efforts. And his joy is far from dull. It has a marvelous and varied life. It encom- passes all human pain in the fabric of its song, it includes in its transports all the tears and all the sobs. It is the human soul itself, though still it is always joy. That Christ dies at Golgotha, that the Virgin and Saint John are pathetic wit- nesses to his agony, that [Mary] Magdalene at the foot of that gross, brutal cross weeps and despairs—none of this is of import. In the lines, in the colors, in the splendid red of setting suns, in the agitated dress of personages, in grand loose bands of hair, in the silk and golden fabrics, in the convulsed arms, in...

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