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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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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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PART 4

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Flemish Painting one mIght be permitted to say that the art that came out of Egypt, the seat of the most ancient of known civilizations, spread from the Orient to the Oc- cident, from East to West. We can compare its forward march to an inexorable tide, immutable and eternal, which would circle the globe from right to left. After influencing Asia Minor, it roused Europe—especially affecting centers such as Athens, Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Bruges, Antwerp. From there in the com- ing centuries it shaped England and America and returned after a thousand or so years to its point of departure. Unfortunately, this theory fails us. If the oldest aesthetic center stems from the Nile valley, one cannot deny that its influence, prior to striking Europe, must have struck Chaldea and Assyria, the Persians and the Phoenicians and the Far East and the Indian Sub-Continent. However, these illustrious lands, rich in the plastic arts, do not affect the seat of les primitfs, whose impetus towards the ideal precedes our own. We are thus led to deny the simplistic and empirical views that certain light- headed critics have consistently insisted on. It seems that art has arisen from multiple origins, just as civilization and the history of human affairs have. Its influence has never been unique and colossal and unified and unwavering from time immemorial; art does not follow the needle of a constant magnetic current. Rather, if one must refer to a given image, I would chose that...

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