21 February 2010

Frans Verbeeck and the Mockery of Human Follies

“The Mockery of Human Follies” is one of those mysterious paintings that don’t allow me to stop thinking about them. In the first place because it is an excellent art work (in my humble opinion) and in the second place (maybe it should be the first place) because it is a satirical-moralistic-fantastic painting in the Medieval tradition. And I am addicted to medieval art.

My first impression of the painting is that it is a realistic-satirical work a’la Breugel. I see a scene of the life of peasants in a village, with a wonderful renaissance landscape in the background. But then I discover all the unusual things. The faces of the pictured people are odd, some of the ugly, some of them not, but almost everyone is smiling. And the smile isn’t an innocent, nice smile; it is definitely a rascally-devilish smile. There are lots of strange scenes, unexpected moments, shows and associations in this painting. I see lots of resemblance with Erasmus famous book “Lof der Zotheid” (In Praise of Folly, in English). Erasmus used words to describe the folly of humans; the painter of “The mockery of humans follies” used the language of the colours of his paints.

The Dorotheum in Vienna attributed the painting to Frans Verbeeck. He belonged together with Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Breugel and Adriaen Brouwer to the group of the XVI century Flemish painters who painted satirical-moralising work. The fantasy and satire go hand in hand in lots of pictures, drawings, carvings, decorations, sculptures, miniatures, illuminated manuscripts in the art work of the medieval time. The Flemish painters did not have to invent all the monstrous creatures by themselves. They could fall back on a rich and broad collection of peculiar species, exotic monsters and extremely weird people from the medieval artists. What they probably did was add some new symbols, pictures of farmers and poor people, and of course lots of hidden eroticism behind the realistic scenes.

Frans Verbeeck is mentioned in the book written by Carel van Mander about important Netherlands and German painters. The book was written probably in the XVI century. Carel van Mander died in 1606. The first edition is from 1764. Frans Verbeeck was born and worked in Mechelen in Belgium. He died in 1570, but we don’t know his date of birth. His paintings can be admired in the Centre for Old Art 't Vliegend Peert in Mechelen in Belgium.

The painting, “The Mockery of Human Follies” was for sale in 2007 at an auction by Dorotheum in Vienna. The guide price was between €65.000 and €75.000. It was sold of course. I would love to have the painting on my own wall, look at it every day, discover new stories, hidden metaphors, hidden symbols. I'm still trying to work out the significance of the tiny people present in such numbers. Are they us? And are the huge people the gods playing with us? laughing at us? or it is just us, the human species playing with other humans? Please let me know if you have any more information about this painting. My curiosity requires answers!

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