Netherlandish vernacular narrative painting in the age of Bruegel: ‘entangling the eyes’ & ‘enlightening the mind’

Edwards, Jamie Lee (2017). Netherlandish vernacular narrative painting in the age of Bruegel: ‘entangling the eyes’ & ‘enlightening the mind’. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis sheds new light on the origins and significance of ‘compositional inversion’ in sixteenth-century Netherlandish art. Taking Pieter Bruegel’s inverted religious narratives as primary examples of a wider phenomenon, it seeks to account for the seemingly paradoxical method of narrative obfuscation evident in these works. It does so by situating them in art theoretical, iconographic, social, political and spiritual contexts. Chapter 1 turns to the art theories of Karel van Mander, contained in the first book of Het Schilder-Boeck (1604): ‘Den Grondt … ’. Here I suggest that Bruegel’s inverted compositions exemplify an entire tradition in Netherlandish history painting – the ‘historien’ – that van Mander retroactively theorised in ‘Den Grondt’. According to his theoretical position, Netherlandish inverted ‘historien’ derive their efficacy precisely because they obscure narrative, for by doing so they ‘entangle’ the beholder’s ‘insatiable eyes’ and so encourage sustained interest in the story. Chapter 2 then examines the visual tradition in Netherlandish art that inspired Bruegel’s inverted narratives, and concludes that these works possess a distinctive formal ‘Netherlandishness’ and as such they offer fertile territory for examining Bruegel’s “vernacularity”. Finally, in Chapter 3, I argue that compositional inversion evolved as a visual counterpart to contemporary biblical exegeses, specifically Erasmus’s.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR


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