12 October 2011

Ordered chaos

Thanks to the Christopher Schwarz lostartpress blog, mentioning an upcoming book by Don Williams Virtuoso, the Studley chest is hot again.

What's interesting is not so much the tools, but the story of the man behind the chest.  Luckily it's possible to learn something about him through a may 1993 article of the Fine Woodworking Magazine.  I am also curious about his character, is his chest for example an expression of obsessive behaviour?  Drawing a parallel with one of my favourite painters,  I would say I don't know, as I see Bruegel more as an encyclopaedic mind. In my view close to Roy Underhill, encyclopaedic and sometimes chaotic because of that.

The next two paintings (thanks wikipedia) are from Bruegel the Elder.  The first is Mad Meg, as it is a view from hell and the only constraint is to put Mad Meg in the picture, it is plain chaotic.  The second is Proverbs,  119 or more - is it 144,  of them. Even if it still looks chaotic there is a great part of composition to make all these proverbs fit,  this is more an ordered chaos. Like the Studley chest, there are similar realisations made by artisans of his time, but the packed quantity is overwhelming. 

[edit] Seeing both pictures side by side I discover that Bruegel used a similar structure for both: a low diagonal with moon at the right and an open house at the left with its own diagonal to the central figure.

Not all is there, this time chaos but with some line ups: here lancers, trees and the perspective of the houses - set in a curve to stay focused on the man in black.  Massacre of the Innocents 1565-7

I have my favourites but there are other possible references.  Looking at the finish, Studleys chest comes maybe closer to the late medieval Ghent Altarpiece from Jan Van Eyck  made around 1430

Keeping the woodworking aspect in mind, these are all large wooden  panels with an oil based decorative finish from the sixteenth and fifteenth century.