Tag Archives: Flemish painting

Jan van Kessel and the Flemish fantastique and grotesque



I hail from Flanders so I’m biased when I say I love Flemish art, and equally biased when I say I love the Flemish fantastique and grotesque.

It’s not every day I find something new and yesterday my eye caught the wonderful Shells, Butterflies, Flowers and Insects on White Background [image] by Jan van Kessel, senior (Antwerp, 1626 – idem, 1679).

Van Kessel senior, born in Antwerp, hometown of Rubens, where I have lived since 1987.

Furthering my research today, I find Festoon, Masks and Rosettes Made of Shells (1656) by that same Jan van Kessel. It is a “decorative and anthropomorphic composition with shells[1].

Not a classic composition as a matter of fact, more a composite of small composites actually, in the vein of those of Arcimboldo, king of composites.

The detail is reminiscent of one of the grotesque masks [image] by Joris Hoefnagel produced a hundred years earlier.

Van Kessel’s work is a species of early intermedia, located in the no man’s land between natural history illustration and fine art.

About bending, stooping and general prostration

Allegory of the World (1515) from the studio of Joachim Patinir

Allegory of the World (1515) is the title of an anonymous Flemish painting, attributed to the school of Joachim Patinir.

The work comes from the collection of the prince of Salm-Salm and is now in the collection of the Museum Wasserburg Anholt. It was first exhibited at the Meisterwerke westdeutscher Malerei in Düsseldorf in 1904.

On a globe of glass the artist has painted the joys and miseries of the world, with its gallows and torture wheels. The rocky and fantastic landscape is indeed reminiscent of Patinir. Through an opening on the left, a young man with a long stick tries to enter. A Flemish inscription tells us that he would like to cross the world without bending:

« Met recht soudic gerne doer de Werelt commen. »
« Upright I would like to cross the world. »

We see him coming out on the other side, middle aged and laughing, holding his long crooked stick. He has recognized the need to bend.

« ic bender doer maar ic moet crommen. »
« I crossed it but I had to bend. »

See also