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Sunday 16 February 2014

Monsters, Mystery and a Monkey

I can’t think of anything to write about this week, so here are a few more interesting paintings I saw in the Louvre Museum last summer. The photos are a bit blurry because they’re my own, but I’ve included links to better images.

The first picture was painted by Raphael around 1504, when he was just 21 years old. It depicts the story of Saint Michael and the dragon from the Book of Revelation, which I mentioned in a previous post (Dragon Symbolism). The dragon in question was Satan himself, although Raphael’s version doesn’t look much like the traditional depiction of Satan... or the traditional depiction of a dragon, for that matter. It looks more like one of Hieronymus Bosch’s demons, as do the various monsters in the background. They’re easier to see in the Louvre’s own picture – Saint Michel terrassant le démon. With the exception of the figure of Saint Michael himself, there is quite a striking resemblance to Bosch... who after all lived at the same time as Raphael.
The second picture is one of the most Fortean of all paintings – Les Bergers d’Arcadie by Nicolas Poussin, dating from around 1639. The title means “The Shepherds of Arcadia” – Arcadia being a place in ancient Greece. That doesn’t sound very Fortean, except that many people (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, as far as I can make out) believe the picture really depicts the tomb of Jesus Christ near Rennes-le-Chateau in France. I would really like to go back in time and tell Poussin that’s what people in the 21st century think the painting is meant to depict. He would probably laugh quite a bit.
The last picture is by a French painter named Jean-Siméon Chardin, who is nothing like as well known as Raphael or Poussin. But I still think it’s a good picture. It’s called “The Antiquarian Monkey” (or in French, Le Singe antiquaire), and it was painted around 1726. It depicts a monkey trying to look like the kind of refined, educated, middle-aged gentleman that I try to look like. Except the monkey does it better.

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