This Weird Painting

This is from somewhere between 1470 and 1490. It is said to have been painted by “Master of the View of St. Gudule,” which is not a name but this person perhaps really liked painting this one church. They were good at it.

Here’s the whole thing. This painting is in the collection of the Louvre, in Paris.

The church is magnificent and beautiful. You could just walk on in there. The fellow in red does seem somewhat gigantic, but maybe… he was.

So much detail. The plants, the people cruising around, and the church itself, clearly still under construction. Magnificent.

What about this:


The hat is bejewelled, and it is unoccupied. Has it been swiped off of someone’s head? If so, it’s not clear whose. Maybe this hat is worn by an invisible person who has come to hear the Saint preach. The fellows on the right are saying hey, invisible lady is here. Why else would there be a hat suspended in the air like this? Seems obvious.

There are also some shafts of light on the hat, which in this painting in this age was surely not accidental. Maybe it’s the visitation of an otherworldly or holy personage.

What if the model was someone the artist had a falling-out with, and so they painted them out, but left the hat as a bit of a jab in the ribs?

The fellow in black at left is holding a scroll. What does this scroll contain? Is he going to arrest the Saint for his words? Is there some legal issue here? Is it a proclamation? Does it represent knowledge? Is it significant that he holds it in his left hand?

Also, these fellows:

Are they being liberated from jail? They look pretty pleased. The door is open. Perhaps this implies that the Good Word frees a person.

(Side note: Just look at that finery. What is that head gear even made out of. Was it heavy.)

The dog.

Look at that curly fellow snuffing around. Maybe the artist’s dog, because that would have been a dog that hung around long enough to get painted. Pet that scruffy little head.

Probably all the faces in this painting are of actual people, patrons, important folks, friends. And then when this painting went on display they all brought their buddies and families around and pointed and said, “See? That’s me right there! How cool is that?”

In the time this painting was made, that would have been truly amazing. To have your face put in a fixed form this way. Simply magical. It still is, we’re just drowning it out with throwaway imagery everywhere.

What a groovy painting.