Monday, August 3, 2009

The Fall of the Damned

Title: The Fall of the Damned

Artist: Dieric Bouts, the Elder

Medium: Oil on wood

Size: 115 x 69.5 cm

Date: 1450

Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille.

Two paintings, one representing Hell and the other Paradise, were long believed to be part of a triptych of the Last Judgment by Bouts, which has unfortunately not survived. However, recent research has shown that this is not the case, and The Fall of the Damned was created as a work to stand in its own right. If you look at the faces on some of the demons you'll see them staring back, briefly pausing the torment in order to gaze back with gleeful bravado at whoever might be watching. Not only was the depiction of Hell and the Last Judgment approved from the theological point of view of frightening the flock of Christ back to the path of righteousness, it also allowed artists an unusual kind of freedom to paint their most horrific imaginings.

The Christian doctrine of hell derives from the teaching of the New Testament. For example, as described in Matthew 13:49-50: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Little else is said about the nature of Hell in the New Testament which allows for a wide range of interpretations. Christian thought ranges from the standard medieval depiction preferred by Bouts and his contemporaries, to the more modern view expressed where Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons man, as a place where man, by misusing his free will, chooses to imprison himself. As such, the wicked are not deprived of the love of God, but by their own choice they experience as suffering what the saints experience as joy. The love of God becomes an intolerable torment for those who have not acquired it within themselves.

Dieric Bouts, also spelled Dirk, Dierick and Dirck (born circa 1410/1420, died 1475) was an Early Netherlandish painter. Very little is actually known about Bouts' early life, but he was greatly influenced by Jan van Eyck and by Rogier van der Weyden, under whom he may have studied. He is documented in Leuven in 1457 and worked there until his death in 1475

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