Seventh Approach to Rubens ‘Het Steen’, 1636

If it is autumn, only the big trees in the foreground are starting to turn, especially the dead leaves from the fallen tree and from the lower branches of the –oak? – in the centre island and the other trees to the left of Het Steen itself. Notice by the way that the sapling, or the part of the tree that has fallen with it, echoes the shape of the ditch and one of the circular ditches radiating from the island. Apart from the hunting and fishing (man on the bridge) and maybe the fungi showing the bounty of autumn, where are the fruits?
Northern Damp
Looking at the Bacon-esque smears of white paint that run horizontally from under the horses hooves across to the fallen tree trunk, they have some of the qualities of water about them. What could be construed of the path/ track that runs around to our right of the tree island is a murky indistinct series of smudges in a grey brown. Taken in parallel with the white, can this also be read as water, is the cart coming through a stream/ ford. The mushroom/ fungi on the fallen wood certainly tell us how damp it is.
To the left of the drawbridge, into the front of Het Steen, further horizontal smudges that could be read as more people, at least three of the smudges go down to the ground; therefore skirts.
I am here after a GCSE inset course on the new specification, needing consolation after all those numbers and phrases and procedures. So, here I am putting in a bit of critical and contextual study of my own. Is the light of the sun, rising we think, the light of nature? Or given that we are considerably post Reformation, the Light of God? Or I suppose, given that this is painted by an artist in some sort of retirement, the light of art? A raking light from upper right to lower left, almost as if Het Steen has it’s own personal sun, painted by a man who had, in his relationship to the Stuarts and the Hapsburgs, been close to a Royal Sun/ Son.
If standing, the central tree would exactly bisect the image, it would become a diptych. Whilst there is little in the way of overt cultural symbolism here, an accumulation of narrative perhaps but few other attributes or linkages. Nonetheless the fallen tree, much drawn in Northern European art, must bring with it a series of meanings. Old age? The power of nature? Fittingly perhaps, a man with a briefcase has just sat down next to me go through a set of auction papers referring to a range of different lots. Property, past relevance to one person, sold on to the next. Time to go
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