Little Tower of Babel

The “Little” Tower of Babel PIETER BRUEGEL (1525-1569)

See http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._076.jpg for the source of the photograph of the above painting.

Part of what I like about Flemish Rennaisance painting is that often the artists see the biblical scene in terms of their own every-day life.  There are advantages to imagining a scene as it might have occurred at the time described; there are other advantages to translating that ancient story into contemporary terms.   In this painting, the tower is built next to a Dutch harbor in classic design.  You see that it has risen above the clouds, thus graphically demonstrating in ancient understanding, the reason that God should fear humankind’s intrusion into God’s doman, presenting a threat to “the gods’ power as described in Genesis 11:1-9.   “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  v. 7.  See http://www.all-art.org/early_renaissance/bruegel01biography.html  for an excellent article on Bruegel’s work.

There is a similar Sumerian story written about 2000 B.C.  In that, a god becomes jealous of mankind building a ziggurat (or high rock structure) in honor of another god, so imposes on humankind many different languages.   In both accounts, the gods feel threatened by human power, and so multiple languages are imposed to confound and restrict it.

Sister Wendy Beckett is a highly acclaimed art critic and commentator, early introduced to the public in the Public Broadcasting series, Sister Wendy’s Odyssey. In her Book Of Meditations she offers the following meditation upon the above painting:

Beyond Babel

What silence principally armors us against is Babel: the endless foolish chatter, words used to confound thought, words misused to ward off a friendship or attachments, words as occupation. The Biblical Babel was a metaphor for the loss of human ability to communicate as a consequence of the rise of different languages; but the foreigness of other tongues is a smoke screen. To express what one means, and to hear what another means: this is a rare thing. Babel is profoundly destructive of our energies, as Bruegel so splendidly shows. This monstrous tower is consuming all who labor on or near it. We have an absolute need for quiet for the heart’s wordless resting on God.

We will, on occasion, revisit Sister Wendy’s Book of Meditations and also her book, Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour. She has also written other acclaimed books on western art, including Contemporary Women Artists, Art And The Sacred, Sister Wendy’s Odyssey, Sister Wendy’s Story Of Painting, sister wendy’s book of the saints, and a child’s book of prayer in art. These are published by DK Publishing, Inc, 905Madison Ave, New York, NY 100016. It also has a web page at http://www.dk.com. I highly recommend her books.

Links to my site:

Introduction

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/introduction/

Graphic Arts

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/i-graphic-arts/

Architecture

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/ii-church-architecture-and-its-incorporation-of-art/

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https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/iii-music/

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https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/iv-theology/

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Noah’s Ark

Like the creation story, there are two biblical flood stories.  In the first, Noah is instructed to gather two of each “kind” of animal (this is the popularized version – see Genesis 6:19,20).  In the second, he is instructed to gather seven of every kind of clean animal and bird (that being a number of perfection) and two of every kind of unclean animal – see Genesis 7:2,3.

There is a Chaldean story, from the area that is now Iraq, that is identical in most respects to one of our Genesis flood stories,  similar in other respects, and different in still others (as, how he knew to build the ark, its size and shape, the mountain where it landed and the birds that were sent out after it landed).  In the Chaldean story Ut-Napishtim is the Noah figure.

The first painting, below, is one of my favorite paintings of this subject.  We see Noah tending the animals at the front of the ark.  How chaotic! What a mess!  And that is before they got the animals into the ark and the window presumably closed, since Genesis 8:6 says that  after the rains stopped, the waters subsided, and Noah opened the window.

Front of Noah’s Ark GIOVANNI BENEDETTO CASTIGLIONE (1650)

See http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/castigli/noahsark.html for the source of the photograph of the above painting.

Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat HIERONYMIUS BOSCH (1450-1516)

See http://www.abcgallery.com/B/bosch/bosch48.html for the source of the photograph of the above painting.

I like the above painting both for its depiction of the ark’s precarious perch  on the peak of Mount Ararat and, I respect it for its realistic exploration of the horror inherent in the story of the deluge, as described in Genesis.  Bosch’s paintings have a certain earthiness as well as other-worldliness, whether delightful or horrifying, fantastic or nightmarish.  See the fanciful sensuality in the Garden of Earthly Delights, depicting life in the Garden of Eden at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights , or his representation of the evil and grotesque aspects of life, as in Christ Carrying the Cross, http://www.abcgallery.com/B/bosch/bosch56.html .

For a biography of Bosch, see http://www.abcgallery.com/B/bosch/boschbio.html

Finally, we see the artistic expression of this story in an entirely different graphic medium: wool and silk on woolen warp, or tapestry:

God the Father Establishing His Covenant with Noah WILLEM DE PANNEMAKER

(1567)

See http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/35216-god-the-father-establishing-his-covenant-with-noah-pannemaker-willem-de.html for the source of the photograph of the above painting.

Links to my site:

Introduction

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/introduction/

Graphic Arts

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/i-graphic-arts/

Architecture

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/ii-church-architecture-and-its-incorporation-of-art/

Music

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/iii-music/

Theology

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/iv-theology/

Home Page

https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/