Sleeping Beauty? : ‘The Wheat and the Tares’ by Abraham BloemaertLiturgical art is a visual expression of the profound imagery of the liturgy and faith. Intoday’s painting we encounter the second of the seven parables from the Gospel of Matthew.The word ‘parable’ is derived from the Greek word ‘parabole’ which signifies placing thingson parallel for comparison. Jesus often used local imagery for the latter. This imagery springsto life through the brush of the artist.Abraham Bloemaert treated the subject of the Parable of the weeds more than once during thecourse of his long career. The painting in consideration was possibly painted at a later stage inhis art life. But what was his journey through art like?Bloemaert was born in a Catholic family in 1566 in Southern Netherlands. The year wasmarked with turmoil. The lion of the 17 provinces was torn between the Dutch Holland andthe Spanish Flanders. The Protestant insurgency and iconoclasm claimed violence all over thesouthern provinces. Churches were sacked, stained glasses crushed, images destroyed.Bloemaert’s father was a sculptor and an engineer. He moved north to Utrecht, an ancientbishopric near Amsterdam. Thus Utrecht formed the hub of Bloemaert’s career.The scene of today’s painting is a country landscape. Its premier scene captures the siestamoment of today’s Gospel: ‘While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds allthrough the wheat and then went off.’Allegorically the painting is divided into two halves: the before and the after. To the left,occupying most of the foreground is a group of nude and semi-nude servants asleep in sundrypositions. They seem tricked into an ambiguous slumber. The labourers and the manager lieintoxicated. The mother and her baby lull amid breastfeed. The horse dozes off. The rake, theplough and the drafting marker await employment. They repose within a dilapidated barn.Strewn roots signal woe.Sneaking down the soiled ramp is the trickster. His left hand holds onto a fabric sling whilehis right hand sows malice. He seeds not wheat but tares. These resemble wheat grains butfunction as a soporific poison. The rogue snorts, ‘Sleep well fellas while I get done with myjob!’ The outstretched wings of the scoundrel and his tagging team of flying fowls areindicative of the passage of the Sower; ‘some seeds fell along the footpath and the birds cameand ate them.’A little hunting will bring us to the climax of the parable. Time travels from the foreground tothe background. Across the green fields of wheat and weed is poised a stone structuredmansion. At its entrance stand three roughly sketched figures. One of them carries a bundle.As apparent, it is harvest time. The mansion belongs to the owner who commands hisservants to blaze off the bale of tares in his barn. It is intriguing how the nest of slumbermarks an end to the scandal of the immoral. Good conquers evil.Fashioned in the mannerist mode of art, Bloemaert visually narrates the parable. The restlesslight effects, the strong contrast, the colour gamut, the graceful posing of the figures animatethe sequence. However, it is more than a narration. It is a statement, nay, an assertion againsticonoclasm. It expresses liturgical art as a window to the spiritual world. It takes us on ajourney beyond the creation unto the Creator to comprehend His parables, His teachings andHis will.
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