IN-SIGHT: ‘Healing of the blind man of Jericho’ by Lucas Van Leyden (1531)

We are in the Dutch provinces of the 1500’s. The Dutch Revolt (1568 – 1648) and the Reformation (1517 – 1648) brought a serious strain to the role of the artist. The Protestant insurgency and iconoclasm claimed violence all over the provinces. Churches were sacked, stained glasses crushed and images destroyed. As a result Dutch art witnessed a sharp shift from the sacred to the secular.

Artist began depicting pedlars, peasants, beggars, courting couples, money changers and other local figures in their art works. This gave rise to what is called the ‘genre’ movement which further enhanced the development of painting in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century). The humorous portrayal of the ‘uncivilised man’ or the ‘dysfunctional mortal’ in art helped ponder and reflect on human virtues and vices.

The beauty of this genre is wonderfully expressed in today’s painting. The subject is that of ‘The healing of the blind man of Jericho’. The theme of ‘the restoration of sight’ was in itself revolutionary. Promoted by the Council of Trent, it symbolized the purification of the Catholic Church post the Protestant Reformation. The work in consideration is executed by Lucas Van Leyden, a Dutch engraver and painter who achieved much in his short life span of around 39 years (1494 – 1533).

The painting forms a part of a triptych (three panel painting) which was intended to feature on the walls of a hospital in Leyden as an assurance of physical and spiritual recovery. Therefore the hinged wings of the triptych feature not saints but rather the commissioners of the work of art. The figures stand tall holding heralds depicting their coat-of-arms. Interestingly, the woman is portrayed sans footwear, perhaps alluding to her simplicity and humility.

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