• Sleeping Beauty? : ‘The Wheat and the Tares’ by Abraham Bloemaert
    Liturgical art is a visual expression of the profound imagery of the liturgy and faith. In
    today’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 things
    on parallel for comparison. Jesus often used local imagery for the latter. This imagery springs
    to life through the brush of the artist.
    Abraham Bloemaert treated the subject of the Parable of the weeds more than once during the
    course of his long career. The painting in consideration was possibly painted at a later stage in
    his art life. But what was his journey through art like?
    Bloemaert was born in a Catholic family in 1566 in Southern Netherlands. The year was
    marked with turmoil. The lion of the 17 provinces was torn between the Dutch Holland and
    the Spanish Flanders. The Protestant insurgency and iconoclasm claimed violence all over the
    southern provinces. Churches were sacked, stained glasses crushed, images destroyed.
    Bloemaert’s father was a sculptor and an engineer. He moved north to Utrecht, an ancient
    bishopric 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 siesta
    moment of today’s Gospel: ‘While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all
    through 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 sundry
    positions. They seem tricked into an ambiguous slumber. The labourers and the manager lie
    intoxicated. The mother and her baby lull amid breastfeed. The horse dozes off. The rake, the
    plough 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 while
    his right hand sows malice. He seeds not wheat but tares. These resemble wheat grains but
    function as a soporific poison. The rogue snorts, ‘Sleep well fellas while I get done with my
    job!’ The outstretched wings of the scoundrel and his tagging team of flying fowls are
    indicative of the passage of the Sower; ‘some seeds fell along the footpath and the birds came
    and ate them.’
    A little hunting will bring us to the climax of the parable. Time travels from the foreground to
    the background. Across the green fields of wheat and weed is poised a stone structured
    mansion. 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 his
    servants to blaze off the bale of tares in his barn. It is intriguing how the nest of slumber
    marks an end to the scandal of the immoral. Good conquers evil.
    Fashioned in the mannerist mode of art, Bloemaert visually narrates the parable. The restless
    light effects, the strong contrast, the colour gamut, the graceful posing of the figures animate
    the sequence. However, it is more than a narration. It is a statement, nay, an assertion against
    iconoclasm. It expresses liturgical art as a window to the spiritual world. It takes us on a
    journey beyond the creation unto the Creator to comprehend His parables, His teachings and
    His will.
  • The Archdiocesan Heritage Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
    For a guided tour please contact 022 – 29271557

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