Tag Archives: Dutch Masters

Concupiscent Misreadings

girl_eating_oysters_oestereetstertje_by_jan_ste_poster-r4edaef2141d049adbd7427522df616cc_q9f_8byvr_512The Frick Collection is having a special exhibition of works from the The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague while it is being renovated. My daughter and I stood in the line which wrapped around to 5th Ave. the other day to see it. One room is entirely devoted to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It is a lovely painting of course, but we were somewhat bemused over why that painting deserves a room of its own. I suspect Colin Firth is to blame. Never mind, the second room has many more stunning paintings: Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Hals and others.

We were transfixed by a lovely little still life of fruit by Adriaen Coorte. I said to my daughter, after reading the title, “Hm. How odd. They don’t look like apples, they look like peaches.” I couldn’t figure out why an artist would put a stone-fruit crease in apples. She politely ignored me and it wasn’t until I looked at the brochure much later that I read the title again: Still Life With Five Apricots. I swear it had said apples. Maybe I have an apple preoccupation. I blame Eve.
“How could you let me blather on about apples?” I asked her.
“I was just confused how to argue with your opinion about what an apricot should look like,” she answered.
“Because,” I hissed- if one could hiss via a text message exchange,  “I thought it read apples! Apples!”
sigh. The truth is, most of my friendships are epistolary and my ability to misread or commit egregious typos is pretty spectacular. It’s like my brain has this powerful editor that works itself into a sputtering froth always trying do things like make apricots look like apples.  Who will save me from myself? Clearly not my daughter.

Anyway. Never mind false apples and fake pearl earrings, the painting that really deserves a room of its own was Jan Steen’s  Girl with Oysters. The smallest painting in the exhibit, my daughter breezed past it, drawn as she was to the painterly virtuosity displayed in a fabulous cuff of lace on the far wall, but I made her come back so she could appreciate the brilliance of the little scene of a girl sitting demurely on a bed eating oysters with a look of complete joyous lasciviousness in her eyes.

I have decided that the reason why pornography depressed me so much is that it absolutely lacks that look. Without getting all D.H. Lawrence about it by contemplating the life affirming potential of passionate Love, I think the reason perhaps why pornography is so weird (and I freely admit that my familiarity of the genre is very limited and dated) is that it’s all business. Animalistic business. I find a lot of modern literature and art suffers from a tendency towards the crassness of porn. Mistaking explicitness for authenticity. There is so little delight. So little celebration. Pornography misses the sweetness in the apple’s sin. In Girl with Oysters, completed in 1660, while not even addressing the separate question of Love per se, Steen has captured the very essence of what’s different and wonderful about human sex: it’s the fun.