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Kunsthistorisches Archives - St. Stephen's University

framing life

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

In our many visits to galleries, museums and historical sights I have been perpetually frustrated by the generalizing of a history that is deeply nuanced and specific.
The pedagogy of history is notorious for its forgetfulness, but something dishonest is communicated in the absence of life’s little regularities in our history lessons. In naming what is significant it trivializes, makes lost, what it considers unimportant. It says: You are redundant. Your little garden is redundant, the way green looks on pink is redundant, feeding your children is redundant and kindness and caring are redundant. It starts to make you feel a little inadequate after a while. Indifferent and perhaps ashamed.
For this reason I am happy to have visited the art history museum in Vienna to see what the northern renaissance artists chose to frame. The drunks. The peasants. The dances. The cold.
Hunters in the Snow, by Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel, struck me as grounding and honest. A striking depiction of a winter scene, a group of men return from the hunt with little to show for it, nearby a fire is being tended and clung to and down below, in a frozen valley the dark silhouettes of little children play on the ice.
Here is the history I’m looking to know: the story of what it is to live in the hours that make up the days. To feed and be fed. To keep warm. To mourn and to play. To laugh and to cry.
To frame this story, to name it worthy of paint and canvas and space, is to venerate living for its own sake, for its fullness and roundness even in the smallness of time and space. Especially in the smallness of time and space that none of us ever have or ever can escape. Bruegel makes me feel acknowledged and at home in the world.