Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bes

Bes_Nordisk_familjebok

Illustration of Bes from Nordisk_familjebok, 1907

 

One of the more unusual of Egyptian gods, Bes is an unlikely benevolent spirit. Sometimes linked to or confused with similar dwarf gods such as Aha, Bes is a waring deity and was very popular during the New Kingdom, but existed in ancient Egypt since the Old Kingdom.

He is a squat figure sometimes shown with a weapon, tale, or phallus, and a violent grin on his face. He often wears a top hat that looks much like the capital of a doric column. One of the more unusual characteristics of most depictions of Bes is that he is shown in full frontal portrait, while Egyptian deities were typically represented in profile. His demonic appearance, though more mischievous and curmudgeonly really, is sometimes thought to have influenced future depictions of the Christian devil.

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Though Bes was a violent, destructive being who slayed all manner of evil beasts, he was known to the masses as a protector, particularly of households and childbirth. He was ferocious enough to have decorated the weapons of warriors, but could also be found adorning the bodies of servant girls in the form of tattoos. Couples might place his image in their private chambers for luck in bearing children.

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, terracotta figures like the one above, usually with an erect phallus (this one is missing), may have been placed in chambers where pilgrims came to sleep, so that they might receive “divinely inspired dreams.”

 

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Simon Bening’s Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Measuring at just under the size of a piece of letter paper, this magic little painting sits quietly and unassumingly in Gallery 640 in the European Paintings Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work is attributed to Simon Bening, the great Netherlandish miniaturist and son of illuminator, Alexander Bening. He is most widely known for creating books of hours for royal patrons and rulers.

One of the most remarkable qualities of this finely painted Virgin and Child is its plainness. Though her hair is golden, the mother is mostly unadorned. The child’s hair is also golden, but their are no halos. The scene is one of quiet, stillness, and knowing. The mother’s face, though somewhat idealized, is pensive, almost distracted, while the child turns his gaze outward with a glint of providence in his eye.

The landscape behind is meticulous and simple with each leaf singular and distinct. In the distance, a small cottage with its lone figure sits by a stream where two swans drift. The figures are seated on what could be a simple garden wall in any village.

The child extends his spoon toward us, and the accompanying text for the painting notes that…

…Mary is presented as the very model of a nurturing mother. A stream of milk flows from her breast to the lips of the Child, who turns toward the viewer and gestures with a spoon, linking physical nourishment with the spiritual nourishment he offers.

Other works by Simon Bening in the Met’s online collection can be found here…

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A City on a Rock

Eugenio Lucas Velázquez, A City on a Rock, oil on canvas, 84 × 104 cm (33.1 × 40.9 in), 1850-1875?, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Eugenio Lucas Velázquez, A City on a Rock, oil on canvas, 84 × 104 cm (33.1 × 40.9 in), 1850-1875?, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This painting was originally attributed to Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), but since about 1970 has been thought to be a pastiche by Eugenio Lucas Velázquez (1817–1870), one of Goya’s followers.
 
 
 
Books about Spanish Painting…
 

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