Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An Angelic Skirt Lifter

“The Cathedral” in Brussels is understood to be the cathedral in the Grand Place Square. It is covered in intricate statues and carvings, all in fantastic detail. Row upon row of carvings that make up hundreds of characters that adorn the façade. A couple of characters caught my eye. One looking demure, the other coyly lifting her hem to reveal the petticoats underneath. At one level you might imagine that the artist was expressing his sense of humour. And that is certainly one level of interpretation that can be made of these two carvings. At another, more serious and prosaic level they need to be understood in the medieval context in which they were carved – as an instructional instrument. The clue to that is the woman on the right who wears a helmet, carries a shield, holds a lamp, and who has a character under her feet pointing at a book. As if to remind the illiterate that the Bible is the source of guidance on those weapons of spiritual warfare that she is holding. Her offsider is holding her hand over her mouth, is lifting her skirt and the character at her feet looks like a roguish monk. An instructional contrast of how to behave and live – wanton versus virtuous. While all that might be true, the wanton character was the one that caught my eye and which still seems to have a humourous streak to it. Maybe that says more about me than the artist.

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