Front Cover – La Chute des damnés – Dirk Bouts 1450 Musée des Beaux Arts, Lille
Dirk Bouts! What a name! Short, snappy, strong. It’s odd Dirk never stuck after Bogarde’s attempt to revive it – his dad was Flemish too, like Bouts. Why aren’t kids today being named Dirk instead of such esoteric nonsenses as Keanu, Wayne, and Brooklyn? Even my childhood hero Dick Barton would have sounded better as Dirk Barton (especially in our foul-mouthed age). But I digress.
Dirk was a pupil of the great Rogier van der Weyden. He didn’t have Roge’s spiritual intensity but he had a punchy graphic style and a strong sense of colour. We might even hypothesise that his elongated figures weren’t simplistic strategies for filling the customer’s allotted space but precursors of mannerism and even El Greco.
So, being a fan already, it was a pleasant surprise, mooching about in the gloomy underground gallery in the Musée des Beaux Arts at Lille, to come across Dirk’s La Chute des damnés. If you think the bedbugs in the hotel are bad then cop this pic. The kraut critic Hans Belting thought medieval art (up to 1500) was powered by the cult image and that the Renaissance softened and humanised this energising icon. The Renaissance, according to Hans, was a mistake and art got back on track only in the 19th C with modernism. Well, up to a point Hans. You will not, for instance, notice any Boutsian monsters in Michelangelo’s vision of the decent into hell. Dirk, on the other hand, has a whole menagerie of reptilian, hairy-arsed batwinged grotesques, just like Bosch, Breugel and Grunewald.
Since Brussels is only an hour’s drive away I shot off to the Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts to take a squint at another of Dirk’s masterpieces – The Judgement of Otto. (see back cover). This is a diptych. Otto’s wife was something of a hot-arse and when she was rejected by a loyal Count she said she’d been raped. Hubby Otto had the Count’s head cut off. The widow convinced Otto he’d been hasty and the Emperor, contrite by now, ordered his wife to undergo a trial by fire. The detail at the top shows her burning. So, a happy ending after all.