The Painter

In the 16th century there lived a Dutch painter convinced that nothing could be adequately represented in art, because, in a painting, or a sculpture, the representation of the object stands still while the portrayed object is forever changing (due to shifting shadows, the accumulation of dust, movement, etc). He had been raised in Franciscan mysticism, and he saw painting, or the constant contemplation of God’s perfect forms, as a form of devotion. It’s said that once he found his patron, he worked on only one painting for the rest of his life, a simple arrangement of two columns draped dramatically in cloth. When the light changed in his studio, or the cloth shifted, he worked diligently to correct these “mistakes”, and as a result he painted constantly. His days were haunted by periods of intense mania, where, forgetting everything, even sleep (which sometimes came to him while he was standing up) he would work on the painting without stopping for several weeks. His brush hand became weak prematurely, and his lines started to blur. He taught himself to paint with his other hand, but he never trusted it fully. His vision, too, was going: it’s said that the painting began to look washed-out, and that in one corner was a large dark area caused by his cataracts. Finally he stopped working on the painting altogether. His patron demanded to see it, hearing that the work was finished, but the painter refused. He thought it more incomplete than it had ever been. There was no other recourse: the painting was destroyed. Shortly afterwards, the painter died.

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