The lowest animals in the role of the star

They were traditionally viewed with disgust: insects, spiders, lizards, and frogs. But in the eighteenth century scholars and artists suddenly began to take an interest in it. Hideouts in the Rijksmuseum tells you why.

“Some insects do not spawn from their peers, but are born by themselves. From the dew that falls on the leaves, for example, usually in spring. Others arise from mud or manure. Or from wood, still green or already dry.” Or from the hair of animals or from their flesh.” The Greek Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a great thinker in politics, ethics and logic, but what he said about biology seems too absurd for words today.

Even more surprising is that his views were correct hundreds of years later, through the Middle Ages. The archetype of Aristotle is that he manages to give the everyday instinctive aversion to insects a philosophical anchorage. Precisely because they were not sexually conceived, those crowded arthropods belonged to the lower rungs of the ladder of nature, Scala naturewhich is the classification model by which Aristotle classified all forms of life.

Later, the church adopted Aristotle’s ladder with some modifications to fit the Christian worldview. At the base of the animal sector (and below insects) Aristotle placed the jellyfish, while in the Middle Ages a serpent would have been found there, which was relegated to this position on account of its sinister role in earthly heaven.

At home in the stench

Gradually, more outcasts of creation ended up there. The Crawl exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam illustrates this with an ancient print revealing the design of Noah’s Ark. On the upper deck are the living and sleeping quarters of Noah and his family. One floor below are the storage areas and stables for the four-legged friends. Below, on the lowest level, the crawlers, who have been banished to a “stench” or cesspool. Snakes, frogs, lizards, spiders, millipedes, worms, and beetles slip into the goo that squirms together there. The caption subtly states that it’s about “bugs that breed from trash.” It is scum, springing to life in the mud and dirt, that could be happy with a place in the deepest caverns of the ship.

At the bottom of Noah’s Ark, snakes and worms slithered. © Wataniya

Poor sinners

No, the Crawlers didn’t bring their call. In medieval art, they are almost always depicted as tools (or even accomplices) of the devil to torment sinners. Judging by the countless scenes of Hell, one would almost doubt that it was their natural home.

From the twelfth century, the number Female aux snakes on me. It is about a naked woman, already decomposing, ruined by snakes that bite her breasts or nest in her crotch (sometimes a toad or lizard helps out). With this, depraved people were shown how they would be punished in the hereafter for the infamous caresses they had indulged in during life.

A little under exaggerated, but nerdy and again with a weakness in a lead role, it was transition: This is the name of the funerary monuments that were in great demand in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which depict the deceased as a half-rotten corpse, eaten by worms. The intent was to confront kin with the crossing of earthly life, which was summed up in a Trappist saying Morey’s memory: Remember, you must die too.

Then everything changes. In the middle of the 18th century, the sinister image of the undergarments faded. He suddenly catches the attention of artists and scholars, without the aura of damnation and damnation.

This transformation is illustrated in the gallery with the works of the Dutch painter Otto Marcius van Schreck (1613-1678). I have painted still lifes, but of a very special kind. It shows what happens on damp forest soil, among thorns, fungi and mosses. Snakes, lizards, frogs, beetles, dragonflies and butterflies chase each other.

The kind he invented with her, sutoposko (“Still Life in the Woods”), long forgotten, a dead end in the history of art, but at the time was very successful and followed.

Marcius took his craft very seriously: he worked from a live model. On a fenced piece of land he kept, according to a contemporary, “thousands of lower animals, which he deftly examined and painted.” In his penchant for precision, he went so far as to stick scales of real butterflies into the still wet paint.

Mercius forest soils are important for two reasons. By placing the lower animals in a starring role, he turned the hierarchical ladder of nature a la Aristotle on its head. At the same time, his work shows that something has changed in the perspective of nature. Metaphorical or biblical meanings and all the ballast that came with them since ancient times were less important. Observation has become more important than narration. Art and science go hand in hand. Knowledge became more visual, and as a result, prints and graphics took on a more prominent role. On the contrary, many artists have incorporated new scientific insights into their works.

Fifth Gospel

The book also reflected on the new way of looking at the world Micrograph (1665) by Robert Hooke. Hooke made amazing engravings of what he saw through the best microscopes of his time. The enlarged parts of insects, like the compound eyes of a fly and the sting of a bee, made an indelible impression on readers. It looked like a louse and a flea Aliens from an alien planet.

It is tempting to attribute this sudden interest in the use of microlens to the improvement of microlenses. This interest was there before. It was precisely the interest in the small that gave impetus to the development of the microscope.

Then the question remains, of course, where did this interest in the little one come from. Historian Eric Gorink, in his contribution to the catalog, attributes this to the climate of Protestant thought. Protestant theists cherished the concept of the Five Gospels: four of them were written by evangelists, and the fifth is the nature created by God. They considered not only the Bible, but also creation as a revelation from God. the whole creation. Also toad, water spider and aphid.

And therefore both great and ugly creatures, both beautiful and ugly, deserve equal respect. In other words, the zeal with which Protestant theologians examined every syllable of scripture had a counterpart in the way artists painted the feet of a fly or the scales of a snake’s skin.

For the good of all

Ants crawling on the walls of the Rijksmuseum. You can’t miss it, there are hundreds of them and each one is an arm’s length away. It is an installation by Colombian artist Rafael Gomesbarros. he claims Casa tomada (“Home Taken”) and initially depicts the hundreds of thousands of Colombians who fled their homes during the years of civil war.

There is something special about an ant. Throughout history, it seems to stem from disdain for the inferior crew. The bee does not suffer from this either, but it can still be explained by its usefulness to humans. For an ant, it’s different. She has been admired for her tireless efforts from ancient times to the present day (see cricket and ant, Aesop, sixth century BC), Concord (Voltaire: ‘cA special haque work for le bonheur de tous’ 1769) and a sense of organization (ants Written by social biologist E.O. Wilson, 1991). In short, the ant has traditionally been a rewarding display surface for political values ​​and ideas.

The 17th-century German artist Maria Sibylla Merian was an expert on insects.
The 17th-century German artist Maria Sibylla Merian was an expert on insects. © Wataniya

Gomezbaros follows this tradition and, as usual, charges its members with allegories, virtues, and stories. On closer examination, the head and abdomen of the anteater appear to be clusters of human skulls, as if contemporaneously. Morey’s memory. And while ants are known to be hard and loyal workers, their arrival is often seen as an unwanted invasion. This gives Gomezbaros’ work a thematic layer of meaning, about refugees around the world and migration in general.

So this exhibition invites the visitor to go home with an overarching idea: to take a second look at what triggers disgust.

creeps. From horror to wonder. Until 1/15 at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Albrecht Dürer also made detailed drawings of the smallest creatures, such as the stag beetle (1505).
Albrecht Dürer also made detailed drawings of the smallest creatures, such as the stag beetle (1505). © Wataniya

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