Art ---
1400 - 1600

Henk van Os and others
Waanders is issuing four volumes of "Netherlandish Art." This is the first, treating the late medieval and the early Renaissance. Included are over three hundred photographs of paintings, drawings, sculpture, reliefs, busts, sacred documents --- and even chandeliers and candlesticks.

The word "Netherlandish" is used, because what we know of as "Dutch" or "Holland," "Flemish," or "The Netherlands" did not exist in the geography of the two-and-a-half centuries represented here. There was the northerly portion, generally considered to be poor, Protestant, and backwards. The southern part was Catholic, and prosperous, being home to the rich traders of Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp. (The territory extended further south, as well, into what are now parts of France.)

Most of these art works are at the Rijksmuseum, and the photographs --- including some taken as long a 100 years ago --- show not only the sculptures, paintings, drawings, and figurines --- but give a picture of what the museum has been over the years.

The focus of the book is one hundred of the most important art works, arranged chronologically. It begins with a 1362 silver bust of St. Frederick of Utrecht, which is described with an:

    architectonic, linear nature of the mitre, with its Gothic tracery....The individualized look is reinforced by the contrasting effect of the stiffly modeled locks of hair framing the face. It is this realism that makes the bust so innovative...

The last item is a rather strange print of Frederick de Vries, dated 1597, showing the prince as a boy, attempting, if you'll believe it, to mount a dog. The artist was Hendrick Goltzius, custodian and teacher to de Vries. It was written that the dog signifies "the upright teacher, who must bark fearlessly and constantly, and keep watch over the souls of men and punish their sins." All well enough and good, but for this fat little boy to be about to break the back of Old Dog Tray is strange indeed. The dog, it turned out, was to become more famous than his pudgy master: "Goltzius' dog" appeared in Rome in engravings made shortly after this print was produced.

There are some astonishing works reproduced here. #95 is a very sensuous rendering of "The Fall of Man," with a bearded Adam and a pale Eve barely hiding their private parts with fig-leaves. (One certainly might ask where they got their conspicuous navels.) They are surrounded by animals, not only the snake above, but owls, sheep, dogs, foxes, a smiling lion, frogs, slugs --- slugs! --- and a dour monkey hugging an unresisting cat.

#94 is "The Massacre of the Innocents," a 1590 painting from van Haarlem, which outdoes Fox television in its gaudy violence: pale dead babes, screaming women, and soldiers all thighs and buttocks wielding knives, wrestling with rather overwrought mothers who, over there to the left, are busily ripping out the eyes of one of these bullies.

To our eyes, what's left of them, the most glorious of the selections are three engravings by Jan Muller [reproduced here] showing three views of a bronze sculpture of Mercury and Psyche by Adriaen de Vries. The editors harp on the fact that the face of Psyche is not perfect, the vase in her hand out-of-proportion --- but the glory of the work is the powerful intertwining of the figures, the whirling dance that is a sensuous woman enmeshed with glorious man-god, giving one the feeling that the two of them are just about to soar off in rapture into the heavens.

--- R. D. Krause, PhD


A Panorama
Of Work in the
American City

Ron Howell
(The New Press)
A New York City sanitation worker can make $63,000 a year, with overtime; a funeral director, about $160,000. A dishwasher in Greenwich Village gets $17,500 working ten hours a day, six days a week. A bus driver will receive health benefits, pension, and vacation time while hauling down $57,000 --- assuming he's willing to work fifty-seven hours a week.

Carlos Medina partied every weekend, worked evenings and weekends, outdoors and indoors. He made up to $100,000 a year, but the risks included "jail, murder." He was a dope dealer. Richard Adams works on the sidewalks and curbs on the West Side. He's a street cleaner, making $9,980 a year working for the Doe Fund, a non-profit organization to help ex-dope addicts. Levine Bradley is a Squeegee Man --- cleaning windshields on street-corners, avoiding the police, netting a couple of thousand a year, tax-free.

Roy Geronemus, a dermatologist, works sixty hours Monday through Friday, and pulls in over $200,000 a year. Marshall Mintz runs a bookstore, works seventy hours a week, and makes between $26,000 and $36,000 a year. Juan Hernandez puts in ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, and gets $11,000 a year. He's a barber. Michael Bachner can work twelve to seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, making over $500,000 a year. He's a securities and organized crime lawyer.

It's a fascinating peek at the marketplace --- and the editors have given the subjects a couple of pages to describe their lives, while Ozier Muhammad supplies photographs of them at work. It's also a commentary on the priorities of our society: Kai, a former prostitute, took in up to $52,000 a year, whereas Silvia Arellano makes $25,000 in the garment district (twelve hours a day, six days a week) "if working steadily and if the bosses pay." Landlord Nicholas Boeck pulls $250,000 - $300,000 a year, but Steven Muņiz, a shop owner who teaches youth to repair computers, gets only $10,000 a year, after expenses.

---Lolita Lark


Sherri Szeman
Nazi Germany offers a rich lode to novelists: brutality, pain, injustice, martyrdom, unbridled cruelty, innocence destroyed, pure evil, and --- most of all --- total power in the hands of those who run the show. Not since early Christians stumbled over religious sin and the devil have writers been able to have such a field day presenting the reader with the clear-cut opposites of humanity and bestiality.

Problem is, the Nazis were such villains that it is hard for readers to have any rapport with them whatsoever; and the victims are so brutally oppressed that it is equally difficult to put ourselves in their mind-set. If I am living in a suburb on the outskirts of Boston or San Francisco or Seattle or Chicago or Dallas, I may run into some hard-hearted bankers or lawyers or traffic cops, but I doubt if this will help me to understand the Kommandant of Auschwitz, since bankers or lawyers or cops don't normally gas the clients that displease them.

By the same token, in my suburban home, it will be damn near impossible to imagine the astounding desperation of Jews who were, out of the blue, arrested and transported to their death between 1933 and 1945. Our government might be foolish and, at times, cruel, but you and I in America, at the beginning of the 21st Century, simply cannot envision a state machinery that turns, overnight, from the relatively benign bureaucracy of the Weimar Republic to one that was run by hooligans with no sense, whatsoever, of kindness and humanity.

For a novelist, it's a chore: the bad have to be so bad and the good so good that they often stray beyond our comprehension. The Kommandant in Szeman's novel, when he's not gassing people or raping, yet again, his Jewish mistress, is bickering with his wife and nagging the children to eat their supper. Rachel, his "mistress" --- better, the woman who lives in his office and he periodically violates --- has had to chill her emotions so thoroughly that no one, not even the reader --- can communicate with her. Whether she is sitting silently in the Kommandant's office, waiting his next attack, or --- in later years --- living in New England with her long-suffering husband, she is so untouchable that it is hard for us to make much sense of her.

I suspect the author saw the problem she was creating for herself, and she overcomes it by telling her story in a rather peculiar way. She uses what we might call prose enjambment. The story-line concentrating on the Kommandant, his wife and children, will --- with a key word --- suddenly shift to, say, Rachael as a young girl in the ghetto. With another key word, we will then be shifted back to the Kommandant at a party, with Marta, his whining wife which, with another key word, will again put us back with Rachael, this time, with her baffled husband, trying to communicate.

For example, when Rachael and her family arrive at Auschwitz, the Kommandant randomly shoots one of the boys from their village, and then says to the other Nazi officers, "Back to work." The next sentence takes us to Rachael in the U. S., presumably years later:

    "I just love your work," said an elderly woman in the bookstore, and she held out a book to me. "Would you autograph it for me?"

It's a mildly interesting technique, fully explored by Joyce, Faulkner, and Proust --- among others --- and it here serves to disguise the lack of... what shall we call it... the lack of humanity in the Kommandant and Rachael. But, alas, it turns, ultimately, to be too circular, too contrived, and it cannot obviate the hole in our characters' psyches, nor circumvent the readers' lack of rapport with them.

--- Pat Worley
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