Ruskin, Morris, and Intrinsic Values

English art critic and social essayist John Ruskin (1819-1900) wrote that the beauty of agrarian forms like grain sheaves and flower arrangements—objects of both natural and human dimension, represented true intrinsic value. To Ruskin, money and other types of modern capital have but ascribed “documentary claim to wealth.” Nineteenth century Romantic art and ideas, heavily […]

Father Cats and the Luykens

One of the leading poets and statesman in the Golden Age of Dutch literature and engraving, Jacob “Father” Cats (1577-1660) played a prominent role in the political life of Holland and as diplomat to England. A native of Zeeland, the most southwestern province of present Netherlands, Cats was familiar with the rural life in the […]

Wherefore Art Thou, Hidden Wheat?

Last year I traveled to meetings Washington, D. C., and which provided an opportunity to visit beautiful Folger Library which is located just a few blocks northeast of the Capitol Building. The library houses the world’s largest collection of works by and about William Shakespeare, and just standing inside the main reading room transports one […]

Prose and Poetry of the Soil

In 1503, Spanish writer Gabriel Alonzo de Herrera began a series of extensive travels throughout the continent and visited France, Italy, and Germany. He carefully studied the agrarian works of Virgil, Columella, Varro, and de Crescenzi, as well as the Islamic thinkers Abencenif (Ibn Wafid) and Avicena. Although inherently practical, Herrera’s Obra de Agricultura (1513) […]

Agrarian Landscapes as Serious Art

Jacob Ruisdael (1629-1682) was born to a prominent Haarlem artist family and became the preeminent landscapist of the Dutch Golden Age. His sweeping canvases included numerous coastal and Scandinavian mountain scenes, and twenty-seven views of grain fields also survive as paintings and drawings. In works like Wheat Fields (c. 1670), Ruisdael’s composition features a low […]

Brueghel’s Renaissance Beauty and Blisters (Part II)

An influential teacher during Brueghel’s apprenticeship in Antwerp and his future father-in-law, Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) served as painters’ guild master and court artist to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the great Renaissance economic crossroads of Brussels and Antwerp. Van Aelst also designed immense stained glass windows and exquisite tapestries to adorn the […]

Brueghel’s Renaissance Beauty and Blisters (Part I)

Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s sixteenth century masterpiece The Harvesters (1565) provides vivid commentary on the Old World division of labor. The vibrant panorama is one of five in the acclaimed Renaissance artist’s ambitious Seasons series of wide, high diagonal foregrounds that allow viewers to perceive vast distances. The work teems with life and hot summer […]

The Garden of Earthly Delights and The Miracle of the Wheat Field

Some medieval theologians and parish priests saw divine intervention in agrarian fortunes and used familiar harvest experience to acquaint parishioners with higher truths revealed in the Scriptures. The faithful heard sermons about Jesus’ parables of the sower, wheat and tares, mustard seed, and leaven—all four found in Matthew 13, in which the temporal realm of […]

The Holy Days of Harvest

Centuries of agrarian experience by European peasants and yeoman farmers led to adroit adaptations to the typically harsh conditions of life on the land. They learned to survive during the long continental winters through hard work and carefully arranged field operations suited to local conditions. Changes in the winds, soil textures and available moisture, and […]

Climate Change—Back in the Day

We’re still trying to figure out the weather here in the Tri-Cities after an unusually hard winter of 2019 that brought record snowfall to our usually balmy part of the world, following by virtually no precipitation this past winter. Back in the day when the fortunes of harvest meant the difference between a local population’s […]