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) […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Folk Tunes and Corn Dollies in Merry Olde England

English folk tunes sung during harvest time and other field labors took various forms including ballads with charming melodies and lively tunes of ribald verse. The final cutting of grain after weeks of arduous work was commonly assigned to the youngest girl present. “O’ tis the merry time,” wrote cavalier poet Matthew Stevenson (c. 1654-1684), […]

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