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Archive for January, 2008

Trees of the Day

Posted by achresis on January 11, 2008

The Avenue at Middelharnis,1689

Meindert Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middelharnis, from1689, in the later period of the artist’s life, a period of infrequent artistic activity.

It is surprisingly powerful, though one might not have much noticed it. It adorns countless walls in homes across Europe and is particularly popular in small hotels and guesthouses or b&bs. The scene places the viewer on the road to a small harbour town in the distance. One can just see the masts of ships moored beyond the line of sight. It is geometrically exact: one can draw lines from the centre of the horizon through each of the nearest tree crowns and back along the road in the foreground.  The inherently straight road to the inviolable destination can seem both calming yet strangely oppressive once one does start to notice this painting’s power.

It evokes as if in a new context Augustine’s famous rhetorical “journey”:

Suppose, then, we were wanderers, and could not live happily away from our homeland, and that we felt wretched in our wandering, and wishing to put an end to our misery, determined to return home. We find, however, that we need transport, either by land or sea, in order to reach our homeland, the object of our enjoyment.  But the beauty of the country through which we pass, and the very pleasure of the motion, charm our hearts, and turning these things which we ought to use into objects of enjoyment, we become unwilling to hasten the end of our journey; and becoming engrossed in a factitious delight, our thoughts are diverted from that home whose delights would make us truly happy. Such is a picture of our condition in this life of mortality.

There is little, indeed, to tempt one away from Hobbema’s straight dirt road and all is anyway in the nature of the quiet industry of cultivation. The painting subordinates painting itself to an end in a rhetorical home elsewhere.


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