Detail from “Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife,” by the Master of Northern Renaissance Jan Van Eyck (Bruges, d.1441), painted in 1434.
Van Eyck, known for his illustrated manuscripts, portraits and of course the Ghent Altarpiece (dated 1432), brought life into the scenery and the people he painted like no one before him. He helped define a new trend in art where painting became the medium of grandeur or “the art of arts” as it became known, rather than tapestry or architecture.
He defied the Church (then divided between Rome and Avignon) in many ways, especially for portraying religious figures with human feelings. Yet, he was adored by the nobility (especially the Duke of Burgundy) and the common man who in the aftermath of the great plague, saw renewal and hope in his art, most particularly for his use of light.
Painting on display at the National Gallery, London.
“We live no more than one hundred years” wrote Sikong Tu at the start of a poem more than one thousand years ago.
We live but a speck in timelessness.
So, why not let our hair turn white and the soft breeze rustle through our clothes?
Why not let the moss cover the stone?
Let us not fret about the world, shall we?
Inspiration: Sikong Tu (China, 837-908), Tang Dynasty poet, known for his poems and for writing the Chinese poetry manual “The twenty-four styles of poetry.”
I have no roots.
I am just a discarded branch on the soil.
I don’t mind you see.
With the years, I have grown small branches upon which leaves often grow. Small green leaves that gently gather my tears in the early morning, and let the sun shines through all the way to my heart.
Right now, the branches are blooming with fragile white petals almost as transparent as my dreams. Soon the wind will blow and they will scatter in a torrent of laughter.
I hope you can hear them.
The traditional New Year celebration is not really my cup of tea, a change of number barely gets my attention. New Year’s eve is just like any other night, a bit of music, a bit of poetry and quiet dreams of infinity.
For me, it is Navroz that brings on the festivity; when Spring gently knocks at the door baring the gift of light, illuminating the house and encouraging me to clean it meticulously.
I prefer the swallows’ early morning songs, to the loud and hollow conversation of revellers; and the quiet opening of the hyacinth, to the commotion of fireworks.
Instead of the display of caviar, champagne and glitter; I would rather feel the blessings of the haft seen, the seven items of the altar: the lentil sprouts, the garlic, the apple, the vinegar, the fish, the mirror and of course, the book of Hafez’s poetry.
On that day, you are cordially invited to our house to sit under the cherry blossoms and listen to the gentle conversation of the violet, the pansy and the tulip. Believe me, they always have a lot of interesting things to say if you listen carefully.
Please come and come early, so that together we may dance amidst particles of light and smile at Hafez’s witty and eternal poetry.
Photos: Courtyard in Isfahan, Iran; and swallows in El Charco Botanical Garden, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.