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The Book of Hosea

Mountain landscape with river valley and the Prophet Hosea

Gillis III van Coninxloo (1544-1606). Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh – Antwerp.

Yahweh ordered Hosea to marry a prostitute and to have children with her. Hosea married the whore Gomer, daughter of Diblaim.

She bore him a son and Yahweh told Hosea to call this son by the name of Jezreel because he would punish the House of Jehu for the bloodshed at Jezreel. Then Gomer conceived of a daughter and Yahweh told Hosea to call her Lo-Ruhanah because he would have no pity anymore for Israel, but hold his pity for Judah. Gomer later gave birth to a second son and Yahweh ordered Hosea to call the boy Lo-Ammi for the people of Israel were not his anymore and he did not exist for the people any longer.

The prophecies of Hosea are one long poem delivering the recalling of Yahweh of all the crimes of Israel and the ensuing promise of punishment by God. The poetic lines form a short book, in which also Hosea compares his own love for his faithless wife with Yahweh’s love for faithless Israel. Hosea tells that Yahweh’s love will in the end be stronger than his vengeance. Hosea hopes for Israel to be repentant, so that Yahweh would once be reconciled with his people.

Gillis van Coninxloo was an Antwerp painter. He learned to paint with several Antwerp masters, among which Pieter Coecke van Aelst. He worked for a while in France, but returned in 1570 to his home town. He became a member of Antwerp’s Guild of Painters. He was a Protestant however, and when Antwerp fell to the Spanish troops led by Alexander Farnese in 1585, he had to leave the town. With a few other artists he settled in Frankenthal, a town of the Palatinate of Germany. He stayed there until 1595, then moved as so many Antwerpers to Amsterdam and lived there until his death in 1606/1607. Gillis van Coninxloo was one of the most important landscape painters of the Netherlands and Antwerp. He developed a variety of styles in landscape painting, going from Antwerp mannerist to more intimate and Baroque views. His ‘Landscape with the Prophet Hosea’ is in water colours and may be from the Frankenthal period, from his earlier period in which he showed rather vast, heroic scenes. Still, there is a lyrical and reflective quality in his picture which may see us Gillis as thinking with sympathy and regret of his life in Antwerp. Van Coninxloo painted a Bible scene from the Old Testament. The Prophet Hosea was a tragic figure, an outcast and a Prophet who wrote with bitterness also of abuses in worshipping, themes that appealed to the banished Protestants of Antwerp. The Calvinists moreover may have stressed the passages from the Book of Hosea, and van Coninxloo may thus have remembered the passages.

Van Coninxloo showed a grand view. He painted a riverscape. A great river flows through a landscape of spectacular mountain views but man is present everywhere. There are houses on all the slopes of the hills and even perched on and against high rocks. On all the mountain tops are houses of several stores and high churches as well. There are towns along the river and villages and houses built even in the middle of the stream. There are villages in the forests and there is a port town. We might even discover the image of a tower of Babel, of which only two stores stand and which is covered with a cupola. Van Coninxloo painted houses close and in the far. He showed parish churches and cathedrals, farms and castles, high defended villages, built on promontories and accessible only over bridges. His landscape of nature is very varied also. Van Coninxloo painted the river of course, first broad and then tightening between the mountains, then widening again in the far and probably flowing into the ocean behind the farthest hills. He painted lush forest views and meadows, then green hills and high bare rocks, going to very high, inhabitable mountains even though town walls curve upwards against their rocky needles. And then van Coninxloo painted the blue sky with tender clouds darkening it in.

Van Coninxloo used marvellous, light colours in his picture. The river is deep blue in front, and then it becomes lighter of hue towards the horizon, so as to blend with the colours of the sky. He used deep blue down below and symmetrically, deeper blue also in the upper left corner of the sky. Van Coninxloo thus obtained an effect of aerial perspective and to enhance this sense of space in the river that flows to the right side of the frame, he brought here the lightest blue colours, almost going to pure white, to indicate a river flowing to the light of the heavens. This sense of elevation towards the very bright heavenly light was an effect sought often by painters of these centuries and van Coninxloo imagined it masterly and naturally in his landscape view. Van Coninxloo also lightened the blue hues on the hills and on the port town towards the far, and he brought these lighter colours in the ‘open V’ structure of composition in the centre, where the river disappears in the horizon. The two slopes of the ‘open V’ are made by the hills of the right and left side.

Van Coninxloo brought his horizon high, but the horizon is almost only a point towards which flows the river that is broad in the lower part of the picture, then the borders of which close in. The river meanders, but its closing lines give a string sense of perspective and as van Coninxloo also painted the houses smaller and smaller towards the centre, a strong sense of open, wide, deep space is evoked in the viewers. Viewers take in automatically such illusions of space, taking it for granted. Still, it is always a wonder to discover with which frugal means of colours and lines only such illusions are created. Van Coninxloo really played with the illusions: birds drawn in the upper part of the picture give an illusion of the cosmos and of extreme heights. He painted in the right upper part houses built on wooden stakes that hang over the abyss, evoking the dangers of heights in the viewer; he showed long steps of stone stairs mounting to a rock village on the left; he placed his horizon high and yet lower than the eye of the viewer, and so on.

Water colour painting is tedious. Water colours in patches of juxtaposed areas flow into each other readily when they are wet. So if one wants to colour in the smallest detail, as van Coninxloo did in his picture, one has to wait for each individual small area to dry up before putting in the next colour. Nevertheless, van Coninxloo worked like a miniaturist. There are a great number of small figures in the painting and on these figures van Coninxloo brought different, pure hues: light red, orange, green, blue, brown. The Prophet Hosea sits in the low foreground, observing God’s wonderful nature and yet complaining about his fate. He is the single largest area of bright red colour in the painting. Therefore of course he catches the viewer’s attention. Around Hosea, van Coninxloo painted a very lively genre scene of figures. Much is to be discovered in the small scenes; a mother sits with her children near the water, and van Coninxloo even added a dog being patted by a child. Two young, wealthy men look at the woman and one wears a gaudy feather in his hat. A couple climbs up the long stairs to the village on the left. To the right, people walk under the shade of high trees and one man seems to want to cross the river at the wade and he maybe even talks to the Prophet. A child is fishing near Hosea, which might be just a genre detail but also alluding to the fish, the ancient symbol, the Greek letters of which also were the letters of the name of Christ. Hosea is a thin man with a long and sharp beard. Van Coninxloo even painted his trousers and his light brown boots.

Gillis van Coninxloo painted a wonderful landscape in water colours. He continued a Flemish-Brabant tradition of such views. Since this is a water colour picture made on parchment, it is a viewer’s delight and a gem of a picture created by the patient techniques of the artist. Making such a water colour picture in such intricate, miniature detail, was a real prowess. We can look many times at this painting and still discover new objects, houses, elements of nature, figures, to arouse our imagination so that we finally really live ourselves in the view. Van Coninxloo had that talent of a true magician of pictures.

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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