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The Book of Jonah

Yahweh spoke to Jonah, son of Amittai. He told Jonah to go to Nineveh and to announce to the city that its crimes would bring about its downfall.

Jonah tried running away from Yahweh and he wanted to get to Tarshish. In Jaffa he found a ship for Tarshish. He paid his fare and went aboard. Once at sea, Yahweh sent a great storm into which the ship was caught and form which it could not escape. The crew threw its cargo overboard and everybody prayed to his god. The men of the crew then drew lots to find out who should be blamed for the bad luck they had. Jonah had been fast asleep below decks, but the men awoke him and he drew lots too. The lots of course pointed to Jonah. He had to confess that he had tried to escape Yahweh. The men were very afraid then. They asked Jonah what had come into his mind to board their ship while such a powerful god as Yahweh was looking for him. They asked Jonah what they could do now. Jonah answered he knew well it was all his fault. He had brought Yahweh’s anger on the crew. He could only propose to the men to simply throw him overboard. The men at first did not want to do that; they rowed hard trying to reach the shore but the storm just became rougher as they approached land and their attempt was in vain. So at last they all called on Yahweh and in despair threw Jonah in the boiling sea. As soon as they had done this, the sea calmed and the storm was over.

Yahweh ordered a great fish to swallow up Jonah. Jonah remained in its belly for three days and three nights. Jonah then prayed to the glory of God and promised to sacrifice to him. Yahweh then spoke to the fish and the fish vomited Jonah on land.

Yahweh spoke again to Jonah, entreating him to go and preach in Nineveh. Jonah went to the city and called out loud the message that after forty days Nineveh would be overthrown. The people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s message. They mourned for their crimes, fasted, put on sack-clothes in repentance and sat down in ashes. God saw all the efforts of the people of Nineveh and of their king, and he relented. There would be no disaster on Nineveh.

Jonah however was very angry now. He said he had tried to flee to Tarshish because he knew that Yahweh was a compassionate god and would relent. So, Jonah left the city and sat down outside the gates, to the east, to ruminate. He made himself a shelter and sat in the shade. Yahweh ordained that a castor-oil plant should grow to give more shade for Jonah and to soothe Jonah’s anger. Jonah indeed loved the shade. But the next day, Yahweh ordained that a worm should destroy the plant and he also sent a very hot eastern wind on Jonah, and he let the sun shine so hard that Jonah begged to die. God asked Jonah why he was so concerned about a castor-oil plant that had grown in the night and withered in the next night without Jonah’s least effort. Yahweh then asked why he also should not be concerned then about Nineveh, of which the people could not tell their right hand from their left.

The Shipwreck of Jonah

Paul Bril (1554-1626). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Lille.

Paul Bril was one of the many excellent landscape painters born in Antwerp in the sixteenth century. His father Matthijs was also a painter, so Bril may have learned his art with his father. His elder brother, Matthijs the Younger (ca. 1150-1583), was also a landscape painter. Together with this brother Paul travelled to Rome in 1574, passing by the French town of Lyon. The brothers worked on frescoes in the Italian city and Paul Bril became a member of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1582. He worked for the Popes in the Vatican and for churches in Rome. He seemed to have started to make oil paintings on canvas only after 1594 but it are mainly these pictures that are best known today. He stayed a while in Naples, from 1602 to 1603, but otherwise lived and worked in Rome. He stayed in Rome, married even with an Italian girl in 1592, and one of his sons also became a painter too. He worked for a time together with Jan Brueghel the Elder in Rome, from 1592 to 1595. He thus never returned to his home town and country and he died in Rome in 1626. Yet, he remained the painter inspired by the style of the Brabant landscape painters and for this style also he was most appreciated in Rome. Mostly in Holland then Marine painting flourished also, and Paul Bril too painted many Marine scenes, often scenes from the book of Jonah. Bril may not have returned to Antwerp, but he could easily have followed the evolution of picture making in the Netherlands through impressions from visiting artists and from engravings, which now were widely spread in Europe.

Paul Bril was one of the best landscape painters of Brabant and Rome, but in a picture such as ‘Jonah’s Shipwreck’, one senses a beginning of Baroque and other influences but the traditional Brabant miniaturist pictures. Bril’s painting is all emotion and mood and less focused on the narrative. Bril showed a sea in torment, a tempest of dark and menacing clouds in the sky, of dangerous and sharp rocks with mighty towers of magicians and terrifying pirates on the coast. He painted the picture in very dark colours, with only a small hint of light blue and yellow-white at the horizon on the right side. Otherwise, his painting is almost a night scene. There are heavy, black clouds in the sky and the masses seem to move, to curb their black, ominous masses down to the ship. The clouds contain a menace of fate. They seem to attack and reach the boat and catch it in their tempestuous whirls. The clouds come down from over the land. Here, Paul Bril did not paint a lush landscape of green hills and green forests, maybe of a silvery port town. The viewer sees only high rocks, promontories on the coast that rise steeply out of the water, sharp and uninviting. The sharp angles and the needles of the rocks that Bril painted here always give a feeling of tension, of nervousness, of stress and of danger in any viewer and Paul Bril continued to draw such oblique, sharp lines and angles in the far background of the left side of his painting, in the mountain scene he showed there. There is not one sign of any organic life there, nothing but rocks and towers. Paul Bril employed very effective style elements here, to induce in the viewer emotions of threat.

Paul Bril applied a composition based on the right diagonal, the line going from the lower right corner to the upper left corner. He placed the coastscape entirely under this line, and then placed the battered ship smack above the line, in conflict, but in the smaller, more open part in the sea. This feature further enhances the sense of tension in the painting. If Paul Bril’s coastscape and seascape show the turbulent natural elements, he painted the ship even more in great distress. The elements of form that Bril used to show this were oblique, intersecting, clashing lines and areas of colour. Such lines always are signs of chaos, movement, conflicts and of tension. Paul Bril painted the sails clashing, the masts of the ship in various directions but not parallel, and no lines are parallel overall to each other or vertical or horizontal. The boat’s lines clash with the angles of the waves and the viewer is amazed at how the boat keeps afloat in such turmoil; the viewer expects a disaster any second. Yet, the picture is eternal and of course does not change. Bril attained the summum of illusion of violent movement of the storm and of evoking strong emotions in the viewer of the peril of the small boat. Composition, clashing lines and the dark mood of the picture are all elements directed at evoking the impression of the violent sea, which leads to Jonah’s shipwreck. Finally, the sea whale, the monster of the seas, looms to engulf Jonah, accomplishing thus the tragedy.

Paul Bril was one of the masters of a new art for Rome and since he came from Antwerp and had contacts with Brabant and German painters, he was also one of the great artists of Northern European painting. He particularly invented the landscape that lives like a human being, breathing its emotions, menacing or pastoral, but always moving deeply the viewer and engulfing him or her in its mood. He was one more step in the evolution of landscape painting, further than for instance Gillis III van Coninxloo. And he was hugely successful in Rome, accepted there as a true and pure roman artist, becoming even in 1620 ‘Principe’ of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca.

Marine with Jonah rejected by the Whale

Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675). ). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen – Rouen.

Gaspard Dughet is truly a French name. Gaspard’s parents were French, but he was born in Rome and all his life he stayed in that city. In 1630 the great Nicolas Poussin married his sister, Anne-Marie Dughet, so Gaspard Dughet knew Poussin very well and may have studied painting with him. He was even called, or called himself Gaspard Poussin, after his illustrious brother-in-law. Yet, Nicolas Poussin was no landscape painter, whereas Gaspard Dughet practically only painted such scenes in frescoes or on canvases for Rome’s churches. With that, Gaspard Dughet obtained fine success in the Rome of the seventeenth century that was avid for decoration in landscapes.

Gaspard Dughet painted a scene of ‘Jonah rejected by the Whale’. Dughet was a generation older than Paul Bril and since he worked on the same town he could easily have seen Bril’s frescoes and paintings. Still, Dughet’s depiction is very different from Bril’s and there is a difference of more than a degree in appreciation of the scene and in Dughet’s skills and character, with Dughet not having the upper hand.

Dughet showed a seascape and a coastscape like Paul Bril in a similar picture of ‘Jonah’s Shipwreck’. If Bril focused on the mood, on the emotions invoked in viewers, Dughet concentrated more on the narrative, the literature aspect of the Bible scene. He shows the whale, like Bril’s sea monster and Jonah runs out of the beast, evidently happy, and on to the shore. Dughet showed a small scene of the moment earlier in time when Jonah’s ship was caught in the storm. We also see in another scene the shipwreck, when the boat is thrown against the rocks of the lighting tower. So, Dughet showed several scenes from Jonah’s adventures in one picture. Now, Jonah literally runs away from the whale. Dughet painted Jonah as a running figure in the foreground, running towards two other small figures on the left side. Dughet painted these figures in fine pure red and blue colours, whereas the rest of the picture is painted in rather dark grey, black or brown hues. Dughet used the same means of colours as Paul Bril to create the atmosphere of menacing nature that turned it storms and its largest sea animal on Jonah.

Dughet’s scene is far less dramatic and tragic than in Bril’s picture. There are waves in the sea but they are not that huge. The clouds are dark and heavy, but they come down only in the far on the small ship and a large part of the sky is of a fine blue, ample colour. The rocks are rounded, not all sharp, and not very high. The rocks are not painted in grey or black colours, but in brown and white hues which are not as menacing as could be. There is a town above the rocks and a robust tower, but these seem so massive and protected as being able to withstand any angry element of nature. The whale lies horizontally in the water, quite at rest in a not too turbulent ocean and its tail graciously and playfully heaves out of the water. There are fewer oblique lines and the oblique lines do not cross or intersect but are parallel to each other. We see that for instance in the outlines of the rocks and in the lines of the sandy shore, as compared to the shore of rocks. Dughet used vertical lines also (in his figures) and horizontal lines (in the whale). He showed a long horizontal line at the calm horizon. He showed the scene as looked at from below, from the earth, a more re-assuring point of view than the high point from which the viewers have to watch Paul Bril’s picture. Of course, this virtual viewer’s point is all illusion, but that is indeed also one element by which the restfulness in Dughet’s picture differs so much from the danger in Paul Bril’s. Viewers will always feel more comfortable at a low viewpoint that at a high one. These lines are always lines of rest, of static. He lets Jonah run out on a flat sandy shore. Such style elements indicate rest instead of conflict. The scene thus gives an impression of only a little danger to the viewer, and not nearly so much as Paul Bril’s emotionally laden painting. Dughet’s picture gives a strange impression of static, even of rigidness to the viewer.

Gaspard Dughet used as composition a diagonal of the frame, like Paul Bril. He used however the left diagonal and placed both his scene of Jonah and of the coast under this line that goes from the lower left corner to the upper right corner. Only the lighting tower in the centre grows out of the details of the whale and the coast, but that feature is too small to break the strong structure of the picture, so that the structure is over-powerful in its rigidness.

Gaspard Dughet made a nice picture and in certain details he certainly showed his skills, such as in the way he depicted the waves of the sea or the clouds in the sky. But he did not reach at all Paul Bril’s inspirational breath or Bril’s powerful depiction of emotions in the seascape. Gaspard Dughet was a teller of stories in his landscapes and gave just as much as his commissioners asked of him, whereas Paul Bril gave his landscapes a soul.

Other paintings:

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