Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Madonnas In The Meadows

Today I want to tie up a couple of little loose ends. I don’t know what I’ll be posting about the rest of this week, but I want to do a couple of things today that will sort of wrap up stuff from recent posts.

I spend too much time, I know, thinking about entertainment and art—there’s a real world out there. I know. And I’m going to be talking today, again, first about Vermeer, and then about the TV show “Smallville.” And the show isn’t even in production any more. I know that, too.

But the thing is, when you spend any time at all with what is almost euphemistically called the “fine” arts it is almost a relief to return to what is simply and appropriately called pop art, popular art.

Last week Friday and this week Monday make a kind of case-in-point.

Monday I did a post about VermeerMan Reading A Book At A Window—and over the weekend I was reading about Vermeer and those paintings are certainly very beautiful and certainly very peaceful and certainly very serene and all that jazz.

But you know it’s the “fine” arts world and almost nothing is what it appears to be and even those Vermeers are examples of that. Most everyone knows—at this point in history—that a great deal of European art contains images where the models were, bluntly, hookers. Of one kind or another. It’s just the way of the world. Fillide Melandroni, Victorine Meurent. Models. Hookers. Six of one, half a dozen of another. It’s the world of the “fine” arts. You just try to roll with it.

Okay. Anyway.

But Vermeer.

But those beautiful, peaceful, serene Dutch women. Those peaceful interiors. It’s all so serene. Beautiful, too.

Yeah, right.

Look at this painting. This is called “The Milkmaid” and it is usually regarded as Vermeer’s “first” masterpiece, although most of his paintings aren’t dated so nobody knows when this was painted. And this is almost certainly a “real” Vermeer—whatever that means. I take it to mean that this was almost certainly painted by the central guy, the best of the painters who crafted the images that we now collectively call “Vermeers.” Okay, so, isn’t this a wonderful image? Peaceful. Serene. Just a wonderful young woman pouring milk. Modern American and south European types who are fans of Vermeer sometimes refer to this painting as a “Madonna of the meadows” because of the simple purity of the image.

Okay. It turns out an art historian sees some different things in this image, armed as he or she is with knowledge of the customs and practices of northern Europe in the seventeenth century. First of all, the whole “milk” and “milking” business would have been emblematic to a seventeenth century Dutch man or woman of the same things Shakespeare’s “country matters” would have referred to.


Here’s the way a real art historian puts it:

The essential reason that The Milkmaid has been so profoundly misread as a madonna of the meadows—“her stature is enhanced by the wholesomeness of her endeavor: the providing of life-sustaining food”—is that the painting comes from a social context that largely disappeared in western Europe during the past century and was never quite at home in America (Jeffersonian exceptions aside). One could compose a dissertation on the social life of gentlemen and female servants or simply follow Samuel Pepys through the pages of his diary, with its oyster girls, kitchen maids, and, at an inn in Delft, “an exceedingly pretty lass and right for the sport.”

Isn’t that nice?

I’m being snarky. That’s the “fine” arts world. Almost any time I look in there I come out and just want to watch “Smallville” for hours and hours and pretend the whole world is smart and decent high school kids trying to deal with the operatic melodrama of superheroes and supervillains.

And I know they’re actors and actresses which, for the most part, takes us back into the world of the “fine” arts. But my thinking just stays in “Smallville.”

Okay, so, anyway, I’ve had enough of the “fine” arts for a while.

“ exceedingly pretty lass and right for the sport.”

Yeah. Thanks.


So last Friday I did a post built around “Smallville”—Lana, And The Pretty Unclear Parts—and I used a couple of images and a bit of drama from season six. I really like season three best, and most of season four. But a couple of years ago I also purchased seasons five and six because those two years wrap up the whole saga of Lana choosing between Clark and Lex. Mostly, still, I like season three best. But last week I went back and watched seasons five and six again and I noticed a trivial little thing that somehow I had missed in earlier viewings.

In my post Big Grasshoppers, Fake Driving, Other Stuff I talked about little errors you see if you watch things carefully. Film people call such things “continuity errors.”

This is an example of that.

At the end of season five of “Smallville” a very long story-arc is concluding where Lex is becoming possessed by the evil General Zod of Krypton. In the season finale of season five, Lex is compelled to drive out to a deserted field where he will be kidnapped by the robot spaceship known as “Brainiac.” Lana chases Lex through the woods and across a field. It’s a meadow! It is windy. Her hair and clothing are blowing in the breeze. We see she is wearing big loopy earrings and a flashy necklace because her jewelry is jostling around when she runs and everything is blowing in the breeze. Look, here is Lana stopped, looking at Lex as the robot spaceship is moving overhead. Notice you can clearly see the big hoop earrings and the necklace:

After a bright beam of light kidnaps Lex, as the light is fading Lana runs into the beam and, to no avail, looks up searching for Lex. Look at Lana the very next second in the light:

No earrings and no necklace.

It’s a continuity error.

Apparently the special effects shot of Lana in the flickering lights was filmed quite separately from the scene out in the field. And even though this was the big season finale, the climax of one of the biggest stories the show ever told, the filmmakers didn’t notice that Lana’s jewelry didn’t match from one cut to the next.

So, it’s a little thing. But it’s interesting. To me. And, I know, who cares, the show has been off the air for years now.

But I just wanted to wrap up that “Smallville” stuff.

And now I have.

I don’t know what the rest of the week will be, but I’m going to try to move away from both “Smallville” and so-called “fine” arts stuff.

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