During a recent visit to the Groeningemuseum, a museum of Belgian art in Bruges, I was struck by the poses found in the paintings. These artists used bodies and gestures to convey messages in subtle but meaningful ways.
The following artworks are three examples of the power of the pose:
The Virgin and the Man of Sorrow, 1480-90, Simon Marmion
This diptych pairs the Virgin Mary and the pre-Resurrection corpse of Christ; the Mater Dolorosa (the Sorrowful Mother) and the Vir Dolorum (the Man of Sorrows).
Here, the poses of the two figures indicate their connection. The Virgin takes on the mirror reflection of her son's dead body, with a tilted head, slightly parted lips and crossed arms. Tears, instead of blood, run down her face. Her empathy for Jesus is so strong that it is manifested physically.
These devotional images were meant to encourage the viewer in his or her faith. The Christian viewer entered the Virgin's suffering and faith in her son.
Dibutades, or The discovery of drawing, 1793, Joseph Benoît Suvée
This neoclassical painting tells the story of a young Corinthian woman so in love with a young man that she traced his shadow on a wall so that she could keep a memory of him forever. (The story goes on to say that her father, Butades, modeled the young man's face in clay and then baked it with the clay tiles he made as a profession, thus inventing clay modeling.)
The woman's free hand and craned neck communicate a sense of urgency and passion as she captures her lover's profile for eternity. The man's twisted body balances out the rigidity of his partner, and his hands on her waist gives us a glimpse of their intimacy.
Portrait of Marie J. Lafont-Porcher, c. 1835, François-Joseph Kinson
This elegant lady's body forms a sinuous S, from her tilted head to her delicate fingers. As indicated by the opera glasses in her left hand, this woman was a famous French opera singer. The portrait was painted towards the end of her career, and her confident and easy posture speak to her self-assurance.
In contrast to the dramatic neoclassical poses in the previous painting, the artist here uses soft lines and subtlety to communicate his interpretation of the subject.
The paintings were not alone in their posing.
Address: Dijver 12, 8000 Bruges ∣ Bus: Eekhoutpoort, Eekhoutstraat nr. 2 ∣ Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 5pm
The Groeningemuseum is located in central Bruges and is well-worth a visit. It's modest though impressive collection covers six centuries of Flemish and Belgian painting, including some heavy hitters like Jan van Eyck's The Madonna with Canon van der Paele.