A major three-part series for BBC Radio 4 that offers listeners the chance to take a long, slow look at great artworks, photographed in incredible detail by Google Arts and Culture.
Episode One: The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
It’s a hot, dry day in 16th century Flanders. Labourers grab a break from bringing in the harvest, they eat lunch and snooze under a tree. Behind them, the peaceful countryside is full of life. Scrumpers steal from an orchard, villagers enjoy harvest games on the green, monks escape the heat with a wild-swim. Cathy FitzGerald takes a walk through the landscape and then hears how the masterpiece may have brightened up a wealthy Antwerp merchant’s dinner parties.
Episode Two: A Flower Painting by Rachel Ruysch
What’s hiding in the undergrowth of Rachel Ruysch’s bold and beautifulflower painting? Follow the link to explore the picture and you’ll be able to zoom in and see the tiniest details as you listen. This is a world where buds hiss like snakes, poppies twirl and tiny insects devour – a vibrant, fecund jungle, full of uncanny life. Cathy FitzGerald hears how this great Dutch artist was influenced by her unusual childhood as the daughter of Frederik Ruysch, maker of one of the world’s great curiosity cabinets. Frederik Ruysch’s weird tableaux – created from human skeletons and embalmed bodies, insects and plants – were hugely popular in 17th century Amsterdam and his young daughter Rachel was almost certainly involved in their creation. Is this what brings a touch of strangeness to her brilliantly observed vases and bouquets?
Episode Three: Scenes In and Around Kyoto
What would it be like to walk the streets of 17th century Kyoto? Cathy FitzGerald explores a sumptuous pair of Japanese screens that depict the historic city in incredible detail. Temples, shrines, castles, shops and homes – the image is crammed with tiny scenes. A man in a barber’s shop examines his new hair cut in a mirror. People peer down into the street to watch a parade pass. Weary pilgrims sit on a verandah, sharing fruit. Men and women of every age and every social class appear, more than 1,800 in all. Cathy FitzGerald hears how these glittering screens – a genre known as ‘rakuchû rakugai-zu’ or ‘scenes in and around Kyoto’ – were made and what they tell us about everyday life in the 17th century Japanese city.
Images: Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an urn on a Stone Ledge by Rachel Ruysch, c.1680s, from the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Photograph by Google Arts and Culture. Sights in and around Kyoto, Artist Unknown, Mid Genna era (1615-24). From the collection of the Shimane Museum, courtesy of the Bureau of Public Enterprise, Shimane Prefectural Government. Photograph by Google Arts and Culture.