North Carolina Art Museum Visit


Earl and I visited the Art Museum in Raleigh, NC earlier this week.  The museum was smaller than I anticipated, but it was worth the trip when considering the free admission. Earl took a bunch of pictures that can be viewed on his website. There was European, Classical, American, Egyptian, African, Oceanic, Judaic, Ancient American, and Modern Art Galleries. I was most impressed with the piece by the Dutch painter Pieter Aertsen (1508-1575) that the museum had in their possession.

Oil on panel, 115.5 x 169.0 cm; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USA

Oil on panel, 115.5 x 169.0 cm; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, USA

I studied this piece in an art history class at Marywood University. This painting from 1551 is called  ” A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms,” one of the first paintings that intentionally combined the religious and secular symbolism. These symbols were being easily recognizable to the viewers during this time period.

In the background Aertsen painted a religious scene, Joseph with a donkey carrying Mary and the Christ child. The holy family is on their way to church when they stop to give beggar alms. The people eating in the back right corner of the painting are displaying the sin gluttony. The person picking up oyster shells is warning us of another sin, lust. Oysters and shells were thought to be an aphrodisiac.

The hanging entrails and meat products were typical within the culture as well as symbolizing that this life is temporary and we need to focus on spiritual matters. The pretzels (which were a substitute for bread during lent), fish and wine are “spiritual food.”

Perhaps all of the symbols mentioned would not be recognizable as such today.  However,  even if that were the case, meaning is not only derived from the Artist’s intention.  Meaning also manifests in the artwork’s interpretation.  Any ideas on some new interpretations for antiquated symbols?

I am thankful for the opportunity to have seen this piece in person.  I would highly recommend anyone who is in or is visiting the Raleigh, NC area to visit this museum and especially this piece.  I am also interested in anyones opinons of the painting and its symbols.


~ by florriebarnett on January 2, 2009.

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