As Above, So Below
Rucker has written an engrossing and affecting novel about the great painter Peter Bruegel. The book is divided into 16 vignettes, each of which is preceded by a reproduction of a Bruegel painting that plays a role in that section. We first meet Peter in 1552, when he and a friend are crossing the Alps on their way to see the great artworks of Italy. Within a few pages, we see that Peter’s senses go beyond those of the average person. Objects talk to him, revealing their stories and their essences. The following sections sometimes are continuous, but other times jump months or years, in order to observe Bruegel at key moments. In becoming a part of Peter’s world, we learn of the artists, engravers, and art patrons of Antwerp and Brussels. One particularly fascinating section explores how paints are made. Rucker’s research isn’t always seamlessly incorporated into the book, though it eventually doesn’t matter as we are swept up in the events of Bruegel’s life and the times. Spain’s brutal regime in the Low Countries plays an increasingly large part as the story continues. Rucker’s analysis of the paintings, beautifully incorporated in the flow of the narrative, is illuminating and frequently reveals the artworks’ origins in the politics and oppression of the period.
By all means, have good color illustrations of Bruegel’s work at hand when you read this book! The murky black and white illustrations just aren’t adequate for discovering the elements Rucker highlights.