Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Marten van Valckenborch Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel, Marten van Valckenborch the Elder
The Tower of Babel, Marten van Valckenborch the Elder

The link is to a zoomable version of the image on Google Art Project; there is a downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden State Art Museums.

Flemish Renaissance painter Marten van Valckenborch painted a number of complex compositions depicting the Biblical story of the building of the Tower of Babel (of which you can find some other examples here and here).

I’ve found this one in particular to be striking in its dark, sombre tones, set against a light but clouded sky and framed by a cradle of dark foreground elements.

The repetition of forms and change in size of the elements as the tower ascends has a fascinatingly recursive feel to it.

It’s interesting to compare Van Vlakenborch’s interpretations to that of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which was undoubtedly a primary influence on them, and on similar takes on the subject by other artists.

The story of the Tower of Babel is a story of hubris, a term we should all have in our awareness as we watch current events unfold.


6 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Marten van Valckenborch Tower of Babel”

  1. According to current knowledge, Lucas van Valckenborch, the brother of Maerten, painted seven versions of this motif.
    Max F. Muller (1823-1900) was one of the world’s foremost comparative philologists, i.e., one who studies ancient languages and observes their similarities and differences. He taught at Oxford University. In his book, Science of Language, the celebrated professor wrote:
    “We have examined all possible forms which language can assume, and we now ask, can we reconcile with these three distinct forms, the radical, the terminational, the inflectional, the admission of one common origin of human speech? I answer decidedly, Yes” (Muller 46-47).

  2. The first bricks:
    Then they said to one another: “Come! Let us make bricks and bake them with fire.” So they used bricks instead of stone, and bitumen as mortar. They now said: “Come! Let us build a city for ourselves and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, so that we will not be scattered over the entire face of the earth.”

  3. This is so funny; what’s wrong with a tower?

  4. Experiencing this in a browser window really underscores your point about the recursive nature of the tower. I spent a few minutes scrolling up and down, enjoying the quasi-animated effect. Thanks!

    1. Hadn’t thought about that. Fun.