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Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem : “The Fall of the Titans (Titanomachia)” (1588-1590)

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There is plenty of oomph in Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem’s huge, 2.5 by 3-meter canvas full of naked male bodies falling down in heaps. In addition to allowing Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem to express all his artistic ideals about how to depict the nude, muscular human form, The Fall of the Titans is also the story of the battle fought by the titans, cyclopes and giants against the Olympian gods, headed by Zeus. As is clearly apparent from this scene, the titans suffered a crushing defeat: Zeus cast them down into the underworld of Tartarus, from whence they cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“This painting was cutting-edge modern back in its own day. The sheer ability to paint figures in such difficult poses — and human bodies in free-fall — would have been very impressive,” explains curator and senior researcher Eva de la Fuente Pedersen. The manner of painting is typical of its time, with figures in the foreground framing the scene, followed by several different planes in the centre of the composition.

“They’re falling down into Hell, and we see the light of the sun shining down into the abyss. The artist has used an almost science-fiction-like mode of expression. They seem to be tumbling straight out at us, and his use of colours and space sucks us into an infinitely deep space.”

Credit Line: Text courtesy of the National Gallery of Denmark.

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