A few months ago I visited the National Gallery of Denmark, the SMK. There was one painting that really got my attention. The Fall of the Titans by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem overwhelmed me with its massive size of 239 x 307 cm. Painted in 1588-1590, this artistic work embodies all of his capacities and shows strange, complicated poses of naked muscular bodies falling from the sky. Even though paintings of nudes did not become common until the late 17th century, he created a perfect example of the Haarlem Mannerist style. The painting depicts the story of a race against the Olympian gods. Challenged to a battle by Zeus, the so-called Titanomachia, ended with the defeat of the titans whom Zeus cast down into the underworld.
The Fall of the Titans 1588-1590, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, Oil on canvas, 239 x 307 cm
I feel the strong need to take the viewer into my process and into the experience of my paintings. I think this plays an important role when I want to share my story with the spectator. Standing before this painting gives me a similar experience. It’s as if all those titans are rolling out of the painting when those bodies are piling up. Everything Van Haarlem intends to achieve comes straight from the painting and you don’t need any knowledge about it.
The Fall of the Titans also has beautiful contradictions between light and dark. The coloured bodies against the background of the underworld. The men at the back are painted with fierce strokes while the front is carefully illustrated. The facial expressions of despair compared to the strong muscular bodies that are weak and defeated. It just captures you.