Saturday, August 11, 2012

Word of the Day: Pronk

An insight into Dutch painting of the 17th century via this word that belongs on "Says You!".

The word "pronk", meaning luxury goods that only the wealthy or upper class could afford (including the paintings of these items), illuminates the societal underpinnings of an artform that is usually thought of as vanitas: the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.

This exhibit of 20 paintings is at the National Gallery in Washington DC. More at the New York Times review.

Willem van Aelst (1627–1683), Pronk Still Life with Fruit and Game, 1654
Galleria Palatina, Florence

Willem van Aelst Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, Butterflies, and Other Insects on a Ledge, c. 1677 

Willem van Aelst, Hunt Still Life With a Velvet Bag on a Marble Ledge (about 1665)


  1. Yesterday's pronk is today's bling.

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  3. wow, the indispensability of dead birds to this guy's version of luxury... not just the edible dead either.. England's version of course is the fox hunt, the pursuit of the inedible by the unspeakable, to paraphrase. There's something perverse about the exotic bird hung by its feet as a trophy, along with the ammo-owner's silks and velvets and feathered fakery of decoy... of course it is meant to suggest means beyond need-- the capacity to travel to realms where parrots are wild... but it also insists on the shift away from one sense of want ( the negative value of poverty) to another sense of want (the elaborated desire for what isn't NEEDED: the bad side of the lineage of goods). We see with egregious clarity a portrait of wealth's pride in its capacity for superfluousness, trashed exotica, wasted seersucker, double-breasted booby, gelt pelt. (Not to be forgotten: There IS another lineage cultivable by wealth: and it is grounded in an econophilias -- philanthropies, biophilias, zoophilias, geophilias-- leisure employed for inquiry into life (in the course of which, death participates as more or less painful incursions but not as MERE or less touristic excursions. That is to say, studies in which death is INFLECTED but not INFLICTED.). That the painting evokes all this is its power: a power that lies not in the immediate tribute a wealthy patron/commissioneer pays to himself but rather, long-term, in its stunning elucidation of the twists of human being-- not least our capacity to pervert the sense of the word "goods". Van Aelst's extraordinary version of baroque sensibility ultimately gives us an even more compelling (and savage) portrait of human life than of nature morte