de jonckheere old masters

Abel Grimmer

The Parable of the Blinds

Canvas: 85,5 x 155 cm


Grimmer’s direct source of inspiration for this painting is the famous Parable of the Blind by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which is kept at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. This painting, which was an immediate success, inspired a great many artists, beginning with his own son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who portrayed this parable in a small tondo. While his son took certain liberties by focusing the composition on two blind men, Grimmer created a painting that was very similar to the original.

Not only does Grimmer adopt the same size as Pieter Bruegel's work, but also all the motifs. Both convey almost literally the parable of Christ addressed to the Pharisees: “Let them alone: they are blind and leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch." (Matthew 15:14, Luke 6:39).

In this painting, we are shown six meticulously executed blind men who are holding on to each other along a country lane, with a village in the background. Unable to find their way alone, the invalids are forced to trust each other. Grimmer’s work illustrates the almost inevitable moment when the first blind man falls, thus taking all his companions into the ditch with him. This fall is broken down into six inevitable poses depicting this downwards movement, thereby creating a large diagonal which begins top left of the painting and ends in the far right-hand corner. These graduated poses are accompanied by the graduated feelings which are visible in these faces with their hollow eyes. The faces of the four blind men bringing up the rear look skywards, while the face of the second blind man, who is already heading for the ditch, looks out towards the viewer, drawing them into the scene to receive the silent piece of advice the blind man on the ground appears to be giving him [1].

Of course the blindness evoked here is of a spiritual nature and there is no doubt that the majority of Bruegel’s contemporaries and his followers understood this as an allegory of the madness of the era. At the same time, it can be seen as encouragement to follow one’s own judgement, instead of relying on the prejudices and diktats of a religious and political establishment that is losing momentum. This just shows us that besides the charm and aesthetic impact of this magnificent work, its message is still relevant to today's viewer.

Even though there is an obvious link between this work and that of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, there are also stylistic characteristics particular to Grimmer: the simple, streamlined rendering of the architecture, the flat tints and the staggered planes that blend together harmoniously, are all clues that allow us to attribute this panel to our artist. Thanks to the emotion that exudes from this magnificent work by Grimmer, primarily due to the feeling of inevitability that human misery evokes, no viewer will be left indifferent.

[1] PERES, Christine, Au commencement du récit : transitions, transgressions, Lansman, Manage, 2005, p. 135.

Provenance :
Private collection