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Poetry and Art: Alistair Noon unearths a Flemish landscape painting

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.


Some time in the early 2010s I was looking for furniture at a Berlin flea market when I came across a faded but striking framed reproduction of a harvest scene with stylized hills. Not that I recognized the picture, but it was clearly a Flemish landscape, a genre I’ve always liked for its tendency towards realism, ensemble casts and non-sacrality. For fifteen euros, it was a deal.

Several years later, I was half-way through a day of inspecting Habsburg loot at Vienna’s gigantic Kunsthistorisches Museum (which also cost around fifteen euros) when my partner excitedly directed my attention upwards in one of the galleries: “That’s it! Up there! That’s it!” Not faded at all, and half as big again as the reproduction, hung “Autumn Landscape (October)”, by Lucas van Valckenborch.

It’s one of at least seven seasonal landscapes painted by Valckenborch in the mid-1580s, each of them incorporating the work traditional for the month in question. It’s not clear whether Valckenborch intended to paint one for each month, or did so and the others were lost. In any case, five survivors are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and a reproduction of one them can be found propped on a chest of drawers in a bedroom in the Berlin district of Wedding.

A contemporary and acquaintance of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Valckenborch’s biography exhibits the typical elements of his profession at the time: lots of artist relatives with the same name to confuse art fans with, a patron to paint, and a peripatetic existence depending on where there was work and where he wouldn’t be persecuted as a Protestant. His fish market scenes are good as well.

Alistair Noon, March 2022

Lucas van Valckenborch, Autumn Landscape, 1585

In the distance, spot the castle
guarding its great trove of rocks;
deep within, no doubt, an arsenal,
kitchens, vaults and lots of locks.

Over that domain, a cloud
waits to salvo off its drops
onto that grey cone-roofed round
watchtower on the top-right outcrop;

by the cloud, a line of cranes
flies across and on until
every bird forgets the rain
once it finds a drier hill;

down below, men rolling barrels,
women plucking, unseen bees –
by the bucket, piles of apples;
folk in ruffs at wine and cheese.


Alistair Noon lives in Berlin. Paradise Takeaway, a long poem beginning and ending at Luton Airport, is forthcoming from Two Rivers Press in 2023.

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