Prose for Van Orley: Jeroen Olyslaegers

Authors on paintings. BOZAR asked 5 writers to choose a work from the exhibition Bernard van Orley. Brussels and the Renaissance and inhabit one of its characters. Jeroen Olyslaegers chose Job and Lazarus Polyptych.

'Bernard van Orley. Brussels and the Renaissance' - Jeroen Olyslaegers


Look at me, look at my name, my coat of arms; behold not only my technical skills but also the honour glinting through the chinks of the story.

Look at my name, seemingly carved into bluestone at the bottom of this scene; see how I've become a sculptor as well as a being a painter, see how I conjure up nature and the world we all live in, just as the marvellous Apelles used to do in the golden days of the past, surpassing even reality. Would you say I am the Apelles of my time? Or perhaps of yours? Am I worthy of you? See how much I have invested in this work, how I have exposed my skills to scrutiny. Here I am. Here is Bernard van Orley. This is where my skills reign supreme. Search for my monogram.

Look at me. My name is like a sacrifice. After all, this oil on wood is me; the paint is my blood, the shapes it conjures up are my thoughts, a single glance at the whole work reveals who I am, what I can do, the things that have happened to me, the things I've mixed together.

Look at me, accept me, just as I have embraced the new, shedding all rigidity. For, do you see? I'm making them move. Beneath the dark cloud of the Horned One, everyone is trying fruitlessly to escape their own misfortune. None of them is left unmoved. Can you see? How Italian I've become here? And how much I've learnt from the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, the painter I revered here in Brussels? I want to go forward, you can tell. Why? Because time itself wants to go forward, because movement is vital and because relentlessness reigns, just as it did in the house of Lot, from whom the Horned One took everything in the hope that his faith would give up too, which didn't happen in the end. Look at my faith in his faith. Look at what I show you about wealth. It's an illusion, a distraction. Fortune cleaves to Lot, not the other way round. Look at what is possible when faith is not distracted by wealth or by fortune. Can you see? See how Lazarus fares after the rich won't give him alms and the dogs sniff at his filthy toes. See how he is taken up to heaven, illuminated, while the rich man is served up like a meal to the executioners of darkest hell after his death.

See how faith and wealth, the powerful and the beggars cross paths on this panel. And see how we end up, yes, how we end up: as naked as Job, with or without faith, wearing only a loincloth and not even that, ready for Judgement Day.

And now, look at me again, my name, my monogram, my coat of arms.

See how I yearn for your judgement.

Naked, perhaps, but they can't take away a name.

See what I can do.

Even now, from the grave.

Translated by Vivien D. Glass

Jeroen Olyslaegers (1967) lives and works in Antwerp. He writes columns, plays and prose. His novel WIL (2016) has won numerous literary awards and has been translated into several languages. In 2014 he was awarded the Ark Prize of the Free World for his work and social engagement.

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