The Tower of Babel

Van Heemskerck, Circle of Maarten

Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat

Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat

The theme of the construction of the tower of Babel, a word that signifies "confusion", was handled with certain frequency during the late 16th century and early 17th century. It is based on the text from Genesis 11:3-9, which tells how the inhabitants of Shinar, Babylon (or Babel), decided to build a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth, an audacity that God punished by confounding the languages of those men (up until that point all humanity spoke in a single language), thus impeding that they understand one another and dispersing them all over the earth. It is supposed that Nemrod, the character who appears on a white horse, was in charge of its construction.
The tower that the men are constructing occupies almost the entire left half of the composition, as also happens in the print; toward the other side, to the right, an ample veduta (view) unfolds that leads the viewer's eye toward the distant mountains that finish off the landscape. The immediacy of the foreground allows him to present figures and actions that can be seen in detail and serve to introduce the theme to the viewer, and they are complemented with the diverse motifs that appear throughout the landscape in addition to those offered by the tower itself, with its spiral road and the secondary constructions raised up on its different levels. There are sectors that present focal points of interest elaborated in detail, such as the workshop where the blocks are prepared, groups occupied with their transport, the boats in the port, the houses and the temple with its architectural details, the waterfalls along the river, the island and other punctuations in the geography that extends in the distance, the mountains, the sky and the dense clouds that cover the sky. With a small print as his point of departure, our painter has managed to compose a scene full of life and loaded with meaning that responds to the demands of a conflictive, changeable era that would decide new directions in the culture of Northern Europe.

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  • Title: The Tower of Babel
  • Creator: Van Heemskerck, Circle of Maarten
  • Physical Dimensions: 139 x 181 cm
  • Medium: Oil on canvas