the tremendous and fascinating mystery of a rich art (nothing in itself or prosperity theology? discuss & compare)

– one of Gustave Moreau’s Salomes

Go to the masters, they all advise us not to create a poor art. From earliest times, they introduced into their paintings everything that they knew was richest, most brilliant, most rare and sometimes most strange, everything round them that was considered precious and magnificent. They felt that the subject was ennobled when framed in a profusion of decorative motifs; their respect and piety were like the reverence of the Magi who carried the tribute of distant countries to the foot of the manger. Look at their Madonnas, the incarnation of their ideal of beauty. What robes, what crowns, what jewels, embroidered fringes and carved thrones! Can it really be said that the royal pomp of Van Eyck’s Virgins is incongruous with the unction and recollection of these solemn figures? On the contrary, the luxurious furnishings and even the accessories, which combine to make a fabulous display in the works of the old masters, throw the abstract theme into sharper relief and the great primitive geniuses sometimes cast onto their canvases I know not what delicious plants or absurd and delightful fauna.

– Gustave Moreau, quoted in Gustave Moreau, Jean Paladilhe and Jose Pierre, trans. Bettina Wadia, Praeger, New York, 1972, p. 29

The Virgin with the Canon George Van de Paele, Jan Van Eyck, 1435

– detail Ghent alter-piece, Jan Van Eyck