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Marine Scene
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Gerard van Opstal
Flemish, Flanders or Paris, about 1640
Alabaster
H: 24 3/8 x W: 40 1/16 x D: 2 7/8 in.
85.SA.167.1

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In a tumultuous, windblown scene, five bearded fishermen and six winged putti haul a bursting net of fish aboard their boat. One in a series of five relief panels portraying marine scenes, this panel was probably created as part of an ensemble for a state or municipal building with a maritime function.

The men's strenuous exertions and the representation of the wind's effects imbue the piece with vitality. Although the stomachs of the putti protrude in the voluptuous curves of high relief, the fishermen's larger muscular figures form a lively series of curves in low relief. The viewer's eye traces over their curved backs and follows their billowing clothing, experiencing the movement of these struggling figures. Reinforcing the action, the Flemish artist Gerard van Opstal carved the alabaster into small planes that constantly shift directions. These planes break up the surface's solidity and give the work a flickering, watery quality akin to Peter Paul Rubens's effects in paint. This technique is similar to that used for carving smaller-scale works in ivory and boxwood, materials with which van Opstal was trained.

Detail Views

Figure on right: arm, shoulder
Figure on right: arm, shoulder