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  • Writer's pictureErin

Art - Taking a Look at An Astrologer by Cornelis Bega

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Definitely not considered one of the National Gallery's blockbusters, this mysterious painting, not often on display, is rather curious. An Astrologer by Cornelis Bega painting in 1663.

Although the National Gallery are as generous as ever for allowing the use their photographs of their paintings, I do urge you to click here for a better quality version, and their incredible "zoom in" feature.

© An Astrologer by Cornelis Bega (1663) The National Gallery, London.

A man sits at a desk in a dark and untidy room. His hands are clasped together and he faces an open paper. The more you look at the painting, the more it reveals itself to you, like walking into a dark room and your eyes getting accustomed to it and adjusting.

An unseen light course lights up the mans face, his clasped hands and the pages he's reading, making it feel really intimate.

He wears a scholars cap and gown, but the way he's wrapped up in folds of fabric, hunched over, gives the impression he's either cold, or perhaps ill. In his hands are a pair of glasses, perhaps he's taken them off to consider what he's just read.

© An Astrologer by Cornelis Bega (1663) The National Gallery, London.

He's so engrossed in what he's reading, it seems that he is unaware of the disarray that surrounds him. The room looks like some sort of Aladdin's cave, with books and fabric thrown about, the floor strewn with pots, bottles and flasks.

© An Astrologer by Cornelis Bega (1663) The National Gallery, London.

On one of the pages he's reading, there's a diagram of a palm, indicating his interest in palmistry. Behind him, almost acting as a frame for his head is a celestial globe. In the 17th century these two subjects were associated with charlatans or quack doctors, those who tricked their customers for fame or money. But do you get the sense that this man used his powers of deception against people? Because I certainly don't, I actually feel sorry for him, gosh has he tricked me too?

He looks sad and deflated. Perhaps all is lost, he's been found out, or he's just not making ends meet. I get such a strong sense of hopelessness from this man, and the feeling he has given up, as he studies his book for inspiration.

I get the idea that this room is so untidy and unorganised because he's been in a state of despair, sifting through his books, chucking throws and clothes out of his way as he looks for vital pieces of information.

And he's suddenly come to a realisation, that this path that he's chosen can't carry on.

Heard in London

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