Views and Reviews
by Alidë Kohlhaas
If you love lush art then go to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see Rubens and His Age, a joint venture with the State Hermitage Museum of St, Petersburg. Allow plenty of time, for there is much to be seen.
The exhibit reveals that Rubens’ whole life and art were shaped by the politics and religious strife of his age. His works, and those of his contemporaries in the AGO show, are only a small glimpse into his time, but a remarkable one.
In 1568 Jan Rubens, an Antwerp lawyer, fled Spanish Habsburg dominated Flanders after converting to Calvinism. He settled in Siegen, Westphalia, where his son Peter Paul, and two other of his children were born. Jan, an adviser to the wife of Prince William I of Orange, died when the future painter was 10 years old. His widow returned to Antwerp and reconvert to Catholicism. Had she remained in Germany, Rubens may not have become the painter we now know.
After his family re-embraced the Roman church, the world opened to Rubens. While serving as a court page after studying the classics and languages, he decided to become a painter. At 21, now a master painter of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, he travelled to Italy. He stayed for nine years, and among other things served as the duke of Mantua’s emissary to King Philip III of Spain. When he returned home after his mother’s death in 1608, Rubens had turned from burger to gentleman, from a local artist to an international one. He soon found lucrative work and we are the benefactors of this today.
Rubens, a devout Catholic, was much sought after by Flanders’ Counter Reformation church. His religious works are often emotionally charged, at other times unexpectedly delicate. The AGO shows us the religious and the secular sides of the master, and those who painted in his time such as Anthony van Dyck.
June is the months in which we honour our fathers. What better way then to give him a book by Yosh Taguchi. This Montreal urologist tackles the delicate subject of The Prostate gland in his book. It is very clearly written, easy to understand, and fascinating. Men are only beginning to accept that it is okay to talk about the subject that has such impact on them. It is also a book that women should read so they understand what can happen to their husbands. [The Prostate, Everything You Need to Know About the Man Gland, Yoshi Taguchi, MD, Key Porter Books, 216 pages, paperback, $19.95]
On the lighter side, dad might enjoy this fine table book called simply The Canoe. It is an illustrated history of the water vehicle that is so closely connected with our summer lives. One can’t really imagine the warm season without a canoe or one of its relations. Jim Poling, Sr., a former editor of the Canadian Press news agency, has collected not only fine photographs and illustrations, but a great deal of historic detail.
Without the canoe, much of North America could never have been explored, especially in the eastern parts of the country. There would have been no voyageurs, no fur traders, no explorers to the interior. The birch bark canoe and its cousin, the kayak, made it all possible, as did the cedar canoe on the west coast.
Poling follows the canoe through the centuries and across oceans. As a bonus, he gives advise on how to purchase one and how to build one. There are also a number of web sites listed that are useful to any canoeing enthusiast. [The Canoe, Jim Poling, Sr. Key Porter Books, 143 pages, $29.95]
Almost half a century ago, author Farley Mowat wrote stories which told Canadians and their government about a great tragedy unfolding in the North, in what we now call Nunavut. When he wrote about starvation of a whole tribe of Inuit–an inland people rather than one that lived along the coast–few believed him where it counted. Today we know he spoke and wrote the truth. The writer had seen and met a people our government had not even known existed. The belief then was that Eskimos lived only along the coast to hunt and fish there, but not inland.
In his latest book, Walking on the Land, Mowat returns to his early adventures. He does so only because a survivor of an almost extinct people asked him to recount what he had seen. This he does vividly, with compassion and with true understanding of the nature of the North.
There is no denying that subconsciously the North molds our perception of ourselves. For that reason, it is important that Canadians get to know the North, and Mowat’s new book helps us to do that to some extend.
Walking on the Land is a sad tale with a mildly good ending in that there are survivors of the Ihalmiut—People from Beyond—who once were inland dwellers, and who had no knowledge of the sea. It is these people, whom Mowat had met, whose existence had been doubted by government officials in the 1950s. The writer admits that previously he had chosen not to write about their dark story because of its great calamity. Now, in this new book, at the urging of Elisapee, who until age three was known as Nurrahaq, he tells the whole story of his encounters in the late ‘40s and subsequent journey through Keewatin in 1958.
In the Prologue he writes: "Although Elisapee grew up on the fringes of the ancient Ihalmiut lands, and in the company of other Inuit, she was nevertheless walled off from her origins because the few remaining adult Ihalmiut believed the phantom of the past could best be dealt with by consigning memory of them to limbo." She wasn’t prepared to do so and the book is the result of seeking out Mowat at his home in Nova Scotia. Her visit has given us a window to the North and to its people and its past. [Walking on the Land, Farley Mowat, Key Porter Press, 206 pages, hardcover $29.95]
If you did not get to see Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman when it played in Toronto in 1999, then go and see it now. This one-man production is hilarious. It gives us a view of the difference between men and women that is both funny and revealing. The show runs at the Pantages Theatre until June 17.
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