Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Hunt By Night

Paolo Uccello (b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
The Hunt in the Forest/ The Nocturnal Hunt / The Hunt by Night 1460s
Tempera on wood

65 x 165 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The so-called Nocturnal Hunt in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxfordis one of Paolo Uccello`s last surviving works.

The scene is lit by the strange kind of moonlight that falls on the elegant little figures of the hunters scattered through the dark forest.

Huntsmen and hounds are in full cry after stags through the strange darkly lit wood.

Uccello mapped out a grid on the panel’s surface as a guide for his design, fixing a central vanishing point.

The bright clear colours are set off against a dark background. The foliage of the trees was once picked out with gold.

Like some of Uccello`s paintings, this painting has also inspired poetry: in this case by Derek Mahon.

"The Hunt By Night"

Flickering shades,
Stick figures, lithe game,
Swift lights of bison in a cave
Where man the maker killed to live;
But neolithic bush became
The midnight woods

Of nursery walls,
The ancient fears mutated
To play, horses to rocking horses
Tamed and framed to courtly uses,
No longer crazed by foetid
Bestial howls

But rampant to
The pageantry they share
And echoes of the hunting horn
At once peremptory and forlorn.
The mild herbaceous air
Is lemon-blue,

The glade aglow
With pleasant mysteries,
Sylvan excitements, pungent prey;
And midnight hints at break of day
Where, among sombre trees,
The slim dogs go

Wild with suspense
Leaping to left and right,
Their cries receding to a point
Masked by obscurities of paint --
As if our hunt by night,
So very tense,

So long pursued,
In what dark cave begun
And not yet done, were not the great
Adventure we suppose but some elaborate
Spectacle put on for fun
And not for food.

Derek Mahon
December 1980

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