In the series Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 10

And that moment when the bird sings very close
to the music of what happens…

Seamus Heaney, Song


Above the mantelpiece in my study hangs a painted panel, not all that well done, however as an image interesting and also held in a nice frame.



It seems to be glossed with a varnish that is used in the construction industry. Making a photograph and avoiding the reflection of the light from behind was a pain in the ass and an art in itself. Who painted it and who is the one portrayed – no idea. I bought it long ago at an auction, purely for its ‘narrative content’.

Thematically, it is a masterpiece. A decidedly ‘attractive nude’ stands between two trees. She puts one arm around a small trunk, her other hand is gracefully holding on to a branch. This pose is optimally showing off her body – she does indeed present herself and dazzles.

The shadow of the foliage on her right partly hides the face from our view. Thus the painter spared himself a portrait, the face so much more difficult to paint than a naked body. But perhaps, he was as good in doing a face as he was in representing this beauty.

He is playing a trick upon who observes it, teasing the male gaze in a superb and naughty manner. The painter makes of me a voyeur – a peeping Tom, in spite of myself. By masking her head from the nose up, by beheading her erotically with a razor blade the painting suggests the voyeur that he, supposedly unobserved, can feast his eye on her carnal excellence.

A date with Madame Guillotine – the blade of light and darkness falls. The spy does not realize, or does it too late, that he is not spying on her, but that she is spying on him.

This beauty has nothing of Rembrandt’s Susanna, with her rather chaste and silly face bathing in a radiant light, naively intending to bath that delicately white body, oblivious to the gaze of lecherous old men who hide in the bushes to watch her.


Rembrandt, Susanna in the Bath

By contrast, the anonymous Lady depicted on my panel chuckles silently over the silly man whose eyes are now licking her body. She is the real voyeur. Beheaded, she seems to come from another world, as all entities on paintings always seem to be keeping that eerie haze of unreality.

On this 1st of November – All Saints it is – with her both elevated and depraved beauty she is lecturing this sinner.

Sierksma – Haarlem, November 1, 2014


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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