In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

By Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) used to be an English author, health practitioner, and thinker whose paintings has encouraged each person from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf to Stephen Jay Gould. In an highbrow experience equivalent to Sarah Bakewell’s publication on Montaigne, , Hugh Aldersey-Williams units off not only to inform the tale of Browne’s lifestyles but in addition to champion his skeptical nature and inquiring brain for our personal age. blending botany, etymology, medication, and literary heritage, Aldersey-Williams trips in his hero’s footsteps to introduce us to witches, zealots, average wonders, and really good creatures of Browne’s time and ours. He finds how Browne’s preoccupations—how to disabuse the credulous in their silly ideals, what to make of order in nature, find out how to unite technology and religion—are appropriate at the present time. And he exhibits how Sir Thomas Browne himself is still, as Stephen Greenblatt has written, “unnervingly considered one of our so much adventurous contemporaries.”

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Qxp 12/8/2011 2:47 PM Christ Carrying the Cross (detail). Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm. Palacio Real, Madrid. ” The Lord, seated as on a heavenly throne, holds on His lap a book, symbolic of the “Word” which is becoming incarnate below. Fränger saw the throne as a prefiguration of the great world globe, for it seems to repeat the shape of the large crystal globe by being a miniature crystal enclosure. In reverse, God’s throne is repeated and realised in the larger cosmological symbol, which finds its fulfilment when the wings of the altarpiece are thrown open.

Qxp 12/8/2011 2:51 PM Page 48 too, that both the Emperor Charles V and one of his courtiers, Felipe de Guevara, had acquired several of Bosch’s paintings within a remarkably short time after the painter’s death. The fact that Charles’ son Philip confiscated one altarpiece from a rebellious Netherlandish Burgher makes it seem more likely that some paintings were owned privately rather than being part of the sacred equipment of churches; but it suggests as even less of a likelihood that the paintings were the hidden and guarded property of heretical sects.

5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. qxp 12/8/2011 2:54 PM Page 52 hence the painter’s own created world seems on the point of vanishing”. The scholar went on to push Bosch over the edge with his next words: [If] we have to ascribe even the painter’s most peculiar originality to a mentor, it seems as though his own share in the achievement must sink to that of a craftsman, no matter how highly qualified, merely executing somebody else’s orders … it might have been more logical to devote all our energies to working out the personality of the real spiritual creator and – leaving Bosch on one side – to reinstate the actual origination of this profound work.

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