Lucas van Leyden’s Standard-Bearer (c.1510)

Lucas van Leyden's engraving of a soldier carrying a standard is so obviously L-shaped that it is difficult to imagine how this has not been seen before. Like the L of the Cross in another engraving by Lucas, Soldiers Giving Christ a Drink (c.1512), the composition is based on his monogram: the vertical of the flag-pole and the line of the sword behind his back.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Lucas van Leyden, The Standard-Bearer (c.1510) Engraving

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The horizontal arm of his monogram (lower left) is bi-forked, a division subtly suggested as well in the pommel at the corresponding end of his sword, just to the right of his hand (lower right). The two sides to it ever so slightly diverge. The sword, moreover, is a traditional symbol in art for the artist's tool, whether brush or burin, and its tip here is hidden behind the soldier's other hand as though it cannot be seen at work.

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Three details of Van Leyden's Standard-Bearer

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The simplest sign that the soldier is an artist is his frown depicted by a squiggle between the eyes. It symbolizes his deep thought and has been used by Michelangelo in David (1501-4), by Giorgione in Self-portrait as David (c.1500) and by many other artists in every century since. Painters, battling with art, often portray themselves as soldiers (eg. Giorgione, Rembrandt) even when they never were one.

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Detail of Van Leyden's Standard-Bearer

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The print is titled The Standard-Bearer and the  purpose of a standard is to provide a sign of identity. Here there is none on the flag save its five horizontal strips of fabric, blowing in the wind and ending in curves on the right strongly suggestive of five fingers. Thus the soldier with an artist's frown (thought) stands in front of a giant hand  (craft) holding an extra-long sword (tool) which join to form his monogram. The scene may suggest soldiering but the subject is art.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Van Leyden's Standard-Bearer

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Lastly, we look into Lucas' mind because the flag curls to resemble his lower lip. In the sky above is the suggestion of a nose (see diagram) and an eye to the left of that. Shading beneath the "eye" and a light form above it complete the eye and brow like that in the self-portrait. Decades later Hendrick Goltzius used this print as a source for his own engraving, Apollo (1588), in which he hid a facial image just like this one.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Detail of flag and sky from Van Leyden's Standard-Bearer
Bottom L: Diagram of the detail
R: Van Leyden, Self-portrait (1594), detail inverted 

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The presence of an artist's features distorted and fragmented in the sky is a very important, little known feature of art in all centuries since the Renaissance. Here, as in many other examples, they are of varying size and blowing away in the wind as though drifting in the imagination. It signifies the scene's location in the artist's mind. It is also the precursor of Cubism as Picasso knew. Few examples have ever been noted before by academics and there will be many skeptics. Indeed I have refrained from publishing any before now to give time for the new ideas presented on this site to seep into the art world's consciousness. You can believe it or not as you see fit but I think with time and an open mind the examples to come will convince. I hope they do because they are highly significant to a true understanding of art.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 28 Feb 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.