Masterpieces | Moderation versus Excess
Very strange messengers
Onlookers cannot help but be fascinated by these two strange owls with worrying and hypnotising looks on their faces. This feeling stems from the symbols that humans have bestowed upon owls. These birds, which follow the opposite routine to most by sleeping in the day and working at night, are already enigmatic from this respect. Ever since antiquity, owls have symbolised wisdom. In Flemish art, they are often used to indicate the esoteric or even supernatural character of the scene unfolding before our eyes.
Both of the uncannily realistic owls therefore reflect a tradition of Flemish art. This special partiality that old painters had for life-like depictions can leave enlightened onlookers in two minds. Behind this seductive and meticulous aestheticism, the artist has sought to convey a precise message. The title of both works, Les Messagers de la Mort décapités (Beheaded Messengers of Death), is steeped in meaning and would be worth delving deeper into. To understand it, we need to go back to when the work was first created.
In 2006 Jan Fabre made seven Messengers for the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, which gave him carte blanche to fill the galleries of old paintings. These seven owls stood out against a white tablecloth in front of The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Frans Floris. In this light, the title becomes understandable: these owls are inspired by these monstrous half-man, half-animal heads that latch on to the bodies to drag them down into Hell. The vision is apocalyptic. Jan Fabre is an artist for whom omnipresent death is an existential somersault that is simply part of life.