Sorgheloos ("Carefree") in Poverty


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 10

Sorgheloos ("carefree" in medieval Dutch) was the antihero of one of the most popular moralizing stories in the Lowlands of the late Middle Ages. Loosely based on the prodigal son of the Christian parable, Sorgheloos ignores all admonishments and embarks on the life of a spendthrift wastrel. Inevitably the money runs out, friends abandon him, and Sorgheloos is ruined. Unlike the prodigal, who returns to a forgiving father, Sorgheloos, unredeemed, is condemned to poverty. This harsh cautionary tale found considerable resonance among the God- fearing, hardworking denizens of mercantile towns in the Lowlands.

Here, Sorgheloos sits forlornly on an upended washtub before a boiling kettle of herring a barren, crumbling house. His only companion (besides a pitiable dog and cat) is Poverty, who can be seen through the doorway gleaning straw to feed the fire. The roundel's execution—in several tones of paint, ranging from pale umber to dark brown, and three hues of silver stain, from pale yellow to coppery brown—is unusually accomplished. The mattes were extensively worked with a badger brush to produce subtle tonal gradations. Details and outlines were added with both a stylus and the tip of a brush.

Sorgheloos ("Carefree") in Poverty, Colorless glass, vitreous paint and silver stain, Netherlandish

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