Still in the Hold

I’d like to thank Lutz Eitel, who forwarded a sketch for David Bomberg’s In the Hold. It clarifies a lot about the figures and their actions.

David Bomberg, Study for "In the Hold," circa 1914

David Bomberg, Study for “In the Hold,” circa 1914

The open-armed gesture, stretching across the middle of the image in a kind of “W” shape is very beautiful, not only as a bodily gesture, but as a form around which to build a picture. The sailors seem to be handling each other more than handling cargo, especially the large figure on the right with a bent leg on the deck outside the hatch, who looks like he is lifting or bringing down over his head the body of a child, even though his head is so flattened and enlarged (I think) that it is hardly recognizable. In the upper left corner we can see the edge of another hatch, so we might be down in a hold with openings to other, deeper holds. The hands reaching up from below remind me of one of my favourite pictures, Guercino’s Petronilla Altarpiece, which has similar hands coming up out of a grave to receive the saint, and I’ve long wanted to write a post on that, only lacking a decent photo. Bomberg’s picture has subtle but strong motifs of death and even crucifixion. The latter proves that an artist’s ethnicity has no bearing on their ability to access the generic forms of whatever tradition they work in. Bomberg’s later explicitly Jewish themes may then represent a weakening of his art—don’t know, a topic for further investigation.

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