The thrill of the chase

The Hunt in the Forest, Paolo Uccello

A wonderful day out in Oxford was topped by a visit to the Ashmolean Museum.  And there are many, many gems there, but the painting that really caught my eye was this one by the Italian artist Uccello, 1470.  Yes, the perspective is masterfully done and the night scene compelling, but it was such a joy looking really closely at the painting to see the expressions of the men.

It is full of vibrancy and action.  Look how keen they are on the hunt.  The stylised faces are choked full of energy and ardour, all with earnest intent.  On the left is a group of four men on their steeds.  The two sightly at the front have a magnetised stare, mouths closed, absolutely focussed, their gaze converging on the deer.  Resolute.  The two men slightly behind them each have an arm in the air, open-hand and mouths bellowing a glorious roar: they are part of this pursuit; marvellous.  They harness their power and that of their horses in this singular quest.  The horses are in mid-gallop, eyes straight ahead, champing at the bit.  Dogs are darting all around, leaping over logs, dodging the trees, zig-zagging to the centre.  The knaves on foot are huffing and puffing, tunics flying out behind them in their haste; one of them billows his cheeks to sound the horn.  The dogs and deer dive and dart.  The scene pulsates with vibrancy.  The dynamic chase; honing all their powers on their inducement.  Alive, so alive.

Most, but not all.  Two be-saddled men on the right fridgedly look on, imperiously, disdainfully; horses in abeyance.  They do not chase.  And one near to the very centre: he has caught his quarry.  Game over.  In his downward looking glance, is their disappointment?  Would that the chase were not over. Because the thrill is in the chase.


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