My mind is like a starship with a built in time machine.

Part 1

by Robert Rubyan

The Crack in Hieronymus Bosch’s “ 7 Deadly Sins & the 4 Last Things”

My mind is like a starship...

Beginning early May 1971 I began my trip in Quebec, followed by Europe (England, Holland, Spain, and Italy, where I was taking a graduate school course in field archeology at Spannocchia, Tuscany), then the Maghreb in Africa, capped off by a drive through Yucatan & Campeche, Mexico, Belize and the Petén rainforest of Guatemala. We returned to Detroit at the end of August in time for the Fall Semester at Wayne State University where I was working on my Master’s Degree in Art History

Late June of 1971 found me backpacking from London to Madrid. From London (the Elgin Marbles were my focus in England) flew to Amsterdam. From there I caught the train to Madrid. The empty seat next to me was soon filled by a personable young Dutchman named Derek at a stop in south France.

As the train made its way to Spain we chatted & I discovered he was an antique dealer who was on his way to Morocco to purchase 19th century silver jewelry “by weight”. It seemed that wedding bracelets of coin silver, incorporating genuine Roman specie, were for sale in Fez, Morocco where I also intended to head after Madrid.

With the future profits from his expedition he planned on buying an Oldsmobile. As he was a Jew & Morocco was a Moslem kingdom, he told me he would feel safer if I let him tag along…

I didn’t understand why a blond Northern European 6 footer would feel this way, as I am a medium sized swarthy Armenian-Mediterranean with a big nose, easily mistaken for a Sephardic Jew, but as he seemed intelligent & companionable, I agreed.

He planned a stop in Madrid, to visit the Prado, & we discovered that Hieronymus Bosch was mutually our favorite artist. We shared a cheap hotel room upon arrival at the Spanish capital and the next day made a beeline for the Prado, the palace of Philip II (the one who launched the Spanish Armada against England) as well as the world’s greatest collector of Hieronymus Bosch paintings.

There we contemplated the iconic: “The Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych, the “The Cure of Folly”, and “ 7 Deadly Sins & the 4 Last Things” tondo.

The 7DS&T4LT was painted on a table top “protected” by a crude Plexiglas box on which I saw visitors leaning as they perused the very interesting details of the sins, depicted in late 15th century contemporary Netherlandish scenarios arranged pie slice fashion around God’s eye in the center. Blessing the viewer, in God’s pupil is Jesus, standing in his sarcophagus, blessing, displaying the stigmata, the caption in elegant Blackletter calligraphy Latin: “beware: the Lord (God) is watching”.

During my study of this work, I noticed that cracks had developed. Derek pointed out that being unsupported, stresses on the ancient wood were slowly splitting it asunder. On further examination we discovered flakes of paint coming off the Medieval Heaven occupying the lower right hand corner!

Since neither of us was fluent in Spanish, by gesturing & arguing with the guards, we were taken to the Curatorial Offices. The curator sent his English speaking assistant with us to see what we were so concerned about. We were condescended & our concerns dismissed with “OK, I see what you guys are concerned about, but don’t worry, the next time the Prado restorer is available, the damage will be fixed!”

The next day we took the train to Algeciras, on the Straits of Gibraltar. Our car was filled with young Spanish army recruits who sang, horse played & caroused under the stern eye of their mustachioed pot bellied sergeant. The ferry trip to Tetuan, Morocco was over a placid strait. I drowsed after downing a bottle of good Spanish Sherry. We began our bus trip through the Atlas Mountains in Tangier, stopping at a different town every night. Chaouen was my fave stop on the way south, a friendly place famous for its agriculture & goat cheese.

In Fez, Derek found his antique Moroccan wedding bracelets that incorporated ancient Roman coins, sold by weight! He packed them up & shipped them off to Holland. A curious brown cylindrical glass bead that he spotted in a necklace that he purchased, soaked overnight in a glass of water, upon cleaning turned out to be an ancient Roman millefiori glass bead. I got a few good shots of the local folks & architecture…