Escape From Troy: Abstracting A 400-Year-Old Baroque Masterpiece

Lower East Side painter Pieter Schoolwerth takes on Simon Vouet’s 1635 painting of Aeneas fleeing Troy in a series called After Troy.

It’s one of the pivotal moments of the Aeneid (what, you only skimmed the Wiki synopsis?). Aeneas, with his aging dad on his back and his buxom wife at his side, hightails it out of a burning Troy, on his way to found a new city in the west: Rome. Virgil’s high drama (and “Aeneas’ bulging muscles”) inspired Simon Vouet’s 1635 painting Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy–which has come to represent precise anatomy and realism of Baroque painting.


Knowing what we know about Vouet’s 17th-century masterpiece, it’s hugely fun to examine After Troy, a series of four paintings by Pieter Schoolwerth that abstract the original painting’s four figures into a whirlwind of gesture and line. Schoolwerth, who is a Lower East Side fixture (and record label owner), began the series by printing out a pixelated copy of the Vouet painting and having at it, picking and choosing which elements to “erase” with his brush. Then, he traces over the ghostly pixelated remains, abstracting bodies in motion with jagged shards of paint and lines of oil pastel. It is, as Miguel Abreu Gallery describes it, a “pulverized” version of the original. The fifth painting does a similar job on another depiction of Aeneas’s flee from Troy–Lionello Spada’s 1615 version.

It’s not hard to connect the conceptual dots between Schoolwerth’s technique and his subject matter. Aeneas is fleeing an ancient city of tradition and glory to struggle with the violent, modern canvas of the future. Schoolwerth, in his own way, is engaged in a similar struggle to reconcile the “antiquity” of painting with the past century of Modern painting. Yet he’s quick to point out that he’s not critiquing historical epochs as much as he’s using them as a formal jumping-off point.
“I’ve never been particularly interested in . . . critiquing or subverting previous traditions,” he told Bomblog last year, “but rather I prefer to use paintings from the past as the raw material upon which to ground my entire practice.”

[H/t Contemporary Art Daily]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.