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Robert Butler

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Storyboards, Illustrations, Music Videos, London, UK

Still-life in Delft, 1654

The explosion of a gunpowder magazine devastated the Dutch city of Delft in 1654. The highly-talented painter Carel Fabritius (a pupil of Rembrandt and a contemporary of Vermeer) was amongst those killed by the blast.

National Gallery paintings

On the table,

a bowl, a goblet, unbroken bread.

Were you there behind the cross-timbers of your easel,

contemplating the next move?

The paint loaded on your brush,

the soft butter of unformed dreams.

A flash of light

deafening noise

the acrid stink of saltpetre and

burning sulphur pinches at your nostrils.

Momentarily perhaps you have a viewpoint Rembrandt might have envied,

as you find yourself flying through the air,

jostling amongst goldfinches, sparrows and herring gulls.

Delft is at your feet. Through the smoke,

your familiar and everyday places are spread out below.

The Nieuwe Kerk, the Schiedam Gate, the Oude Langedijck canal.

A panorama of red-tiled roofs and orange-bricked walls,

the tablecloth of a new cartography.

Your industry was also to fabricate different realities.

But suddenly the cards have been reshuffled, the landscape redrawn.

No matter. Your painterly remains are scattered across continents,

cherished like the relics of saints. On canvases stretched shield-tight

the thin skin of pigment still spreads moments in time.

There, by that wall. The sentry remains asleep. The black hound ignores us.

We can walk under the archway to meet you next door.

From a window, cracked and crazed, you stare confidently back.

A youthful self-portrait, sure of your future,

no copyist, a work in your own right.

Out of sight

your hand rests gently on the mahl stick

like a bird on a branch

poised for flight.