Le Mendiant à la vielle – The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player
etching and engraving; 295 x 175 mm (11 5/8 x 6 7/8 inches)
Robert-Dumesnil 45; Walch 21 first state (of two); Worthen/Reed 27; Griffiths/Hartley 36 (this impression); Thuillier 30
grapes (Griffiths/Hartley 1)
before the addition of Le Blond’s address
This is one of only two known prints by Bellange in a realist genre; the other is Hurdy-Gurdy Player Attacking a Pilgrim (Walch 18). It relates to an established northern tradition of depicting blind beggars in works that often incorporate a moralizing element. Brueghel’s painting of the parable of The Blind Leading the Blind is perhaps the best known example of this. By the fifteenth century the hurdy-gurdy was associated specifically with blind men, who eeked out a living by playing the instruments in the streets. The hideous face of the loping figure here is described in detail, the snaggle-toothed mouth, blank eye-sockets, and wispy beard defined by stippling, lightly etched lines, and flicks of the burin. The ornament on the hurdy-gurdy is etched with similar refinement. If this is not a sympathetic portrayal, it is one elevated from generic realism by the dramatic contrasts of light and shade and, most notably, by the extremes of beauty and ugliness embodied in the humble person of the hurdy-gurdy player.