When talking to God, use bubbles

On the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the foundation of the Premonstratensian order, the (now defunct) Parc Abbey in Leuven opened its freshly restored rooms to the general public. It proved to be a strange look into what was considered to be bon genre some 250 years ago, with almost psychedelic wallpaper and some of the most over the top stuco ceiling decorations I have ever seen.

Much of the artwork (by 17th Century master Jean-Christian Hansche) celebrated aspects from the life of St Norbert of Xanten, the founder of the order. In the dining room, one of the cassettes in the ceiling showed how Norbert was struck by lightning one day and decided to turn his life around from a future as a regular church functionary to a life of penance, prayer and service. What’s cool about this image, is that Norbert’s words (“Domine, quid me vis facere”, or “Lord, what would you have me do”) are shown in some kind of speech bubble, but one that also makes clear to whom the utterance is directed.

I also discovered a similar scene in one of the quite splendid stained glass windows of the abbey’s cloisters (by 17th century artist Jan De Caumont). It shows Norbert presenting his chosen successor to lead his Order to Christ, saying “Hunc a te Domino mihi commissum tue S.S. Maiestati repraesento”. The speech bubble in this case has more of an illustrated ribbon, rising to the heaven, which constributes to the pomp of it all. And, as can often be seen in early speech glyphs, the speech is very much attached to the speaker’s mouth, rather than ending in the direct vicinity of his head.

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