The Grand Inquisitor
“I’ll just be a minute, the painting is in the back” Old Crosby announced and disappeared into the storage room at the rear of the shop, leaving me to rummage alone through the array of stock he had scattered throughout his antique store. A wildly eclectic mix of items presented themselves before my eyes, items that had not so much been placed as had found their way to where they now lay. Watching as so many eyes in the ethereal stillness of this space where the dust seemed to hang expectantly in the air and the shadows of so much past cast themselves heavy upon on this dusky domain. I found myself drawn to a set of ornate Russian dolls hidden between a serving platter and a gramophone and proceeded to dismantle them absent-mindedly as I awaited the old man’s return.
Presently he announced himself, bounding up the corridor with the aforementioned object in his hands. “This is the piece I mentioned to you – it’s something I encountered in my ramblings, let’s say”. Wrapped in a velvet cloth, I could see the outlines of a frame. He carefully proceeded to remove the outer protective layer to reveal the painting beneath and placed it on a small table in front of him. “This is the work of Johannes van der Lember, painted in his late, shall we say, darker period”, Crosby stood away from the painting with an unabashed show of pride on his face and turned to me expectantly.
The painting itself was a characteristic piece of that 17th century Dutch masters, an exposition in shadow and light and with an attention to detail and realism that suggested surgical precision. The subject of the painting was a red-robed and white-bearded figure, standing in a torch lit room. Alongside – or more accurately, cowering beneath him was a man, bound and seated in an elaborate wooden chair, his face a mask of abject terror as the other figure loomed over him. In the shadows, lurking was a series of implements and tools hinting at the portents of a darker outcome in store.
“The First Time before the Grand Inquisitor” stated Crosby “one of a series of works van der Lember undertook towards the end of his life and without a doubt, his finest masterpiece. And…” he paused for effect “a much-coveted item”. “It had been given up as lost until… well… certain information came to light”. He stroked his chin and started to pace the floor slowly, back and forth. “Look, let me get to the point. What I’m about to tell you will put you, as well as myself, into a difficult position but I believe I have no one else that I can trust.” He then began to recount his tale….
- John Wid, February 2016