"Benjy the Dwarf Cops a Feel"

O. J. "Juice" van der Cleavage

An almost unknown painter of the late upper middle high Flemish mini-renaissance (October - November, 1533), van der Cleavage shunned the profitable art trade of churning out endless altar pieces for wealthy patrons. He preferred documenting the daily lives of local "characters," in his home town of Antwerp. He himself was pretty much of a character as well, frequently arrested for impersonating a Walloon, or for making noises like a duck when Parliament was in session.


This touching portrait is of a neighborhood con artist, Benjy the Dwarf, aka Little Ben, aka Benny the Dip, aka Shorty the Stabber, aka Fast Ben the Sneak, aka Lord Benjamin Thierry, Count of Flanders and Protector of the Low Countries. Benjy was a serial feeler, and had often been flung into prison on charges of fondling the rich and famous. But at some point he struck on the brilliant stratagem of utilizing his short stature as a cover for his illicit activities. By going around naked and pretending to be a hungry infant, he could feel up all the bosoms in Antwerp with impunity, unless his adult libido physically betrayed him, as it sometimes did.


Benjy's guile is apparent in this painting, in which van der Cleavage has elegantly captured the deviousness of the dwarf and the unsuspecting amused tolerance of his victim, although her husband appears to be suspicious of the little bugger. It is said that Benjy went undetected for many years until, in a fit of vanity, he decided to grow a moustache.


Almost nothing is known of the life of the artist, other than, as his name indicates, he was distantly connected to the House of Orange.

 

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