Saturday, October 30, 2010

Woodlands Sunset # 2

Norfolk is famous for its sunsets, the primary contributing factors being a flat landscape with  an expansive sky and plenty of water laying around to refract light onto clouds. This photo was taken  a few hours before  the temporary (introduced  in 1914) daylight saving measure of British Summer Time ends. On reflection  however, the act of turning  the clock back appears a singularly apt phrase to describe the present-day state of the nation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


                          Mati Klarwein's Annunciation - 1961

Like many people I was first  introduced to the art-work of  Mati Klarwein via an rock music album-cover. Mati Klarwein's Annunication (1961) on the cover of  Santana's innovative Latin-Rock album Abraxas (1970) typifies the  harmonious relationship between rock music and pop-art during the 60's and 70's. Klarwein's interpretation of the Annunciation is a highly original and theatrical art-work.


Mati Klarwein's Nativity -1961

Recently on TV there was a programme on the Netherlands painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450- 1516) which gave specific attention to  his triptych altar-piece, 'The Garden of Delights'. The presenter explained convincingly that Bosch used Van Eyck's Ghent alter-piece 'The Adoration of the Lamb' as an inspirational benchmark to surpass in technical brilliance and imagination when painting 'The Garden of Delights'. The presenter argued that Bosch expanded the whole sphere of artistic dialogue on  the imagination and its contents with his triptych.

The more one studies the symbols  and motifs of the collective movement of Surrealist painters, the more one recognizes and identifies quite specific traits shared with medieval painters such as Bosch. Avian imagery for example frequently features in both Surrealist painters such as Max Ernst (1891- 1976) and the English born Leonora Carrington  (b. 1917 - 2011 ) as well as  in Bosch's paintings.The themes of transformation and metamorphosis  set in bizarre landscapes are also shared  with Bosch and often painted with a trompe l' oeile  brilliance by Surrealists, particularly Salvador Dali.

The paintings of Mati Klarwein (b. 1932 Hamburg, d. 2002 Majorca) seem to take the imaginative language of Dali one step further. Dali's artistic elitism held no interest in pop culture or psychedelia although in later life  he was fond  of associating with such movements often from financial incentive.

Mati Klarwein's paintings display a great interest in eastern spirituality, pop culture and the properties of the psychedelic ( from Gk. Psyche Soul/Mind, deloun to manifest). In his life-time Klarwein studied with the French painter Fernand Léger (1881- 1955) but it is the  visionary Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs b.1930 who's said to have the strongest influence upon his creativity. Klarwein visited Tibet, India, Bali, North Africa, Turkey, Europe and America before eventually settling in New York City during the early 1960's.

 Klarwein  shares with Salvador Dali (1904-89) a certain technical brilliance and exquisite attention to detail, along with a complete indifference  to the viewer's ability  to  easily comprehended his message. They both also seem to share a predilection for a large, sometimes disorientating perspective and landscape, a fondness for almost eye-watering, sharp and vivid tonal arrangements of colour, as well as an irrepressible urge to provoke and even shock the complacent viewer.

The most amazing aspect of Klarwein's 'Nativity'  is its early date, displaying many motifs and paraphernalia associated with pop culture and full-blown psychedelia when in fact it originates from the very cusp of that era, 1961;  Klarwein's 'Nativity' anticipates many of  the hall-marks and common-places associated with psychedelia and pop-art, notably in the artistic excesses of that most ubiquitous of art-formats during the 1960's and  early '70's, the rock music album-cover.

The word 'iconic' is frequently over-used and abused by many uninspired writers and media journalists these days but the figure of Jackie Onassis, depicted in  'Nativity' wearing sun-glasses upon a fan  is a deserving contender for the status  of  1960's iconic figure.

I confess to having lived with a large poster reproduction of  Klarwein's 'Nativity'  much to my visitors fascination and perplexity, during the  heady, heat-wave summers of  '76 and '77.

           A detail from the centre panel of Bosch's 'The Garden of Delights'.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The statuette named Labor  in the Layer monument has the most expressive portraiture of all four statuettes. With his care-worn features, gray hair and beard, engaged in digging, he is utterly Saturnine in character. One can only speculate upon the nationality of the craftsman, but I am inclined to think it's the work of a commissioned and travelling sculptor of the Northern Mannerist school, perhaps from a city based in close trading with Norwich, from Flanders or North Germany. It's only when  close-up that one gets a true sense of the expressiveness of this portrait. Compare how different his face  appears from a  lower view-point  in the photo below to this sharp angle close-up shot.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Layer Quaternity

Almost hidden from view in the church of Saint John Maddermarket Norwich there's a highly theatrical and dramatic Monument - the Layer monument, a large slab of sculptured marble in polychrome is an early seventeenth century funerary momento mori. The symbolism of its fascinating, yet enigmatic quartet of statuettes  is  complex, but well worth analysis.

The strictly literal-mindedness of our age, combined with the Layer monument's relative obscurity has prevented  it from being identified as an art-work which  utilizes esoteric symbolism. The narrow belief that the Word, in this case the moral label which accompanies each statuette, is a fully-developed definition has effectively blinded viewers from actually looking closely at each statuette.

Each of the four statuettes of the Layer Monument corresponds to a specific archetypal figure. They are Pax 'the wise ruler' here depicted treading the weapons of war underfoot, Gloria,  'the Great Mother', frequently associated with lunar imagery, Labor, 'the old man' complete with grey hair and beard, and Vanitas, 'the child/trickster' figure, not only a cherub and psychopomp of the  recently deceased but also the messenger of alchemy, Mercurius,  who is often depicted standing upon a Rotundum in alchemical illustrations. 

The psychologist C.G. Jung who wrote at great length and depth upon alchemy and its symbols noted,

'the statue plays a mysterious role in ancient alchemy'. (CW14:559)  and that, 'The statue stands for the inert materiality of Adam, who still needs an animating soul; it is thus a symbol for one of the main preoccupations of alchemy . (CW 14 Para 569)

One is encouraged in interpreting the Layer Quaternio as a work which utilizes esoteric symbolism when reading C.G.Jung's observation-

Graybeard and boy belong together. The pair of them play a considerable role in alchemy as symbols of Mercurius. (CW 9 i:39)

Number, along with colour, is embedded deep in the human psyche as  primordial of  all symbols. The number four and its geometric arrangement in the form of four corners or points upon the figure X  was of especial significance to C.G.Jung . He  defined the  quaternio thus-

The quaternity is an organizing schema par excellence, something like the crossed threads in a telescope. It is a system of coordinates that is used almost instinctively for diving up the visible surface of the earth, the course of the year, or the collection of individuals into groups, the phases of the moon, the temperaments, elements, alchemical colours, and so on.  (CW 9ii. 381)

As if with the Layer Monument in view, Jung states of the quaternio -

We have then, two contrasting pairs, forming by mutual attraction a quaternio, the fourfold basis of wholeness. As the symbolism show, the pairs signify the same thing: a complexio oppositorum or uniting symbol  (CW Vol 9i: 245)

Reinforcing the Layer Monument's significance as an example of a complexio oppositorum that is, a complex of opposites, Jung once more as if  having the Layer monument quaternio in view remarks- 

 Like all archetypes, the self has a paradoxical, antinomial character. It is male and female, old man and child, powerful and helpless, large and small. The self is a true complexio oppositorum. (CW  9 i: 355)

Polarity and the union of opposites along  with its resultant synergy was an essential  tool of alchemical symbolism. There are numerous opposites within the Later Quaternio - Young/Old -Heaven/Earth -Male/Female, Time/Space and Pleasure/Suffering are discernable.

Just as the upper pair of Pax and Gloria  represent the eternal 'heavenly' realms, so to in contradistinction the figures of Labor and Vanitas represent the temporal dimension of time in earthly existence, thus  the essential co-ordinates of Time and Space may be attributed to the Quaternio. Jung explains this essential component  of the quaternity thus-

From the lapis, i.e. from alchemy, the line leads direct to the quaternio of alchemical states of aggregation, which, as we have seen, is ultimately based upon the space-time quaternio. The latter comes into the category of archetypal quaternities and proves to be an indispensable  principle  for organizing the sense-impressions from which the psyche receives from bodies in motion. Space and time form a psychological  a priori, an aspect of the archetypal quaternity which is altogether indispensable for acquiring knowledge of physical processes.  (CW Vol 9 ii: 40)

It can also be  discerned  that together the four statuettes of the Layer Monument  correspond to  a commonplace  template of antiquity, the four elements.  The crescent moon which Gloria stands upon is often associated with the element of Water.  Pax, a Christ-like figure who closely corresponds to Sol Invinctus  represents the element of Fire. It follows from the  activities which the lower case pair  Vanitas and Labor are engaged upon, namely blowing bubbles and digging earth,  that they symbolize the two elements of Air and Earth.

In essence  the four statuettes upon the two pilasters of the Layer Monument  represent  a highly original,  profound and intriguing religious symbol. They are none other than a quaternio or four-fold whole of archetypes which represents the Self. Plexiformed in their  relationship and ostensibly a product  of Christian  iconography, the Layer quaternio are in fact a syncretic fusion of both Christian and  esoteric symbolism, a rare and important  example of how  the  symbolism of Hermetic philosophy occasionally infiltrated and integrated with  Christian iconography.

An essay upon the symbolism of   the Layer Monument and the intellectual history of its era can be found here.

Postscript 23rd Oct: The lavish production  of Ken Follett's 'The Pillars of the Earth' set in Medieval England  now on Channel 4, states for  the synopsis of episode 2  - 'Jack's statue of the cathedral's saint has a shocking effect on the King'. One couldn't make up the timing if one tried!

Monday, October 18, 2010


19th century stag (damaged with only one antler)  a heraldic device found at floor level in the church of Saint John Maddermarket.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Gloria, a detail from the Layer Monument, Saint John Maddermarket, Norwich.

Carl Jung makes an apt observation upon the symbolism of the moon in religious iconography.

According to the ancient view, the moon stands on the borderline between the eternal, ethereal things and the ephemeral phenomena of the earthly, sublunar realm. Macrobius says: 'The realm of the perishable begins with the moon and goes downward. Souls coming into this region begin to be subject to the numbering of days and to time... there is no doubt that the moon is the author and contriver of mortal bodies.' Because of her moist nature, the moon is also the cause of decay. The loveliness of the new moon, hymned by the poets and Church Fathers, veils her dark side, which however, could not remain hidden from the fact-finding of the empiricist. The moon, as the star nearest to the earth, partakes of the earth and its sufferings, and her analogy with the Church and the Virgin Mary as mediators has the same meaning. She partakes not only of the earth's sufferings but of its daemonic darkness as well.         

CW 14: 173

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 04, 2010

Sotherton Coat-of-arms

A detail from the early 17th century Sotherton memorial. 
The Sotherton coat-of-arms.

Norwich Heraldry

A detail from the early 17th century Sotherton memorial
 Norwich City's coat of arms, the Lion and Castle.

Andromeda and Perseus

            Joachim Wtewael - Andromeda and Perseus (1611)

Recently, while looking at  late 1500's / early 1600's art-work of  illustrations relating to alchemy, I  discovered Joachim Wtewael's painting of Perseus and Andromeda. Wtewael's Perseus and Andromeda  is strong evidence that throughout the centuries, the myths of ancient Greece, with their many tales of transformation of mortal to immortal, love-intrigues between goddesses and heroes, and inter-action between gods and man, were a potent force upon the Western artistic imagination.

Joachim Wtewael of Utrecht (1566-1638) was a Northern Mannerist painter who stylistically adopted formal devices such as brilliant and decorative colour, contrived spatial design and contorted poses to great effect, as in his Perseus and Andromeda. Wtewael is also known for combining artifice with naturalism in his paintings and an ability to integrate two contrary aesthetics of Dutch 16th and 17th century painting, uyt den geest (from the imagination) and naer t leven (after life). He painted contrasting works such as Momento Mori,  a naturalistic domestic Kitchen scene, as well as a highly-formalised treatment of the myth of Vulcan surprising the lovers Venus and Mars, a popular myth throughout the Renaissance.

The Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus tells of how Andromeda was chained to a rock on the shore as a sacrifice to the sea-monster Cetus. The sea-god Poseidon had sent the monster Cetus as a punishment for Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia's claim that she was more beautiful than the Nereid's. However, as soon as the hero Perseus, on his journey from the Gorgon saw Andromeda, he fell in love with her and petitioned  Cepheus her father that if he could destroy the monster he would give him the rescued girl as a wife. After oaths were sworn, Perseus confronted the monster, killed it and set Andromeda free. The myth is immortalized in the constellations of Draco, Perseus and Andromeda clustered together in the northern quarter of the night sky.

The Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus, that of the damsel in distress saved by a knight in shining armour is an archetypal  myth which has inspired numerous painters throughout history as a subject worthy of artistic expression. Artists have responded to the myth of Andromeda and Perseus from either a conscious or unconscious need to express the freeing of the feminine, or perhaps in recognition of the repression and suppression of the feminine in their respective society, or even simply as a pliable and exciting love and action  story. It's a true roll-call of the Western artistic tradition how many famous artists have been inspired to devote their creativity to this myth.

Beginning with Italian Renaissance artists Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521) and Varsari (1511-74) to Dutch artists Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Rembrandt (1606-69) to the Neo-classical artists Tiepolo (1696-1770), Ingres (1780-1867) and in the 19th century to Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite and Decadent artists, Delacroix (1798- 1863), Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and Gustav Dore (1832-1883) there seems to have been no artistic era which has not been attracted to this most archetypal of myths; that of entrapped beauty and a hero who comes from the sky and kills the beast and wins her love. 

Greek myths in general have been a constant source of inspiration to artists and thinkers throughout the centuries. It's interesting to note in passing that these include German alchemist Count Michael Maier (1568 -1622) who based  much of his spiritual alchemy upon Greek myth. While  the founder of psychology, Sigismund Freud named his first psychological theory after a hero of Greek mythology, Oedipus.

As Christianity developed it created its own mythology, often borrowed and adapted from ancient myth. The story of  Saint George and the Dragon has many striking similarities in theme to Perseus and Andromeda, and in all probability the Greek myth is the archetypal model for the Christian legend of Saint George. Examples of differing cultures and belief-systems distant in time to each other yet sharing similar myths hint  ultimately of the syncretic nature of myth, and are, as Jung realised in his long study of mythology, fairly frequent coincidences in comparative religion.

Remembering that myths originate from the earliest dawn of memory and consciousness and have been  elaborated upon throughout the generations; the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, essentially that of the hero rescuing the  'fair prize' of  a damsel in distress from the monster is in Jung's study of the archetypes, none other than a recognising of, integration and winning of the lesser known, 'undeveloped' or  'other' half' of the psyche, the anima by the Hero.

Jung argues that throughout western history, the male psyche has often belittled or even ignored, often to his detriment, qualities such as passivity, the skill of listening, empathy, sensitivity of feeling and capacity for intuition. Such mental qualities are often considered as somehow 'lesser' or 'feminine' qualities. However, in Jungian psychology, the feminine, the anima in a man and animus in women, are the very prizes which are 'hard to obtain'. Realization of the anima is the goal of the seeking Hero in his perilous quest of individuation, totality and psychic wholeness. 

What's most notable in Joachim Wtewael's canvas, besides its overt eroticism, is its near hallucinatory luminescence in colouration and unusual perspective; these qualities remind one of other artists who were conjurers of magical, fantastic elements in their paintings.

Wtewael's Perseus and Andromeda  reminds one of  both the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)  and of the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989). Though centuries apart both these painters possessed a highly polished technique, as well as an inclination towards mysticism. Indeed, both Bosch and Dali painted The Temptations of Saint Anthony (1946) both contributing to Christian mythology, developing the early Christian legend that Saint Anthony, the early desert Father experienced mystical visions during his long solitary desert sojourns.

In their respective paintings of The Temptations of Saint Anthony  Dali and Bosch share a fantastic imagination and a brush-stroke technique able to make manifest  the creatures from their imagination . Their message is that the real monsters which beleaguer humanity are far more likely to be engendered from an inner spiritual conflict of the individual than from any external reality. 

Hieronymus Bosch - A detail from the left panel of the triptych
- The Temptations of Saint Anthony c.1500

The highly spiritual landscape of the desert, a place of solitude, meeting of God, temptation and devilry has become in both Bosch's and Dali's  Temptations of Saint Anthony  crowded  and  populated  with bizarre creatures of fantasy, many  of a flying or air-borne nature.  The monsters in Bosch and Dali are far more numerous and scary than anything in Greek myth,  perhaps because the temptations of  the Christian Saint Anthony involves temptations  of sexuality. Both works are heightened  by an intensity of religious fervour. In Bosch's work one's eye is drawn to the close proximity of  optical tricks and the grotesques which surround the suffering Saint. Above him the sky is teeming with flying demon creatures. In a detail from the triptych  the Desert Father is praying while seemingly helpless in flight astride a flying creature.

In  Dali's painting  the eye is drawn away from the tormented Saint into a deep, seemingly infinite background  in which a procession of  improbably spindle-legged, almost floating elephants emerge to totter through the desert.  Carried upon the back of one elephant is a closet-like Ark enclosing the bare breasted torso of  a female nude. An extremely tortured  image, quite esoteric in its symbolism and almost revelling in its sexual neurosis. The fantastic landscape and drama of Wtewael's Andromeda, with its untroubled and unashamedly sexual  female nude is  no less surreal in perspective and imagery.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Workforce (Ryan Moore up) winning the English Derby June 6th 2010

The Prix de' l' Arc de Triomphe is the richest prize horse race in Europe. Well established as a mile and a half race, its open for horses of all ages and is staged in the last days of the Flat racing season on the first Sunday in October; the first Arc was  on Sunday October 3rd, 1920 at Longchamp outside Paris as a celebration of the newly-established era of peace following the First World War. The Arc is as much a monument  to French victory as a show-case for French horse-racing in its reputation. Top horse trainers from Ireland, France and Great Britain dream of winning this prestigious Group One race of international status.

Workforce, a 3 year-old horse which won the Derby by 7 lengths has today won the Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe. Owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, trained by Sir Michael Stoute (his first Arc win) and ridden by Ryan Moore, Workforce is only the 6th horse to win both the English Derby and the French  Prix De l'Arc Triomphe in the same season. No horse however will ever beat the achievement of  last years Arc winner in 2009, the truly unique equestrian star, Sea the Stars.

Since the opportunity of air-travel for horses has developed horse-racing is rapidly becoming a world sport. The next big international race is the  Australian Melbourne Cup in November.

A Hero's Daughter

Andreï Makine's  novel 'A Hero's Daughter' was first published in 1990. Written in French it was translated into English in 2004 by Geoffrey Strachan. Andreï Makine was born in Siberia in 1957. Granted asylum in France in 1987, he wrote his first novel,  A Hero's Daughter in French but was unable to find a publisher, no-one believing that a Russian could write a publishable novel in French. He has since won  two of France's most prestigious literary prizes, the Prix Goncourt and Prix Medicis.

'A Hero's Daughter' is the story of the young Ivan Demisdov who fights bravely as a soldier during World War II, defending Moscow from the Nazi invasion. He falls in love with a nurse who saves his life on the battle-field, marries her, endures the years of famine and raises their daughter Olya. When years later his wife dies, Ivan begins to drink vodka heavily  and  wanders around Moscow, exploiting his status as an honoured military hero. The main story centres upon the 1980's decade  of Perestroika and Glasnost  initiated by President Gorbachev. Its during this era of  reconstruction and openness that Ivan  discovers his daughter Olya to be working for the KGB as a high-class call-girl. In return for Western-style luxuries and privileges Olya passes onto the KGB trade secrets of visiting business-men extracted during 'pillow-talk' with her clients. The historical events of Glasnost force both  father and daughter, Ivan and Olya, to self-examination and to question their role in society and  their contribution to its moral values.

Although it's is translated from French to English, 'A Hero's Daughter', in essence is a Russian novel in story, theme and insights. As in Olga Grushkin's novel, The Dream Life of Ivan Sukhanov also set in  the era of Glasnost and Perestroika,  Makine selects the 1980's decade, when radical social and political change in Russia occurred, as the setting of his novel.  It's a fertile  era for Russian asylum novelists, offering the opportunity to examine the re-structuring of Russian society from a relatively objective historical distance and to discourse upon the corruption and moral bankruptcy revealed by the new era of  Glasnost. 

Written with poignant moments of self-reflection and realization of individual worth, 'A Hero's Daughter' has been described as nothing less than the moral history of Russia. Its  a thought-provoking novel which displays Russian  themes in its preoccupations and descriptive power; conveying changes in Russian social history through the thoughts and deeds of  fictitious creations.  Another hallmark of Makine's novel and of many Russian writers in general is the seemingly effortless ability to involve the reader in the psychology of its characters, in alliance with an intense understanding of the human condition.