In the 82 illustrated plates included in his 1680 book The Anatomy of Plants, the English botanist Nehemiah Grew revealed for the first time the inner structure and function of plants in all their splendorous intricacy. Find out more in Brian Garret’s article for The Public Domain Review – “The Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew” – which explores how Grew’s pioneering ‘mechanist’ vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy.
Hermetism is often and wrongly confused with Gnosticism, which similarly originated in Egypt in roughly the same era. For present purposes, a few salient points of contrast will suffice. Like the God of Stoicism, the Hermetic God was omnipresent and omniscient through the material cosmos. In Gnosticism, by contrast, God was transcendent, and the physical universe was an evil place created by an evil Demiurge (van den Broek 1998). Hermetic ethics celebrated the divine within the world; Gnostic ethics were abstemious, ascetic efforts to escape from the world (Mahé 1998).
There were also differences in their valuations of visions. Jonas (1969) drew attention to the fact that the motif of heavenly ascension was originally intended, for example in Jewish apocalyptic literature, as an objective reality, but was subsequently transformed into an allegory of the mystical path. The mystical appropriation of the ascension motif was complete by the second century era of the Alexandrine Christian fathers, St. Clement and Origen (Danielou 1973).
The allegorical tradition was also present in the Gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, although in a slightly different manner. Referring to experiences of visions in general, The Exegesis on the Soul 34 stated: “Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself….This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of ascent to the father” (Robinson 1988:196). For the Gnostics, as for the Alexandrine fathers, ascension was one among several literary tropes that could signify mystical experiences of highly varied manifest contents.
So far as I know, the Hermetic system was the earliest in the West to propose a mystical initiation, consisting of multiple experiences, that is simultaneously a journey through places and a series of changes in the ontology of the self. Its ascension to the sky compares with Jewish and Christian apocalypticism; but its division of ontological states compares with Neoplatonic distinctions among sensibles, intermediates or divisible intelligibles, and indivisible intelligibles.
This sequence, which can already be discerned in Iamblichus, was eventually formalized by Proclus as three mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union. However, the Hermetists slotted imaginals into the middle position that Neoplatonism limited to empirically demonstrable arithmeticals and geometricals.
This substitution brought Hermetism to a position on visions that differed from the reductive skepticism of Neoplatonism, which treated visions as ideas that were misrepresented by the senses in the form of images.
The Hermetic position also differed from the pure projections that Gnostics held visions to be. For Hermetists, the imaginal was not a projection whose ever various and impredictable content becomes increasingly pure as one’s mind purifies in its progress toward God. The imaginal was instead topographical, an actual and predictable itinerary in a visionary topos that had ontological integrity and coherence.
Although The Discourse was not transmitted to the West in the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic concept of ontologically distinctive locations along an itinerary has been integral to Western esotericism for centuries. Because the Hermetic tradition survived without apparent interruption from late antiquity to be taught at least as late as eleventh century Baghdad, it is not surprising that a series of initiatory experiences were portrayed as an itinerary across nine mountains in Suhrawardi’s Treatise of the Birds (1982).
To Suhrawardi, Sufism also owed the introduction of the ‘alam al-mithal, the “world of imagination” (Rahman 1964). The notion of an initiatory itinerary in the world of imagination was formalized, or at least made less esoteric, in the Sufism of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra (Merkur 1991:223, 234-35); and its passage from Islam to western Europe may be assumed.
Interestingly, Widengren (1950:77-85) demonstrated that the ancient motif of ascension to an audience before a heavenly god was replaced, in the Arabic Hermetic literature, by the motif of entering a subterranean chamber where Hermes sits enthroned, holding a book in his hand. Widengren suggested that the descent of Balinas (the Arabic Apollonius of Tyana) to acquire the Emerald Table of Hermes, along with variant narratives, blended the motif of an initiatory ascension with the motif, found in Egyptian and Hellenistic tales, of the discovery of a book in a subterranean chamber.
An illustration from an old collection of stories translated from Ancient Eyptian Literature. This scene depicts the character “Setna”, emerging from a tomb where he gambled to win a magical papyrus, known as the Book Of Thoth, the reading of which would empower him with all knowledge. Setna was based on a real person, Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who was a Holy Man of the highest order (Sem Priest) and credited as being a great magician. (It was this character from Ancient History that I give all credit to for embarking on my own Hermetic Journey – Jaq) Setna/Prince Khaemwaset
The motif of the cave of initiation, which found its widest audience through the tale of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, may also have been influenced by Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs (Taylor 1969), in which a passage in Homer was allegorized as an image of the cosmos. Whatever its sources, the motif of an alchemical initiation by means of a subterranean itinerary is earliest attested in the writings of medieval Arabic Hermetists.
By this route, the motif of ascension in late antique Hermetism was likely historically antecedent not only to such celebrated European alchemical motifs as the Cave of the Philosophers, but also to the climactic encounters in Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1796) and Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Beasts, Men and Gods (1922).
With their intricate line and often ghoulish tone, the works of Irish artist Harry Clarke are amongst the most striking in the history of illustration and stained glass design. Kelly Sullivan explores how, unknown to many at the time, Clarke took to including his own face in many of his pictures.
Read the full article, and see many additional self-portraits he included in his work at the source: Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass | The Public Domain Review
Inspired by Charles and Francis Darwin’s theory on plant intelligence, German artist Diana Scherer managed to successfully coerce the roots of various plants to grow in specific patterns. The results of her work are simply breathtaking.
In his book, The Power of Movements of Plants, Charles Darwin argued that while plants are not capable of moving from the place where they are rooted, their roots don’t just grow passively, but actively observe their surroundings, navigating in search of water and certain chemicals. He also refers to roots as plants’ brain-like organ, suggesting that they are actually a lot more intelligent than most people think.
Based on Darwin’s controversial “root-brain” hypothesis, Amsterdam-based artist Diana Scherer conducted an artistic experiment where she attempted to coerce plant roots to grow in intricate patterns, sometimes becoming interwoven into stunning living carpets.
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. [It is] a major force in explaining man to man.”
Steichen Quoted in Time Magazine, “To Catch the Instant” 7 April 1961
Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 – March 25, 1973) photographed by
Fred Holland Day (1901)
Edward Steichen. Self-Portrait with Studio Camera. c. 1917
Having come across a camera shop near to his work, he visited frequently until he bought his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box “detective” camera, in 1895. Steichen and his friends who were also interested in drawing and photography pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League.
The artist Alphonse Mucha, as photographed by Edward Steichen, c. 1895
Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz in 1900, while stopping in New York City en route to Paris from his home in Milwaukee. In that first meeting, Stieglitz expressed praise for Steichen’s background in painting and bought three of Steichen’s photographic prints.
In 1902, when Stieglitz was formulating what would become Camera Work, he asked Steichen to design the logo for the magazine with a custom typeface. Steichen was the most frequently featured photographer in the journal.
Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, 1903
In 1904, Steichen began experimenting with colour photography. He was one of the first people in the United States to use the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen created the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which eventually became known as 291 after its address. It presented among the first American exhibitions of Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brâncuși.
Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902
Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902
In late summer 1908 Rodin moved the plaster of his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac out of his studio and into the open air so that Steichen, who disliked its chalky aspect in the daylight, could photograph it by the moon. Waiting through several exposures as long as an hour each, Steichen made this exposure at 11 p.m., when the moonlight transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished prints some weeks later, an elated Rodin exclaimed: “You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert.”
“Open Sky” Rodin’s Balzac 1908 Reproduction:© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1911, Steichen was “dared” by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and LaGazette du Bon Ton , to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret, which were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration.
Edward Steichen, a Paul Poiret design
According to Jesse Alexander, this is “… now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.”
Edward Steichen, with what is deemed is the first “fashion photoshoot”, 1911
“The break between Stieglitz and Steichen came on the verge of the United States’ entry into World War I, perhaps chiefly because Steichen was a dedicated Francophile and Stieglitz was openly sympathetic to Germany. Or perhaps it was because Steichen had come to believe that Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession and its instruments—291 and Camera Work—had become the vehicles for a personality cult.
After the war he replaced the rather vaporous symbolism of his earlier Pictorialist style with optical clarity and greater objectivity of description. Steichen spent several years experimenting with realistic effects of light, tone, and shadow; during this period, he famously photographed a white cup and saucer against a black velvet background more than one thousand times, hoping to achieve a perfect rendering of subtle gradations of white, black, and gray.
Edward Steichen, Lighters
Edward Steichen, Isadora Duncan at the Columns of the Parthenon, Athens, 1921
“We are bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the invisible, to store it in the great golden hives of the invisible.”
Rilke often refers to the invisible, especially in his Duino Elegies, which he wrote during a particularly mystical period of his life. In a letter to his Polish translator Witold Hulewicz in November 1925, he wrote: ‘We of the present are never satisfied by the world of time…transience everywhere plunges into the depths of being…it is our task to print this temporal, perishable earth so painfully, passionately and deeply into ourselves, that its essence is resurrected again, invisibly, within us…the Elegies show this, the work of endlessly converting the visible, tangible world we love into the invisible vibrations and tremors of our own nature…’
He was quite passionate about the “Temple within” and the interior life, whereas he saw the outside world as transitory and fragile.
In another letter, written in 1925, commenting on his Elegies, he wrote: “‘…the Angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we perform, appears already complete.’ [..] ‘that being who attests to the recognition of a higher level of reality in the invisible – Terrifying, therefore, to us because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible’.
Here are some good links on Rilke’s work and his letters
I became a little (more) obsessed with Rilke after reading a chapter focusing on his work in this book:
(edited to include more details from comments)
originally posted 2012
The Romantic Symbolism of Trees by Allison Meier
“As with the Victorian language of flowers, specific trees have their own symbolism. Reverend William Gilpin, an artist and cleric, stated it “is no exaggerated praise to call a tree the grandest, and most beautiful of all products of the earth.” In the form of the tree, artists found expressions of life, death, and the great beyond.
A Dialogue with Nature includes work both from the Morgan’s works on paper holdings, and the Courtauld Gallery in London, and emphasizes this “cult of nature.” Here are some of the meanings of trees in Romantic art that are evoked in the exhibition, as well as in the landscape tradition of the time.”
Link to the full article http://hyperallergic.com/131541/the-romantic-symbolism-of-trees/
Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910) Sunset in a Forest
I wish I had time to upload my folder of Trees in art.. maybe in a future post.. ~ Jaq
“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.
The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.
This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?
…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,
As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.
They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.
Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.
Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.
Come out. Rise.
Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”
Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.
In Arabic classifications of science and philosophy, which were adapted in the twelfth century, alchemy was defined as a sub-branch of natural philosophy (scientia naturalis), sharing this definition, above all, with medicine. Thus, about ten years after the first translation of an alchemical text into Latin (Morienus, De compositione alchimie), Dominic Gundissalinus described alchemy as belonging to physics in his De divisione philosophiae (ca. 1150). It was a science and an art aimed at the transformation of species
In the thirteenth century, representatives of Platonically-oriented cosmology and natural science such as Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253) defended a systematic use of geometrical representation. Following Grosseteste, “all causes of natural effects must be expressed by means of lines, angles, and figures, for otherwise it is impossible to grasp their explanation”. The corresponding theory of knowledge was neo-Platonic and Augustinian. The intelligible order underlying the physical, corporeal world was thought to be apprehensible by the divine part of the soul, by the ‘eye of the soul’, and geometrical figures (as well as number patterns) were used as ‘ladders’ leading to eternal truths.
The early fifteenth-century Aurora consurgens marks a further step in the elaboration of pictorial metaphors combined with glass vessels. The oldest and most spectacular copy of this document dates from the 1420s (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172). On a purely pictorial level, an inventive and high-quality artist developed a core of recurrent alchemical metaphors that relate to human and animal procreation, the dismemberment of bodies (symbolizing calcinations and putrefaction) and motifs such as the eagle and the dragon, which denote mercury as a volatile and as a solidified substance, respectively. In and around glass vessels, the artist metaphorically depicted stages of operation relating to the alchemical art of transformation as well as cosmological and philosophical principles of the art, such as “two are one” and “nature vanquishes nature”. Two or more principal metaphors are frequently combined within a single picture, reflecting the increasing use of chains of metaphors. For instance, one of the illustration combines the motifs of Mercury decapitating the sun and the moon with a vase filled with silver and gold flowers
Figure 11: Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172, fol. 27v. Aurora consurgens (ca 1420-30). Mercury in the form of a serpent decapitating the Sun and the Moon. Gold and silver flowers in a vessel on the fire.
For the full article from which these extracts were taken, go to the link below
Dorothea Tanning’s “foray into imaginative botany,”
“In the months before beginning this series, at the age of 86, the artist thought she had finished painting in her New York studio but then remembered a set of stretched Lefebvre-Foinet canvases, which she had purchased years earlier while living in Paris, and was compelled to use one. Her discovery provoked “a burst of energy and obsession that lasted the better part of eight months and was responsible for 12 outsized, hauntingly erotic flower paintings” (Jane Kramer, The New Yorker, 2004).
“I had a vision of a mauve flower,” Tanning says of that time, “Then more and more wanted to be painted. I could hardly finish one before I’d start the next one”
(Boston Globe, 1999). Using preliminary sketches as “touchstones on the way to the flowers,” the artist represented “naked, precise depictions of visions as real to me as botanical specimens are to the scientist” (Another Language of Flowers, 1998).
Tanning painted 12 flowers over the course of a year, from June 1997 until April 1998; one for each month of the year, or one for each hour of the day or night. Her preoccupation with the female figure, which is evident throughout her work from the 1940s onwards, remains present in these last paintings, where bodies and limbs embrace the flowers or blend into her dream-like landscapes. Tanning’s hybrid flowers take us on a journey through a never-before-seen garden, which she described as a “foray into imaginary botany”.
As she wrote, each flower “had the good fortune to be identified and blessed with the words of twelve poets, friends of the artist, who have given them their voices” (Another Language of Flowers, 1998). With the exception of James Merrill, who is quoted posthumously, the poets were inspired by the images themselves to write poems and create fictitious Latin names, sometimes with a faux-translation in English: Agripedium vorax Saccherii (Clog Herb); Siderium exaltatum (Starry Venusweed); Zephirium apochripholiae (Windwort); Pictor mysteriosa (Burnt Umbrage); Victrola floribunda; and Convolotus alchemilia (Quiet-willow window).
Tanning was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1910 and attended Knox College before moving to New York in the 1940s. There she began exhibiting at the Julien Levy Gallery, becoming known for her very personal and powerful surrealist paintings. In New York she met and married Max Ernst, moving with him to Arizona in the mid-’40s, and then to France in the mid-’50s. Two decades later, after Ernst’s death, Tanning returned to New York where she embarked upon a new and ambitious series of paintings, increasing both the scale and the scope of her work.
In addition to her activities as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Tanning designed sets and costumes for ballet and theater in New York, London and Paris. Her work is included in collections at the Tate Gallery, London; the Georges Pompidou Center, Paris; the Menil Collection, Houston; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
She died in 2012 at the age of 101.