Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Maze of the Labyrinths

Maze: must have choices in its pathway.
Labyrinth: design should have but one pathway leading to the centre.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World edited by John Roberts "the labyrinth is a complex building constructed by Daedalus for Mino king of Crete and commonly identified with the Minoan plaace of Knossus. The labyrinth's confusing system of passages, from which no one could escape, concealed the Minotaur, which fed on human victims until destroyed by Theseus. The hero imitated its twists and turns in a ritual dance on Delos. A plausible derivation of the non-Greek word from (Lydian) 'double axe' connects the labyrinth with a potent Minoan religious symbol labrys."

The labyrinth is a design and comes to us from pagan Greece and Rome. It was the name given by the ancient Greeks and Romans to buildings, entirely or partly subterranean, containing a number of chambers and passages that rendered egress difficult. (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Gilchrist Heraldy Cathedral labyrinth
Pliny's Natural History mentions the following four famous labyrinth's of antiquity:
  1. The Egyptian: situated to the east of the Lake of Moeris, opposite the ancient site of Crocodilopolis (Arsinoe) - the word means "the temple at the entrance of the lake". The entire building contained 12 courts and 3,000 chambers. The roofs were wholly of stone and the walls were covered with sculpture. It was the work of Amenenbet III of the 12th dynasty who reigned 1842 to 1797 BC.  Herodotus' Egyptian labyrinth was near the place called the City of Crocodiles (Greeks named it Crocodilopolis). The city worshipped a sacred crocodile (Petsuchos) that was embellished with gold and gems. The crocodile lived in a special temple, with sand, a pond and food. When the Petsuchos died, it was replaced with another. The city was renamed Arsinoe during the 3rd century. The Arsinoite nome contained various pyramids, the necropolis of Crocodilopolis, and a celebrated labyrinth. Today the city remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. The Cretan: The labyrinth at Knossos, Crete in which the minotaur was slain by Theseus. Greek mythology did not recall that in Crete there was a Lady or Mistress of the Labyrinth who presided over it. A tablet inscribed in Linear B found at Knossos records a gift "to all the gods honey: to the mistress of the labyrinth honey". This implied all the gods together receive as much honey as the mistress of the labyrinth alone. It is possible that the Cretan labyrinth and the Lady were connected with a cult which was transmitted later to the Eleusinian mysteries. 
  3. The Lemnian: similar to the Egyptian with 150 columns. 
  4. The Italian: was a highly intricate series of chambers in the lower part of the tomb of Porsena at Clusium. This tomb is said to be recognisable in the mound named Poggio Gajella, near Chiusi.
With reference to the Egyptian labyrinth, there was an extinct order of amphibians that comprised the dominant animals of Late Paleozaic and Triassic time which were called labyrinthodants (labyrinthodontia). These animals first appeared in the late Devonian. Many were large as alligators, some as small as salamanders. They were aquatic creatures but later some had become terrestrial.

Theseus slaying the minotaur
The main mythical story is of Theseus who slays the minotaur beast found in the centre. The minotaur beast required children to be sacrificed and brought to it. The story has been contextualised in Christianity to mean overcoming the devil in our journey, or Christ harrowing of the devil in hell. The widespread adoption of a four-fold division of the labyrinth with a cross at the centre in an attempt to Christianise a pagan symbol. This was the accepted form for use in the church with obvious Christian symbolism built into its structure. It is reputed that these labyrinth's in churches were walked as substitutes for the long pilgrimages after the popularity of the Crusades had abated; also manypeople could not afford to travel to the holy sites and lands, so these labyrinths were used in prayer and meditation, and when people walked the path they saw it as allegorically ascending toward salvation or enlightenment.
Chartres Cathedraul
It was Christianised via Roman Algeria and has been used numerously in some great cathedrals, notably Chartres Cathedral in northern France. There was also a Christian basilica at Al-Asnam in AD 324 which combined the familiar design of a square Roman labyrinth with a word-square spelling out "Sancta Eclesia" (Holy Church) occupying the central goal, instead of Theseus and the minotaur.

The traditional design is a cross, angles and dots, which are all drawn first and then the remaining concentric circles are simply connected to the points around the central core of the design.

Technique in drawing a labyrinth
Some of the cathedral labyrinths were the scenes of symbolic games and dances; a ball game known as pelota was played at Easter by the clergy on the pavement labyrinth in Auxerre Cathedral, central France. The labyrinth design symbolised the tortuous path that the good Christian followed towards redemtpion, both in everyday life and on pilgrimage.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth
Reverend Harry Cheales in 1950 had a dream which he was instructed to build a maze in the rectory garden at Wyck Rissington in Gloucestershire, southwent England. He spent five years planting  his maze and decorated it with signs to remind visitors of the progression through childhood to old age and, finally, death. The choices and turns in the pathway represented the decisions and mistakes inevitably made in life, a tree already in the garden formed the central goal and symbolised heaven and eternity.

In 1968 a hedge maze was opened at the garden in Van Buuren Museum in Brussels, Belgium. It has a cedar tree at its goal and a simple pathway that leads through a series of alcoves containing sculptures that illustrate the Jewish 'Song of Songs'. It contains a wealth of religious symbolism.

In 1980 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie also had a dream of a maze which he made into a sermon. The inspiration of this sermon resulted in building the "Archbishop's Maze" at Greys Court in Oxfordshire, central England. The design is adapted from medieaval cathedral labyrinths and can be followed as either a labyrinth or a simple maze to an inscribed pillar with a sundial at the centre; the pillar stands on a Byzantine-style cross of stone, inset with a Roman cross in contrasting stone. The reconciliation of the various branches of the Christian Church was central to Runcie's life work, and the design of the maze, by its very nature and the marking of key points on the path, abounds with Christian symbolism. It also heralded the resurgence of the labyrinth as a tool for spiritual and psychological renewal and growth which has taken off with New Age and the Sacred Geometry religious philosophies departing from Orthodox Christianity. The New Age cult and Mysticism see the dance of Christos and Sophia being the interplay of the sacred masculine and sacred feminine principles, as they manifest in Christian mystical tradition.

Villa Pisanill Labirinto
Meanwhile finger labyrinths are used by spiritual counsellors and mental health workers for its therapeutic benefits. These are tactile objects carved into wood or stone, or made from embossed paper structures or papier mache, which allow the fingers to do the walking. When not in use the wood and stone labyrinths make striking wall ornaments.

(Extracts taken from Magical Paths - Labyrinths and Mazes by Jeff Saward)

Symbolism: protective device, meditation.

Inspiration images:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Allegory of the Boy Artist

The boy begins as soon as he can see, by taking an interest in everything around him that he sees in ACTION.

It is not by objects in themselves that his senses are excited, it is by their movement, their variation. His indifference to things which give no sign of life is profound. It is only when they move that he is struck by the notion that possibly they might in some way be made to gratify his own passions.

The first enjoyment he receives through his outward instinct is that of DESTRUCTION. When he gets old enough to handle things, the only vent for his desire to assimilate them, to make them part of his ego, is to pull them to pieces, to punish their unresponsiveness by summary execution.

Between this stage and the next there is a period during which the boy does not know what to do or be at. In contrast to him the girl's instinct for nurturing is only feebly developed. He knows no middle ground between destruction and creation. The months between the last wilful disembowelling and the first attempt to MAKE are passed, as a rule, in the persecution of every living thing he comes across.

The Allegory of the Boy Artist visual

(from studies in psychology of the boy artist).
At last the time arrives to give him paints and pencils. What does he do with them? Does he put a vase of flowers on a table and sit down to study its forms? NO; he tries to recreate the life by which he has been fascinated all along. He wearied of his tin calvary because it could not charge. And so he tries to make action of every kind visible. Purely objective fact, has no existence for him. What he wants to realise is his own conception of how things should move and what patterns they should make. If Wellington drew a battle for him, he would insist on more smoke; or Fordham a racehorse, he would want more flush of mane and tail.

The boy who tries for correctness in these early stages never becomes an artist. His untutored ambition, if it is to lead to much, has to be of the subjective, creative, self-assertive kind. Now comes the crisis.
The boy has carried his natural light as far as it will go. He has made men fight as furiously and horses gallop as extravagantly as he can with his scanty knowledge of either.

He begins to see that if he is ever to express himself fully and to satisfy his own nascent critical sense, he must lay aside imagination and turn for a time to ACQUISITION. This is the parting of the ways.
The discovery?

Science ministers to art. The consummation of it all, even with the greatest artists, does not come too soon. It does not come until the scientific foundation is fused, as it were, into the art built upon it. The expressive artist must put his knowledge of form, of structure, of the behaviour of paint or clay, into action, as unconsciously as the writer does his knowledge of grammar.

Then the genius of the artist emerges.

Collages in above visual:
Vanitas 1 Vonny Nasamoto

Vanitas 2 Vonny Nasamoto

Other images used:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vanitas, all is vanity

My vanitas collages (which I will post later on in the week) are inspired by my next visual narrative "The allegory of the boy artist". They will also be included in the visual narrative.

So what is a vanitas? It is a genre of the still life painting tradition. The traditional vanitas were painted in the 17th century usually by Dutch and Flemish still life painters, and often contain a hidden allegory. The Latin word Vanitas means 'emptiness', 'unreality' or 'superficiality'; and is not about vanity in the sense of being vain but of the evanescence or emptiness of earthly possessions. These paintings were designed to make the observer contemplate the longevity of life, the frailty of man and the vanity of all worldly things. They were often moralising and filled with elaborate symbolism.

The objects used are reflective of the transcience of the things of this world and the inevitability of death (the 'vanitas' theme) for us all; and by extension often contemplative of the Christian passion and resurrection of Jesus. A vanitas painting contains collections of objects symbolic of the inevitably of death and the transcience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent.

Vanitas - Frans Hals (1628)
Collage for The Allegory of the Boy Artist visual narrative

The memento mori is the skull, reminding us we must due.

Here is a list of some of the more frequent objects and their meanings:

An hour-glass, clock or candle:  all allude to the passing of time;
An overturned vessel (cup, pitcher or bowl): alludes to the literal meaning of vanitas - emptiness.
A crown, sceptre, jewels, purse or coins: alludes for the power and possessions of this world (represented by a terrestrial globe) that death takes away
A sword or other weapon: reminds us that arms are no protection against death.
Flowers, especially with drops of dew: symbols of short-livedness and hence of decay.
Glass of wine or pitcher and a loaf of bread: the eucharistic elements.
A vase of flowers: points the contrast between life on earth and in the hereafter.
Ivy, being evergreen: signifies death by the resurrection
Pelican or phoenix: used as Christian references often painted on vessels.
Crucifix or rosary: symbols of Catholicism.
A bird: symbol of the human soul, a meaning familiar in antiquity; and extended to other winged creatures such as the butterfly.
Apple, pomegranate, black and white grapes, nut and other fruit: commonly used as traditional Christian symbols.
A bird's egg (especially with the shell broken): implies resurrection and life.
Exotic shells: were a symbol of wealth, as only a rich collector would own such a rare object from a distant land.
Books: celebrated human learning.
Musical instruments: celebrated the pleasures of the senses.
Purple silk cloth: was doubly symbolic - silk was the finest material, while purple was the most regal colour.
Arms and armour: represented both military power and superb craftsmanship, beautiful and deadly at the same time.
Storage jars, glasses and carafes: contained water, wine or oil; they were symbolical elements that held the products that sustained life.
Chronometer: marked the length and passing of life.
Extinguished oil lamp or candle: also marked the length and passing of life.

Other objects:
Mirrors, bones, burning candles, soap bubbles, decaying flowers, flickering candles, smoke, pipes, fruit, vegetables, plants, red wine, bread, tattered books, maps, jewellery, broken pots and crockery, insects, animals, time pieces, the hour glass, sun dials, cards, dice and other games of chance.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

In the Year 20 Eleven - The Year of Destruction

This is a very apocalyptic based visual narrative with inspiration taken from the book "Number in Scripture" by E. W. Bullinger.

Numerics is the study of numbers in relation to scripture and their symbolism; not to be confused with numerology where numbers are sought to affect a person's characteristics or life events. Numerics is applied to events and provides a picture of their symbolism and what they are signifying. Bible numerics looks at the spiritual significance and symbolic connotation of numbers which abide by the Law of First Principle in relating to contexts within the sacred bible.

The number eleven marks disorder, disorganisation, imperfection, disintegration, destruction and chaos.

The number ten signifies the perfection of order; then eleven is an addition to it, it's adding something extra to it and adulterating it. It is subversive of and undoes that order.

Twelve is the number which marks the perfection of government, then eleven falls short of it. It takes away from it, subtracts from it, making it not whole.

Author advises that this piece is not prophetic nor intends to forecast or predict any major catastrophy, but is a picture signifying the relevance of number in scripture.

Conflict in the Middle East - will history repeat itself?
Historically Nebucchadnezzar came up and began his destructive work on Jerusalem (2 Kings 23: 36, 24:1, 2 Chronicles 36: 5, 6), during Jehoiakim's reign of 11 years.

Nebucchadnezzar put an end to Israel's rule in Jerusalem for "in the 11th year the city was broken up." (Jer 39:2).

For a more modern example we can think of 9/11. 9 in bible numerics means finality. This was about final destruction on American soil, in order to engage them into war.

Still it was the eleventh year in which Ezekial prophesised against Tyre (Ezek 26: 1) and against Egypt (30:20 and 31:1) was the 11th year Zedekiah, in which Jerusalem was broken up.

Eleven hundred occurs twice in the bible, both referring to days of defective administration, marked by the fact that there was "no king". It signifies ruin and loss of government. Now we only have to think about the Middle East to see these spiritual forces coming into play as governments and monarchies disintegrate.

Armistice - 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (so close to 12), that it was then the end of that destruction, ending the end of WWI.

Leviathan Stirs
In the ancient Near East a monster is a common symbol to represent a water chaos that threatens life.

The Akkadian creation epic Enuma elish - introduces us to the battle with chaos in creation.

Rahab and Leviathan the sea monsters combine to battle it out, creating major storms as they restlessly try and encroach on the land.

Yahweh's control of the cosmic waters (post primeval waters) is simply a job for the angels; apocalyptically the great beasts representing the nations, will emerge from the waters crying peace, peace but only for a while before a great war breaks out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Year 2011 Destruction BUT hope

The glassy look is due to the acetate I have used.

Year 2011 - Year of Destruction!!

Ok, it's just the start of the year and we have already seen parts of Australia flooded so much that it would be like France and Germany combined together; then we have all the uprisings in the Middle East with governments disintegrating; and a major bad earthquake just recently in New Zealand.

My next visual narrative will be about what the number 11 signifies. Before I go into details it represents destruction, disintegration, chaos, ... Even the most recent earthquake in Christchurch (NZ) happened on the 22nd (that is a factor of 11 : 2 x 11 = 22). Just coincidence? Or what about the alignment of planets and their gravitational pull on the earth causing these natural disasters? And what happens in the natural is also happening in the spiritual.

So I thought I'd ponder on these things and add bits and pieces from other people to see what they are saying about it all.

In the meantime enjoy my collages (I have used a silver pen around them to signify that there is always hope - 'every cloud has a silver lining' remember - yeah I know a bit naff). Oh let's hope.

Leviathan Stirs

Egypt in Conflict
The visual narrative I have made uses both central collaged images in the middle of these collages.