Monday, June 06, 2016

Paracelsus on the interpretation of dreams


Although the alchemist-physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) is credited as the first to advocate chemical processes in order to obtain new medicines to alleviate diseases and illnesses, he remains a controversial and little-understood figure in intellectual history. It was during his life-time, that of the Renaissance, that new discoveries in almost every branch of the arts and sciences occurred, including the 'discovery' of the psyche.
'The Renaissance study of nature included the study of human nature. Christian theology however did not always possess a clear-cut view or answer to the many new spiritual and psychological concerns experienced by those living during the Renaissance era. Dissatisfied with Christian dogma, alchemists, many of whom were physicians, augmented concepts originating from the western esoteric traditions of alchemy and astrology with their own home-grown schemata, neologisms and symbols, in order to express their understanding of the psyche. Symbolism originating from western esoteric concepts, enabled alchemists, in particular Paracelsus, to discuss topics considered to be near heretical to the inflexible dogma of Christianity, namely, the components of the psyche, and the development of individuation.' [1] 
The rich and complex symbolism of alchemy contributed to the Renaissance 'discovery' of the psyche and the embryonic origins of modern-day psychology no less, although it was not until the early 20th century that the unconscious was identified and named as such by Freud. The hitherto hidden workings of the unconscious psyche could be revealed, Freud proposed and demonstrated, through an in-depth analysis of an individual's dreams. 
The English alchemist-physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) was a critical follower of Paracelsus who also held a deep interest in dreams and the workings of the psyche. In his short tract on dreams Browne expressed a highly-evolved theory of dream interpretation which anticipates Jungian psychology-
"Many dreams are made out by sagacious exposition from the signature of their subjects; carrying their interpretation in their fundamental sense & mystery of similitude, whereby he that understands upon what natural fundamental every notional depends, may by symbolical adaptation hold a ready way to read the characters of Morpheus." [2]
Both Paracelsus and Sir Thomas Browne can justifiably be identified as Ur-psychologists who anticipated the analytical methodology of Sigismund Freud and Carl Jung for Paracelsus, like Freud centuries later, considered dreams and their interpretation to be the 'Royal road' to understanding of the psyche. He also recognised the supernatural element of dreams, and that their interpretation is endorsed in the Biblical stories such as Joseph successfully interpreting the Egyptian Pharaoh's dreams. 
Paracelsus wrote the following extracts on dreams and their interpretation -
"The interpretation of dreams is a great art. Dreams are not without meaning wherever they may come from - from fantasy, from the elements, or from another inspiration.One can find something supernatural in them. For the spirit is never idle. If the earth gives us an inspiration - one of her gifts - and if she confers it upon us through her spirit, then the vision has a meaning.
"Anyone who wants to take his dream seriously, interpret it, and be guided by it, must be endowed with "sidereal knowledge" and the light of nature, and must not engage in absurd fantasies, nor look upon his dreams from the heights of his arrogance; for in this way nothing can be done with them. dreams must be heeded and accepted. for a great many of them come true.

"For the most part presentiments appear in man in so unimpressive  a form that they are ignored. And yet Joseph discovered in his sleep who Mary was and by whom she was with child. And because dreams are not sufficiently heeded, no faith is put in their revelations, although they are nothing other than prophecies.......

"The wise man must not neglect them, but recall that Christ too appeared in invisible form and was ridiculed. If he understands that inconspicuous things must not be ridiculed but judged with wisdom, he will also know Christ. The scoffers have no understanding, but the wise possess the knowledge that God has conferred upon them.

"The dreams which reveal the supernatural are promises and messages that God sends us directly; they are nothing but his angels. His ministering spirits, who usually appear to us when we are in a great predicament......Of such apparitions we must know how they take place and how they come to us; when we are in great need, we can obtain them from God's kindness if our prayer pours in true faith from a truthful mouth and heart. Then God sends us such a messenger who appears to us in spirit, warns us, consoles us, teaches us, and brings us His good tidings.

"From time immemorial artistic insights have been revealed to artists in their sleep and in dreams, so that at all times they ardently desired them. Then their imagination could work wonders upon wonders and invoke the shade of philosophers, who would instruct them in their art. today this still happens again and again, but most of what transpires is forgotten. how often does a man say as he wakes in the morning,  " I had a wonderful dream last night," and relate how Mercury or this or that philosopher appeared to him in person and taught him this or that art. but then the dream escapes him and he cannot remember it. However, anyone to whom this happens should not leave his room upon awakening, should speak to no-one, but remain alone and sober until everything comes back to him, and he recalls his dream. [3]


Notes

[1] The Layer Monument: An introduction and interpretation as an alchemical mandala  K.Faulkner Pride Press 2013


[3] Paracelsus Selected Writings edited with an introduction by Jolande Jacobi Princeton University Press 1951 

See also


Wikipedia on Paracelsus  (This entry - begun by a Wikipedia contributor who has also been active for over 13 years, has on average 700-900 views daily)


Thursday, May 05, 2016

Purple Rain




On Saturday 16th October 1646, purple rain fell upon the city of Brussels. It flowed through the city's rivers and canals to the astonishment of its citizens, many of whom imagined it to be blood or wine and a God-given judgement upon Brussels. At a nearby monastery monks collected a sample in a barrel. [1]

The scientist Godfroy Wendelin (1580-1667) visited Brussels in order to investigate the event. Wendelin was recognised internationally as an astronomer and in his lifetime he corresponded with leading European scientists, including Mersenne, Gassendi and Huygens.

Wendelin's treatise 'On the Cause of Purple Rain in Brussels' (De Causa Pluvia Purpurea Bruxellensis) contained findings which tried to explain the phenomenon of purple rain in terms of natural causes such as chemistry rather than theological, and as such his book is important in the history of science. In addition, the treatise contained discussions of other astronomical issues, including a defence of the theories of Copernicus. A crater on the moon is named after Wendelin.

Wendelin's treatise of scientific journalism, listed as once in Sir Thomas Browne's library, is testimony to both how the Norwich-based scientist kept well-informed upon contemporary scientific discoveries throughout Europe, and how he was fascinated by anything of an unusual nature. Browne's edition of Wendelin's 'On the cause of purple rain in Brussels' [2] was in all probability swiftly purchased upon its first publication in 1647 by the Norwich early scientist. It became available translated from Latin to English, several years later, in 1655.

Browne himself has a place in the history of British meteorology. In 1667 he wrote upon a dark thick mist which affected East Anglia and Holland for several days. His miscellaneous writings also include an account of a violent thunderstorm in Norfolk which produced fire-balls. Browne's own major work of scientific journalism Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646) was translated into several European languages and reprinted no less than five times with amendments in its author's life-time. 

Several centuries after the event of purple rain falling upon Brussels, the American singer/songwriter Prince (1958- April 21st 2016) had a big hit in 1984 with a song entitled 'Purple Rain'. Whether Prince ever heard of the meteorological event of 17th century Brussels, its not known and sadly, with his premature death, may now never be known; it is however, a curious coincidence of  recorded event and  lyric imagery !

Notes

[1] Renaissance Meteorology : Pomponazzi to Descartes
Craig Martin 2112 Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore

[2] 1711 Sales auction catalogue edited J.S. .Finch pub. Brill Leiden 1986
Entry - De Causia Pluviae purpurea Bruxellinis  - Brux. 1647
page 26. no. 140

See Also

Sir Thomas Browne: Miscellaneous writings

Account of a thunderstorm               Upon the dark, thick, mist

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thomas Rawlins


Among the many unsung treasures in Norwich's three dozen medieval churches there are an extraordinary variety of well-executed and beautiful funerary monuments. These include the seventeenth century monument to Christopher Layer at the church of Saint John the Baptist, Maddermarket, and those to Sir John Suckling and Robert Suckling at Saint Andrew's. A number of splendid eighteenth century funerary monuments, in particular those by the sculptor Thomas Rawlins (1727-1789) can also be seen in Norwich's medieval churches.

Thomas Rawlins died on March 18th 1789, 227 years ago today. Although from a humble background as the son of a weaver, he was trained by a London sculptor, speculated to have been Sir Henry Cheere. In 1753  Rawlins advertised himself as a carver and mason of monuments and chimney pieces, both ancient and modern. He worked as a monument mason at a yard on Duke Street in Norwich and had a relatively long career, active from circa 1743-81. Rawlins specialised in coloured marble and was a leading member of 18th century 'Norwich school' of stonemasons.

Ranking high as a sculptor in the view of  the art historian Nicholas Pevsner, Rawlins, like other English funerary masons, followed artistic trends which originated from the work-yards of London stonemasons and sculptors. Following in the foot-steps of London trends, a stylistic change in Rawlins sculpture can be seen, from a late Baroque Rococo to Neoclassical in style. This significant stylistic change is well-illustrated by two funerary monuments at St Andrew's church; the first to John Custance (circa 1756) is intricately decorated, with sweeping and detailed flourishes, in complete contrast, the monument for Richard Dennison (circa 1767) is uncluttered and opts for linear simplicity in geometric forms, including oval and circular arches.

This transition of artistic styles from that of late baroque to Neo-classical, occurs sociologically, from the rule of the ancien regime to the various movements which advocated and even installed Democratic rule; its a radical transition which can even be expressed in terms akin to keyboard instruments with the dominance of music written for the harpsichord giving way to the new voice of the pianoforte during approximately 1730-1770 .






In addition to specialising in coloured marbles, Rawlins seems to have had a predilection, held in common with his patrons, for putti, some of which are colossal in dimension, at least three times the size of any normal-sized baby. Rawlin's monuments for Hambleton Custance at St. Andrew's (left) and for Timothy Balderstone at St. George's (right) are both over 5 metres height in total. 


Later monuments by Rawlins, such as the one for Robert Rushbrook (1705-81) in the church of Saint John the Baptist at Maddermarket, (detail top of post) are considered to display a great awareness of neo-classical motifs. However, its his monument for Sir Thomas Churchman at St. Giles which is considered to be exemplary of his finest work. The monument features a sarcophagus, upon which are carved in bas-relief, allegorical figures representing Vanity, Time and Judgement, with a structurally incomplete Egyptian pyramid in background.


Rawlins also practised as an architect. His designs, like those of his contemporary Thomas Ivory, the architect of the Octagon Chapel (1756) of Norwich, were Neo-Palladian in style. In 1768 he published his, Familiar Architecture: or Original Designs of Houses for Gentlemen and Tradesmen; Parsonages; Summer Retreats; Banqueting-Rooms; and Churches. subsequently reprinted in 1789 and 1795. Remarkably, Rawlin's book remains in print today.

Rawlins' reinforcement with ironwork of the south aisle of the church os Saint John the Baptist at Maddermarket, in 1772, became the subject of satirical verse, in what was the first English provincial newspaper, the Norwich Mercury.

Curiously, a stone inlay in the floor of the aforementioned church describes him simply as an architect; however, Rawlin's legacy can be seen in various Norwich churches today, in particular at Saint Andrew's, where no less than three of his funerary monuments can be viewed.



This post is developed from an earlier Wikipedia contribution.




Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mozart: The three last Symphonies



No-one really knows the full motivation or reason why Mozart composed what were to be his last three symphonies, or whether he heard any of them performed. What is certain is that in his last three symphonies, Mozart expanded the canvas of the relatively new genre of the symphony in both duration and emotional scope, establishing the composer's right to express personal feelings, thus paving the way for the Romantic symphony of the nineteenth century.

There’s a tendency which has developed over the centuries, to mythologise Mozart as a near Christ-like figure. His being misunderstood by society, the poverty of his last years, and early death at an age close to Christ's, along with music sounding as if from another-world, heavenly or trance-like, which is heard occasionally in his music, are factors also contributing towards a ‘deification’; Mozart however, was an all-too-human figure, he possessed what would  today be considered a coarse, and even scatological sense of humour; he enjoyed playing billiards, skittles, dancing and drinking, and at one time or another he kept as pets, a canary, a starling and a dog, along with a horse for recreational riding. It is now considered likely that Mozart's unique experience of travelling and touring extensively throughout Europe as a child and teenager, enduring the rigours and inconveniences of travel, along with exposure to various viruses and illnesses so prevalent throughout 18th century Europe, may have contributed to his early death.

Mozart’s surviving correspondence reveals an engaging personality. There is however, a huge difference in his view of life in the ten year period spanning the years from 1778 to 1788. In a letter to his cousin dated 1778 when aged 21 he humorously signs off  a letter to his cousin thus-

Adieu little coz. I am, I was, I should be, I have been, I had been, oh, if I only were, oh, that I were, would God I were; I could be, I shall be, if I were to be, oh, that I might be, I would have been, oh, that I had been, would God I had been - what? A dried cod ! Adieu ma chere Cousine, whither away ? I am your faithful cousin,
Wolfgang Amade Mozart
Mannheim, 28th February, 1778

In stark contrast, ten years later, aged 31, in one of a series of desperate begging letters to fellow Mason, Michael Puchberg, Mozart wrote-

I am obliged to tell you frankly that I cannot possibly pay back so soon the sum you lent me......My circumstances are such that I must absolutely get money... I am sorry enough to be in this situation, but that is the very reason why I want a fairly substantial sum for a fairly lengthy period, as I can then prevent its recurrence......I have done more work in ten days than in two months at any other lodgings, and were I not visited so frequently by black thoughts (which I must forcibly banish) .......  27th June, 1788

Mozart’s last three symphonies were written in a seven week period of white-heat creativity during the summer of 1788, after he and his family moved out of central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. They've been described by musicologist Ralph Hill thus -

The first is, we may say, lyrical, the second dramatic, the third ceremonial. But they vary not only in character: they do so also in mood. The first has a kind of autumnal but not melancholy mellowness; the second is tragic and idyllic by turns, and somehow the latter atmosphere poignantly intensifies the former; the third utters festive sounds but at the same time gives evidence of an intense concentration of thought, the kind of foresight and hindsight that distinguishes a great mathematician or chess player.

Symphony no. 39 in E flat major (K.543) was added to Mozart’s personal catalogue, on June 26th 1788. Its solemn adagio opening movement has been likened to music accompanying a Masonic ceremony. According to Ralph Hill, ‘one secret of Mozart’s greatness... is his ability to accommodate a great many emotional or dramatic contrasts within a single tempo.’

The finale of the 39th symphony is rhythmically vigorous and startling in its sudden changes of key.



Mozart’s 40th symphony in g minor  (K. 550) was completed according to the composer’s personal catalogue on July 25th 1788. Its opening movement is probably the most well-known of all Mozart’s symphonies, partly from a kitsch pop arrangement made by Waldo de los Rios in 1971. But in fact, an uneasy calm pervades the  g minor symphony. An attentive hearing reveals there's scarcely a happy moment in any of its four movements. An under-current of quiet desperation, resignation, anxiety and even despair pervades it, making it fitting mood music for our own age.

Often named the Great g minor symphony in order to distinguish it from an earlier g minor symphony composed some fifteen years earlier in 1773 (K. 183) when Mozart was just 17 years old, the so-called, "little g minor" symphony, uniquely scored for four horns, is also full of tension and syncopated rhythms. It was influenced by the proto-Romantic German literary and music movement of Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) in which individual subjectivity and extremes of emotion are given free expression.

Mozart's 40th symphony in g minor, in contrast to his more conventional and cheerful music, packs a powerful emotional punch. Its minuet contains barely suppressed anger against the pomposity of the upper-classes to whom he was obliged to serve for much of his life. Here, the aristocracy appear full of self-importance as they approach the dance-floor when the invitation to the dance is announced.




Mozart’s 41st symphony (K 551) bears the nickname of The Jupiter, and is the most jovial and light-hearted of all three symphonies. An air of comic opera pervades its opening movement, while its technically brilliant final movement is described by Ralph Hill thus-

‘the ear catches everything going, so lucid and well-aired is the score, and it all flows by in a stream of beautiful music that will satisfy even those who have no notion of the incredible skill that went into its making...the attentive listener will come across..tunes combining in canon with themselves or fitting against their own inversions, entries overlapping closely in fourfold imitation..Mozart’s perfect sense of proportion and timing knows exactly when to cease showing off those dizzy contrapuntal feats, and not the least wonderful proportions of this movement are those where the music suddenly smooths itself out into a plain statement, as if nothing out of the way had happened at all.’

The Jupiter's gorgeous andante is a quintessential example of Mozartean serenity.





Discussion of key signatures in Mozart’s music, along with his artistic relationship to keys, has been a perennial debate amongst musicologists. According to Wolfgang Hildesheimer for example -

If we hear Mozart’s keys as conscious choices, not as the spontaneous expression of the composer’s momentary frame of mind, we by no means imply that we are not also experiencing the minor keys as “gloomy”, or “tragic,” or sometimes even “despairing.” Our feeling is not limited to the minor itself, but overflows and spreads, often intensified, into a major key within the minor, especially E-flat major within G minor.

Yet Hildesheimer also concedes, 'Mozart's musical thinking eludes us. He puzzles us most in those places where the music is serious, even when the material would not seem to warrant it.'

It was in 2009 while in Amsterdam that the Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929 - March 6th 2016) announced - "I have just discovered that the last three Mozart symphonies are an instrumental oratorio." Harnoncourt reasoned that because the 39th Symphony is the only one with a slow introduction, the 40th opens gently, while the 41st symphony is the only one with a full-blown finale, and that because thematic connections can be detected across all three symphonies, Mozart’s last three symphonies are in fact an inter-related triptych. Although Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s proposal that all three symphonies are a related and inter-connected triptych is without precedent, there's nonetheless also a possibility that Mozart may have taken as a model for his triptych, an example from the symphonies of the so-called 'Father of the symphony’, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

It was Haydn's good fortune to be invited in 1761 as Vice-Kappelmeister and placed in charge of most of the Esterházy musical establishment at Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, and later on at Esterháza, a grand new palace built in the Hungarian marshes. At the very beginning of his residency at Esterhaza Joseph Haydn wrote three symphonies, numbered as 6, 7 and 8, which soon acquired the nicknames of 'Le Matin’, ‘Le Midi’ and 'Le Soir’ because they were considered to depict the progression of a day.

There's a possibility that these three early Haydn symphonies were known to Mozart. We will never know for certain whether or not this is true: but given the fact that the two composers, who became close friends, had a mutual respect, influenced each other and studied each other's compositions carefully, its just possible that these three early Haydn symphonies may have known of, or at least heard of through Haydn himself recollecting the beginning of his long service to the Esterhazy court to Mozart.

One can only speculate as to what was the inspiration for Mozart's much larger in scope, emotionally contrasted, and enigmatic symphonic triptych of 1788.

Favourite Books

Mozart : His character, his work  Alfred Einstein 1946
The Grove Mozart : Stanley Sadie 1980
Mozart : Wolfgang Hildesheimer  1977
Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ed. Hans Mersmann 1972

Also consulted-

The Symphony Ralph Hill Pelican London 1949

Favourite Recordings

Jeffrey Tate - ENO
Carlo Maria Giulini - New Philharmonic Orchestra 1965
John Eliot Gardiner -  English Baroque Soloists

See also - Mozart in Paris

Symphonies of Joseph Haydn

In Memorium Francis Michael Faulkner (1936-1996)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Rodulfo's Mandala of Loving-Kindness



Peter Rodulfo is a prolific and visionary British artist. A casual familiarity with his prodigious output soon reveals a wide variety of subject-matter and thematic concerns, often expressed through a flexibility of  style and techniques. 

The diversity of Rodulfo’s artistic output includes portraiture, not only of people, but also of real and imagined creatures, along with fantasy and recollected landscapes; these are juxtaposed, sometimes within a metaphysical frame-work, using a multi-layered perspective. His art also frequently involves humour in setting and imagery; these diverse and wide-ranging artistic themes and concerns merge and unify in Rodulfo's art, often within a single canvas. 

Rodulfo’s art may with some justification be defined as Neo-Mannerist, for like Renaissance Mannerism, his art often involves movement, a manipulation of space through elongated axes prolonging space, a vibrant and emotional immediacy of colour, and a metaphysical or spiritual intensity, which in Rodulfo’s case, has its roots in a secular New Age or counter-culture world-view. 

In contrast to his often crowded and hectic, multi-layered in perspective art, there are also calmer and reflective art-works by Rodulfo. In his Mandala of Loving-Kindness (2012-2015) a simple message is effectively expressed, none other than loving-kindness towards each other, the animal kingdom and organic life on earth in general. Just as Mannerist art was a product of Renaissance humanism, and therefore inclined towards emphasis of the relationship between humanity and nature - so too Neo-Mannerist art such as Rodulfo's, expresses the same message.

A Mandala (Sanskrit for a circle) is usually an art-work originating from Eastern religions of geometric form which invites contemplation. The most common mandala in Western art is the tetramorph which consists of four symbols to represent the four Gospel Evangelists. The Swiss psychologist C.G.Jung is credited with re-introducing the form of the mandala to the Western world. He discusse how mandalas encourage and assist awareness, adaptation and integration of the individual's place in the world. Rodulfo's quadriptych Mandala of Loving-Kindness perfectly fits this description. 

It should not really be necessary to even begin defining what loving-kindness is. Far from being either an abstract or esoteric concept, loving-kindness is the very foundation which will ensure humanity's survival and well-being, or alternatively, its scarcity result in humanity’s extinction. Yet, we live in an age where the challenge as to how humanity can live in peace and harmony, sharing the world’s quite finite resources, vital for sustaining human life, and without resorting to war, threatens human existence. Understanding, and more importantly, practising loving-kindness is an imperative. Its worthwhile therefore reminding ourselves of the wide-ranging meanings of the much abused word, namely, Love.

The Ancient Greeks had four distinct words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē which roughly approximate as affection, friendship, eros, and charity. In both Christianity and Buddhism there are no less than four differing qualities to love,  Buddha himself stating,

As Brahma is the source of Love, to dwell with him you must practice the Brahmaviharas - love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.” 

God's Lovingkindness is frequently alluded to in the Book of Psalms, while in the esoteric discipline of the Judaic Kabbalah, one of the ten attributes of God, known as the Sephiroth is named Chesed, the Hebrew word for Loving-Kindness. A celebrated expression in Christianity on love occurs in Saint Paul’s words-

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

However, we live in an era where spirituality is under-valued and even denigrated, and in which materialism and economics dominates and colours the lives of many living under Government’s who wilfully encourage economic competition above common humanity - thus promoting rivalry and inevitably rudeness, hostility, intolerance and inconsideration toward others, (all of which are the antithesis of loving-kindness).

Nevertheless its worthwhile reminding ourselves of how loving-kindness can be lived - as a conscious awareness of consideration towards everyone encountered in daily life as an equal, and worthy of respect and courtesy, nor exempt from random or spontaneous acts of love and kindness. 

It should be noted that Rodulfo’s quadriptych imitates the template of most quaternities - as a 3+1 composition consisting of 3 completely unconscious archetypal images created without conscious reference, or influence of astrology and its symbolism - Rodulfo having no particular interest in astrology whatsoever; it was only when the artist's attention was drawn to the fact that three of his paintings displayed possible astrological and elemental symbolism, and only then, three years later, that he consciously painted the fourth and final quarter of his mandala, entitled Befriending a Bull (2015) purely in order to complete his first quadriptych.

Because the artistic imagination often roams and delves into the depths of the collective unconscious, where archetypal symbolism slumbers, its possible to attribute symbolism associated with the four elements (Earth, Air, Water and Fire) as well as quite distinct attributes of the so-called ‘Fixed Cross’ of astrology, (Leo, Aquarius, Scorpio and Taurus) to  the imagery of Rodulfo’s quadriptych. 

Rodulfo’s Mandala of Loving-Kindness can be grouped into two related pairs. The first pair of bull and lion, can easily be equated to the zodiac signs of Leo and Taurus. Less obvious, Girl with Watering-can, may be interpreted as alluding to the water-bearing zodiac sign of Aquarius, while the ‘lost civilization’ fantasy involving a dragon-fly zooming towards the viewer, can be connected to a predatory insect not dissimilar, the scorpion. There's also a neat juxtaposition of the existential flux between solitude and loving relationship between this pair of paintings. Finally, its worth noting that the design of Rodulfo's quadriptych mirrors the same template of the funerary sculpture of the Layer monument (c. 1600) as an alchemical mandala, having the symbolism of the elements Fire and Water (Leo and Scorpio) above those of  Earth and Air (Taurus and Aquarius) below. 

Leaving aside esoteric concepts, it is worthwhile contemplating the merits of each segment of Rodulfo’s Mandala of Loving-Kindness individually as intended, as paintings.


   Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us

In what is the warmest in emotional feeling of all four paintings collectively, a young girl is carried upon the shoulders of a lion who possesses an appearance perhaps similar to the lion Aslam in C.S. Lewis's Narnia.  

The lion's matted and shaggy fur, along with a radiant sun are skilfully delineated. Both lion and girl embrace and gaze towards the viewer in a loving manner. The gentleness of the lion is here emphasised by a butterfly resting upon his knee.

To repeat, although in all probability not consciously alluding to any particular symbolism, the artist nonetheless has linked two symbols linked in esoteric and mundane symbolism, namely the solar and the leonine, both of which are frequently associated with the Kingly or Royal in their symbolism too. 


Of deeper doubt is its Topography, and local designation, yet being the primitive garden, and without much controversy seated in the East.

Of all four paintings in Rodulfo's quadriptych, his aquatic-scape and portrait of a loving couple frolicking in water is the perhaps the most sensual and identifiably closest to erotic love. 

A garlanded man and adoring woman gaze deep into each other's eyes, oblivious to all around them, while a finely-detailed dragon-fly zooms towards the viewer. With its intriguing pylon structures this painting may be considered an example of fantasy landscape, but in fact its a product of Rodulfo's recollection of his extensive travels, himself stating of it as, "not really fantasy lands, just interpretations of my experiences in the world."

A considerable depth of landscape is conveyed with skilled draughtsmanship, while a primary concern to the viewer is the dragon-fly with its finely worked, gauze-like wings zipping towards the eye. A large lizard who is looking on adds to the tension and ambiguity of this Eden-like vision.


 Some confined their delights unto single plants

In what is the most reflective and austere in mood of all four paintings, a young woman holding a watering-can concentrates upon watering plants. Of particular note is her  pose, worth comparing to the central figure in Rodulfo's As the Elephant Laughed, which features another example of the artist's ability to successfully portray the human figure in a studied pose. 

A calmness and stillness is conveyed, reminding the viewer that some acts of kindness, along with most artistic creativity and individual growth are of a solitary nature, including tending for the organic and vegetable kingdom. As ever, careful detail includes a trowel in the foreground along with a finely-worked, large nautilus-like shell. Fittingly for its appended esoteric symbolism, a low eye-level accommodates a large skyscape. Depth of field is also conveyed through a shed and mountain-range in the far distance. 

   

But not to look so high as Heaven or the single Quincunx 
of the Hyades upon the head of  Taurus.

It was not until 2015, three years after the completion of the first three paintings in the quadriptych, that the artist's attention was drawn to the fact that certain elemental and astrological symbolism could be designated to each of his respective paintings. He then completed the fourth and final painting of his mandala, with no other artistic motive than to complete a quadriptych of related canvases. 

However, as the psychologist C.G. Jung noted, many quaternities involve a  3 + 1 structure, one being of a singular, distinct nature to the others, in this case, a conscious creative art-work to compliment three others. 

Like his painting of Lion and young Girl an animal and human are depicted in a relationship of loving-kindness. The bull stands proud and protective with large bovine eyes gazing directly to the viewer.  Set in what appears to be a lush water-meadow, Rodulfo's Befriending a Bull highlights the artist's ability to depict not only the human and animal form but also intimate inter-action and mutual respect. 

Loving-kindness in its entirety involves not only kindness towards others but also all of the animal kingdom which inhabits and shares the world with humanity. Sadly however, like the planet itself, mankind has exploited the animal kingdom, yet here in Rodulfo's canvas, the direct gaze of a dignified bull questions the viewer as to whether he deserves exploitation. 

Notes

A big thanks to Dawn Wilson  for her Photoshop skills and patience.

* The captions accompanying each painting originate from Sir Thomas Browne's literary mandala of 1658, Urn-Burial (top left painting) and The Garden of Cyrus (final three).

See also