malraux: invasions of eternity by time

For whom the bell tolls. In the case of Andre Malraux and his Metamorphosis of the Gods, it was the Renaissance and Flemish art that took Giotto’s new world of pictorial fiction that placed the sacred scene within the world of man and then killed off the idea of eternity. A man centered universe had begun…

…Flemish art develops that power further. Here the figures of saints dressed like pretty lords or shoemakers, appear not above imaginary cities, but above familiar Gothic towns. God for the first time is apt to look like a debonair or majestic old man, like emperor of pope. “The kingsom of Archangels, Thrones, and Dominations is increasingly confused with the Garden of Eden, and Eden with an earthly paradise.” This art still expresses faith. Van Eyck’s “Mystic Lamb” is a deeply religious work; nevertheless, it marks the invasion of eternity by time.

—The two ears that look more ghostly are pentimenti, the original ears painted by van Eyck which were then painted over when the entire lamb was repainted and moved slightly from its original position. The conservator who repainted the lamb placed the ears in the appropriate location on the lamb’s head and covered over van Eyck’s painted ears. But after more than 150 years, the covering layer has faded, resulting in van Eyck’s ears “ghosting” through.
Noah Charney’s international best-selling book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, tells the complete story of van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. He is preparing a second edition now with newly-discovered information, including the possible location of the stolen Judges panel. —Read More:

“No religious art before ever fixed the passing of the hour…The mosaics knew only one kind of light, that of the sanctuary itself; the stained glass windows were illuminated by the living light of God, as were the statues, for sculpture knows no light except that which is shed by any given time of day.”  But in the fifteenth century, “the source of light passes from God to the painter.”

It is the artist who paints whatever light he wants into his picture, and hence fixes its hour. “This hour, while still religious, nevertheless tolls the defeat of Eternity.


Derek Allen:For Malraux, the reality to which art is addressed is a metaphysical reality. That is a notoriously vague word, so what do I mean by it here? The ‘reality’ to which art is addressed, Malraux argues, is ‘the fundamental emotion man feels in the face of life, beginning with his own. That emotion is the bewildering sense, which we all have all no doubt experienced at certain moments, of the arbitrariness and contingency of all things. It is the sudden awareness that all the myriad forms of the world seem to have no reason for being the way they are, or indeed for being at all—that ‘all this’ is not the permanent, definitive ‘scheme of things’ but merely a realm of fleeting appearance, a boundless chaos in
which everything, including man and all his endeavours, seems to be without the least significance.

—(Jan van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon van der Paele, 1436)—Image:

Across the millennia, Malraux argues, humanity has defended itself against this sense of chaos and insignificance by a series of ‘absolutes’—belief systems such as the major religions of the past that have swept aside the veil of appearance to reveal the underlying ‘nature of things’—the Truth, the reasons why things are, and are the way they are. Appearance then becomes a realm of snare and delusion—for Christianity it is the ‘here-below’, for Buddhism ‘impermanence’—
and can thus be vanquished because it is simply the obstacle that man, given sufficient fortitude, can overcome as he makes his way along the path of Truth.

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