Metaphysical and Transcendent Cubism

Corpus Hypercubus (Crucifixion), Salvador Dalí, 1954

 
 

Salvador Dalí’s inspiration for Corpus Hypercubus came from his change in artistic style during the 1940s and 1950s. Around that time, his interest in surrealism diminished and he became fascinated with nuclear science, feeling that “thenceforth, the atom was [his] favorite food for thought.” His interest grew from the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II which left a lasting impression on him. In his 1951 essay Mystical Manifesto, he introduced an art theory he called “nuclear mysticism” that combined Dalí’s interests in Catholicism, mathematics, science, and Catalan culture in an effort to reestablish Classical values and techniques, which he extensively utilizes in Corpus Hypercubus. That same year, to promote nuclear mysticism and explain the “return to spiritual classicism movement” in modern art, he traveled throughout the United States giving lectures. Before painting Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí announced his intention to portray an exploding Christ using both classical painting techniques along with the motif of the cube and he declared that “this painting will be the great metaphysical work of [his] summer.” Juan de Herrera’s Treatise on Cubic Forms was particularly influential to Dalí.

Corpus Hypercubus is composed of oil on canvas, and its dimensions are 76.5 x 43.75 inches. Consistent with his theory of “nuclear mysticism”, Dalí uses classical elements along with ideas inspired by math, science, etc. Some noticeably classic features are the drapery of the clothing and the Caravagesque lighting that theatrically envelops Christ, though like his 1951 painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus takes the traditional Biblical scene of Christ’s Crucifixion and almost completely reinvents it. While he did attempt to distance himself from the Surrealist movement after his development of “nuclear mysticism”, Dalí still incorporates dream-like features consistent with his earlier surrealist work in Corpus Hypercubus, such as the levitating Christ and the giant chessboard below. Jesus’ face is turned away from the viewer, making it completely obscured. The crown of thorns is missing from Christ’s head as are the nails from his hands and feet, leaving his body completely devoid of the wounds often closely associate with the Crucifixion. With Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Dalí did the same in order to leave only the “metaphysical beauty of Christ-God”. Dalí sets the painting in front of the bay of Port Lligat in Catalonia, Dalí’s home, which is also the setting of other paintings of his including The Madonna of Port Lligat, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and Christ of Saint John of the Cross. One’s eyes are quickly drawn to the knees of Christ which have a grotesque exaggeration of realism detail. If one observes the original painting closely, 5 different images of Gala appear in Christ’s right knee and 5 different images of Salvador appear in his left; the most prominent two being Gala’s back/neck/back of head with right arm extended upward and Salvador’s face replete with trademark up swept mustache. Additional knee images translate extremely poorly to reproductions/prints.

The most striking change Dalí makes from nearly every other crucifixion painting concerns the cross. Instead of painting Christ on a wooden cross, Dalí depicts him upon the net of a hypercube, also known as a tesseract. The unfolding of a tesseract into eight cubes is analogous to unfolding the sides of a cube into six squares. The use of a hypercube for the cross has been interpreted as a geometric symbol for the transcendental nature of God. Just as God exists in a space that is incomprehensible to humans, the hypercube exists in four spatial dimensions, which is equally inaccessible to the mind. The net of the hypercube is a three-dimensional representation of it, similar to how Christ is a human form of God that is more relatable to people. The word “corpus” in the title can refer both to the body of Christ and to geometric figures, reinforcing the link Dalí makes between religion and mathematics and science. Christ’s levitation above the Earth could symbolize His rise above Earthly desire and suffering. The motif of the cube is present elsewhere: Gala is standing on one and the chessboard is made up of squares.

On the bottom left of the painting, Dalí painted his wife Gala as Mary Magdalene looking up at Jesus. Dalí thought of her as the “perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube”. He used her as a model because “the most noble beings were painted by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez and Francisco de Zurbarán. [He] only [approaches] nobility when painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being.”

Upon completing Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí described his work as “metaphysical, transcendent cubism.” The union of Christ and the tesseract reflects Dalí’s opinion that the seemingly separate and incompatible concepts of science and religion can in fact coexist, which has been lauded by viewers and has been widely considered one of Dalí’s masterworks. A reproduction of the painting is mentioned in J. G. Ballard‘s 1969 surrealist novel, The Atrocity Exhibition.

Property of a Lost Thing

…”Everything that I had lost

Is mine, irretrievably mine

So distant from me that it is abandonment.”

Mario Benedetti

Property of a Lost Thing 

 
 

The phrase “losing my religion” is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.” Michael Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression.

He also told Q that “Losing My Religion” is about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”

Stipe compared the song’s theme to Every Breath You Take by The Police, saying, “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”

 
 

Michael Stipe participated on the production, packaging and photography of the album’s artwork, alongside Frank W. Ockenfels

 
 

The song was released as the first single from the group’s 1991 album Out of Time. Based around a mandolin riff, Losing My Religion was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering heavy airplay on radio as well as on MTV due to its critically acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.‘s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group’s popularity beyond its original fanbase. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and won two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.

The music video for Losing My Religion was directed by Tarsem Singh. As opposed to previous R.E.M. videos, Michael Stipe agreed to lip sync the lyrics. The video originated as a combination of ideas envisioned by Stipe and Singh. Stipe wanted the promo to be a straightforward performance video, akin to Sinéad O’Connor‘s Nothing Compares 2 U. Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a certain type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be “melodramatic and very dreamlike”, according to Stipe.

 
 


Still from The Sacrifice (A. Tarkovsky, 1986)

 
 

Still from Losing my Religion music video

 
 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, c. 1601–1602. This picture is probably related to Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) and the The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603), all having a model in common

 
 

“Consider this…” (around minute 2:26)

 
 

Final scenes

 
 

Martirio di San Pietro (Crucifixion of Saint Peter), Caravaggio, 1600

 
 

The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. Director Singh drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s The Sacrifice . The video is laden with religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a series of tableaux.

 
 

St. Matthew’s Passion (According to Caravaggio)

Detail from the 6th/7th century mosaics of the basilica of SS Cosmas and Damian in Rome. On the left is a winged man with the Gospel, a symbol of St Matthew the Evangelist.  The reason this is his symbol is because his Gospel starts with Jesus’ genealogy. The winged man represents Jesus’ human nature and incarnation.

 
 

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissions, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew. Thereafter he never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success poorly. He was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope.

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1599–1600)

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is a painting by the Italian master Caravaggio. It is located in the Contarelli Chapel of the church of the French congregation San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it hangs opposite The Calling of Saint Matthew and beside the altarpiece The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, both by Caravaggio. It was the first of the three to be installed in the chapel, in July 1600.

The commission (which, strictly speaking, was from his patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, rather than from the church itself), caused Caravaggio considerable difficulty, as he had never painted so large a canvas, nor one with so many figures. X-rays reveal two separate attempts at the composition before the one we see today, with a general movement towards simplification through reduction in the number of figures, and reduction – ultimately elimination – of the architectural element.

Caravaggio left off the Martydom and turned his attention to the companion piece, the Calling. This drew on his own earlier genre-pieces, Cardsharps and The Fortune Teller, but writ large. Apparently re-inspired, or perhaps with renewed self-confidence, Caravaggio turned back to the Martydom, but this time working in his own idiom. The third version dropped the architecture, reduced the number of actors, and moved the action closer to the viewer; more than this, it introduced the dramatic chiaroscuro which picks out the most important elements of the subject, in much the same way a spotlight picks out the action on a stage, but centuries before spotlights were imagined, and chose to represent the moment of greatest drama, as the murderer is about to plunge his sword into the fallen saint. This is the version we see today, the action caught at the moment of highest drama, the bystanders reduced to supporting roles by the sharply selective light, the whole giving the impression of a moment seen as if in a lightning flash.

 
 

Calling of Saint Matthew (1599–1600)

 
 

The painting depicts the story from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 9:9): “Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom house, and said to him, “Follow me”, and Matthew rose and followed Him.” Caravaggio depicts Matthew the tax collector sitting at a table with four other men. Jesus Christ and Saint Peter have entered the room, and Jesus is pointing at Matthew. A beam of light illuminates the faces of the men at the table who are looking at Christ.

Pope Francis has said that he often went to San Luigi as a young man to contemplate the painting. Referring both to Christ’s outstretched arm and Matthew’s response, Francis said, “This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.”

Over a decade before, Cardinal Matthieu Cointerel (in Italian, Matteo Contarelli) had left in his will funds and specific instructions for the decoration of a chapel based on themes related to his namesake, St Matthew. The dome of the chapel was decorated with frescoes by the late Mannerist artist Cavalier D’Arpino, Caravaggio’s former employer and one of the most popular painters in Rome at the time. But as D’Arpino became busy with royal and papal patronage, Cardinal Francesco Del Monte, Caravaggio’s patron and also the prefect of the Fabbrica of St Peter’s (the Vatican office for Church property), intervened to obtain for Caravaggio his first major church commission and his first painting with more than a handful of figures.

The Calling hangs opposite The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. While the Martyrdom was likely the first to be started, the Calling was, by report, the first to be completed. The commission for these two lateral paintings — the Calling and the Martyrdom — is dated July 1599, and final payment was made in July 1600. Between the two, at the altar, is The Inspiration of Saint Matthew

 
 

Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602). It was destroyed in 1945 and is now known only from black-and-white photographs and enhanced color reproductions.

 
 

In the first version of The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, Saint Matthew and the Angel, the angel invades St. Matthew’s personal space and engages in what appears more direct intervention than divine inspiration. The angel intertwines with the old man, apparently whispering inspiration into his ear. The rejected painting can be compared to the earlier Caravaggio canvas of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

 
 

The Inspiration of St Matthew (1602)

 
 

In the work featured on the altar, the angel belongs to an aerial and sublime dimension, enveloped in an encircling rippled sheet. The restless Matthew leans to work, as the angel enumerates for him the work to come. All is darkness but for the two large figures. Matthew appears to have rushed to his desk, his stool teetering into our space. His expression is sober.

 
 

The Evangelist Matthew inspired by an Angel, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1661

 
 

Famous while he lived, Caravaggio was forgotten almost immediately after his death, and it was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. Despite this, his influence on the new Baroque style that eventually emerged from the ruins of Mannerism was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Peter Paul Rubens, José de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravagesques”, as well as Tenebrists or “Tenebrosi” (“shadowists”). Art historian Andre Berne-Joffroy said of him: “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”

The Artistic Side of Death

View of a Skull, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1489

 
 

Saint Francis in Meditation, Caravaggio, 1605

 
 

Skull, Albrecht Dürer, 1521

 
 

La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull), José Guadalupe Posada, 1910-1913.

Much memento mori art is associated with the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, including skull-shaped candies and bread loaves adorned with bread “bones.”

 
 

Self-portrait With Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872

 
 

Engraving by M.C. Escher, 1919

 
 

Untitled-Death Outside the Head-Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, 1933

 
 

Head with Broken Pot, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1942

 
 

Sin esperanza (Without Hope), Frida Kahlo, 1945

 
 

Detail of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Diego Rivera, 1946-1947

 
 

Three Study Portraits of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon

 
 

Artwork by Sergio Toppi

 
 

Drawings by Edward Gorey

 
 

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott, 1986

 
 

Riding with Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

 
 

Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997

 
 

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, 1997

 
 

The Orientalist, Walton Ford, 1999

 
 

Painting by Pascal Vilcollet

 
 

Confetti Death, Typoe, 2010

The Many Faces of Pascal Vilcollet

Born in Paris, 1979, Pascal Vilcollet studied graphic design and taught himself to paint at age 16. “Fortunately, there was not much to do in my suburb. I discovered very early, museum galleries; it is there that I knew I would be painting later”.
 
He paints mostly for his own satisfaction. Portrait is his favorite motif, “it can be my obsession”. He doesn’t look for creating an effect; he said he paints to lighten a weight. He’s not interested in realism, pure figuration or hyper realism, rather than the border between reality and abstraction.
 
Vilcollet claims to have very eclectic tastes. He appreciates enormously Pierre Soulage and respects the artists that, in his opinion, represented their era: Caravaggio, Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko or contemporaries like Lucien Freud, Murakami, Justin Mortimer or Jenny Saville.
 
He spoke about his icons, mostly characters he feels fascination for because he either admires them. Taking advantage of real graphic representations, he fragments them and then reconstructs them, giving us a new insight into a psychological portrait. Pascal Vilcollet’s brush is the dynamic extension of his body while he is in action.

 
 

Pablo Picasso

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

 
 

Takashi Murakami

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Karl Lagerfeld

 
 

John Lennon

 
 

Mick Jagger

 
 

Bruce Lee

 
 

Al Pacino (as Michael Corleone)

 
 

Woody Allen

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Steve McQueen

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Jane Birkin

 
 

Nicole Kidman

 
 

Natalie Portman

 
 

Kate Moss

 
 

Angelina Jolie

 
 

Monica Bellucci