Exhibition – ‘Beauty as the Imprint of the cosmos’ 9

‘Beauty as the Imprint of the cosmos’: the metaphysical in art
An exhibition of drawings, graphic art and printed books 

25 September 2013 – 23 May 2014
Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam

‘Beauty is the imprint of the cosmos … in a physical earthly being’, is a statement by Rudolf Steiner* which pinpoints why art acquired a higher dimension for certain groups of artists in the early 20th century. In the first decades of the twentieth century, theosophy offered an alternative culture to which artists could turn for a radically different perception of the world and man’s place in it. Especially the open invitation to respond to what was perceived as the purely ‘materialistic’ progress of the sciences proved to be fertile ground for artists. As Kandinsky, who together with Mondrian is regarded as the founder of modern abstract art, wrote: ‘Art is a force and a work of art springs from the artist’s soul in a mysterious and secret way.’ The recognition by the theosophical movement that an ‘indivisible being’ lies at the root of all life, the awareness also that all art must essentially be interpreted metaphysically, as formulated by the German Expressionist artist Franz Marc, stimulated abstract artists to produce new and innovating work which, they hoped, might serve to inaugurate a new ‘aeon’. In the vision of the theosophical and anthroposophical movements, the arts played a central and pioneering role in this new aeon. The visual and applied arts, painting, literature, music and the theatre were no longer regarded as distinct disciplines. Together with architecture, later also photography, they formed a Gesamtkunstwerk, able to lift human existence to a higher level of spirituality.

Maria Strakosch-Giesler: Holzschnitt

Maria Strakosch-Giesler: Holzschnitt

The exhibition consists of two parts.

Part I, ‘Aeon’, shows some of the printed works of theosophy and anthroposophy that have inspired artists in the first decades of the twentieth century.

H.P. Blavatsky, Isis unveiled, first edition 1877, Das Kunstblatt, Rudolf Steiner, Goethe als Vater einer neuen Aesthetik

Part II, ‘Aenigma’, concentrates on the anthroposophical artists’ group Aenigma. This group was founded in 1918 in Munich, the Bavarian capital which at the time was still a centre of modernism and occultism.

Annie Besant, Thought Forms (1901): ‘the delighted appreciation of a beautiful picture upon a religious subject’

This exhibition has been put together on the occasion of the international conference on Enchanted Modernities. Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World taking place in Amsterdam from 25-27 September 2013. A visit to The Ritman Library’s exhibition is part of the programme. “Enchanted Modernities” is also the name of a recently established international network for the research into theosophy, Modernism and the arts. The conference has been organized by Marco Pasi of the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy of the University of Amsterdam.

Part I of the exhibition, which is based on the holdings of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, has been put together by Cis van Heertum and José Bouman; the concept  for part II has been supplied by Reinhold J. Fäth, who is also one of the speakers at the conference.

Maria Strakosch-Giesler, ‘Four elements’

*In: ‘Damit der Mensch ganz Mensch werde. Die Bedeutung der Anthroposophie im Geistesleben der Gegenwart’, 1922 (= GA 82, p. 88v.)



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9 thoughts on “Exhibition – ‘Beauty as the Imprint of the cosmos’

  • Conti Hermenet

    Geachte lezer,

    Wat doet het ons een plezier dat jullie hier een expositie over hebben. mystiek in de kunst. Wij kunstenaars van SIS JOSIP en eigenaren van galerie SIS JOSIP zijn al jaren fan van jullie onderneming. Wij maken al 20 jaar mystieke en esoterische kunst. heeft u nog een aanvulling van eigentijdse mystieke kunst nodig. Mail ons even voor een afspraak. Wij zouden graag belangeloos iets toe willen voegen. Wie weet komt er een samen werking. Vriendelijke groet Conti Hermenet van Sis Josip.

    • Cis van Heertum

      Vriendelijk dank voor de enthousiaste respons. De tentoonstelling die 26 september voor het publiek opent is afgerond. We zullen ook t.z.t. een publieksmiddag organiseren over het thema antropsofie en theosofie en de kunsten. Als u een verwijzing wil zetten op uw site naar de tentoonstelling is ons dat zeer welkom. U kunt van ons ook een aantal flyers ontvangen.

  • todd pratum

    I would be interested to see a scan of the “puzzling diagram” by Hoffman, could not find it here on the site. I have a similar and also mysterious engraving, actually three, that have the same feel, though its hard to tell from the tiny example in the email.

  • Vara Sue Tamminga

    I will never forget visiting Holland in 1969. One place I visited was Zealand where my grandmother Susie Ockkers Tamminga was born. I just wandered and found an old medieval cathedral standing alone in a wide field. I looked up at the statues on the façade and I saw my father’s beautiful face in them in all its perfect bone structure and symmetry of form, staring at me from the 12th century. The Neoplatonists who inspired Dante and DaVinci and Shakespeare believed that physical beauty leads us up the ladder towards heavenly truth. Many 20th century artists rebelled from the cult of beauty and wanted a more inclusive aesthetic, open to all kinds of people, not just the beautiful. Beatrice and Juliet guide the wandering souls of Dante and Romeo from above, from a staircase or balcony. Feminists of the 1960s insisted that putting women or men on pedestals, idealizing them, created an unhealthy expectations of women. They wanted to pull women off of their pedestals. In our time, now even weddings are ridiculed. The symbolic spiritual wedding of the lamb and his bride which ends our Bible is a sacred symbol of the role of beauty in spiritual enlightenment. I understand the problems which idealization and elitism can cause, but I also think that our modern need to destroy beauty and its rich history has caused many far more serious problems. I like Yeats’ poem on the subject, Adam’s Curse written at the beginning of the 20th century revolution and addressed to his beautiful muse, Maud Gonne, who refused to marry him.

    Adam’s Curse By William Butler Yeats

    We sat together at one summer’s end,

    That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,

    And you and I, and talked of poetry.

    I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;

    Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

    Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

    Better go down upon your marrow-bones

    And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

    Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

    For to articulate sweet sounds together

    Is to work harder than all these, and yet

    Be thought an idler by the noisy set

    Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

    The martyrs call the world.’

    And thereupon

    That beautiful mild woman for whose sake

    There’s many a one shall find out all heartache

    On finding that her voice is sweet and low

    Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—

    Although they do not talk of it at school—

    That we must labour to be beautiful.’

    I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing

    Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.

    There have been lovers who thought love should be

    So much compounded of high courtesy

    That they would sigh and quote with learned looks

    Precedents out of beautiful old books;

    Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

    We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

    We saw the last embers of daylight die,

    And in the trembling blue-green of the sky

    A moon, worn as if it had been a shell

    Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell

    About the stars and broke in days and years.

    I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:

    That you were beautiful, and that I strove

    To love you in the old high way of love;

    That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown

    As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

  • Vara Sue Tamminga

    And here is another similar poem by Czeslaw Milosz, a 20th century Polish poet.


    To be so poor. No heaven, no abyss,
    A revolving wheel of seasons.
    Humans under the stars
    Walk and disintegrate
    Into ash or a stellar dust.
    Molecular machines work faultlessly, self-propelled.
    Lilium columbiannum opens its tiger striped flowers
    And in an instant they shrink into a sticky pulp.
    Trees grow up, straight up into the air.

    Oh alchemist Alighieri, how distant
    From your harmony is that crazy sequence,
    That cosmos at which I wonder and in which I vanish,
    Not knowing anything about the immortal soul,
    My eyes riveted to unpopulated screens.

    Colorful slippers, ribbons, rings
    Are sold as always on the bridge at Arno.
    I choose a gift for Theodora,
    Elvire or Julia, whatever the name
    Of her with whom I sleep and play chess.
    In a bathroom, sitting on the edge of a tub
    I look at her, flesh-colored in greenish water.
    Not at her, at nakedness, abstraction,
    Which makes our bodies not our own.

    Ideas, words, emotions abandon us
    As if our ancestors were a different species.
    It’s more and more difficult to compose love songs,
    Wedding canzones, a solemn music.

    And only, as once for you, this remains real:
    La concreata e perpetua sete,
    The inborn and perpetual desire;
    Del deiformo regno–for a God-like domain,
    A realm or a kingdom. There is my home.
    I cannot help it. I pray for light,
    For the inside of the eternal pearl, L’etterna margarita.

  • Vara Sue Tamminga

    and finally Juliet’s speech from Romeo and Juliet which Robert Kennedy quoted after the assassination of his brother John Kennedy:

    Come, night. Come, Romeo. Come, thou day in night,

    For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night

    Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.

    Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night,

    Give me my Romeo. And when I shall die,

    Take him and cut him out in little stars,

    And he will make the face of heaven so fine

    That all the world will be in love with night

    And pay no worship to the garish sun.

  • Panos Kokkonis


    From the early years of mankind, when the animal was jumping to man,
    he, as a last chance to save his life,
    nails a look at a specific point between the eyes of the animal,
    the Glory to the Father point !

    The animal is frightened, scared, mad!
    “Does man have such strength???” … thought the animal!

    Unfortunately or fortunately this happens between people too.
    In any case, it is painful for both people!
    The “victim” responds unpredictably and with consequences.
    The “perpetrator”, although “authoritarian” feels guilty,
    he knows the power of this gaze, but fails to see the eyes of the victim,
    as he is looking always only between them!

    A Christian

    A working hypothesis?