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Revista Arsgravis: ISSN 2013-0228 Universitat de Barcelona
Louis Cattiaux The Place of the Vision
Louis Cattiaux appears photographed painting in his home-studio workshop, an a temporal and magical space located in the ground floor of St. Clotilde’s square, right in the middle of Paris. Emmanuel d’Hooghvorst described it as follows: “His small painting studio, magically decorated, seemed to enclose the entire universe. There one breathed the perfume of some internally guarded Garden of Eden; and one kept returning frequently, without really knowing why, perhaps simply magnetized by the heat. Because, what emanated from this man was a kind of warmth never reached, totally different from simple cordiality, and also the sense of an immense secret, alive, but jealously guarded, as the philosophical fish that swims in deep waters. He lived candidly, with sobriety, with poverty according to the men, joyful and contented as a child and as such, without malice.” In the small writing desk that appears in the first level, he wrote his most important work: The Message Rediscovered in which he condensed his hermetic experiences.
Contemporary of the surrealists, Cattiaux shared with them the search for hidden worlds. Nevertheless, more than surrealistic, his painting should be classified as visionary. A strange and unreal universe lives in his canvasses, very different from what can be seen with ordinary eyes. Something similar to what happens with Magritte’s canvass, in which day and night share the same spatial and temporal dimension.
The Secret of the Pyramid
Surrealism opened the doors of art towards the more obscure zones of the human spirit, but, across this threshold, the majority of the artists of the age only found out how to investigate or examine the depths of their own psyches. Very few succeeded in distinguishing the spiritual light germinating in the midst of the darkness. In any event, the great surrealistic adventure would have owed continuing their trip to the realm of the beyond described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, to cross the night of being, for coming by day again. But, in general, it wasn’t that that was accomplished, for this reason Cattiaux wrote with respect to the surrealist painters: “they have used deceit and seem to be inspired by the scenes of madness from the subterranean chambers of the Great Pyramid.”
The Angel of Death
In order to access the occult worlds beyond what is visible, it is requisite to receive a visitation from the Angel of Death that separates bodies from spirits. Pico de la Mirandola in one of his Conclusions describes this visitation as follows: “The manner in which the rational souls are sacrificed to God by the archangel (matter that the Kabbalists don’t explain), is nothing more than the separation of the soul from the body, and only accidentally the body from the soul, as happens in the death by the kiss, about which has been written in Psalms 116, 15: For the Saints in the presence of the Lord the death by the kiss is precious. Thanks to this separation, the visionary is consciously introduced to the dominions of Diana, the goddess of Night and of Magic.
In the recreation done by Louis Cattiaux of “St. Ursula’s Dream”, some new elements can be seen that the artist has introduced in the work, above all the dark figure found to the left of the scene which could be identified with the angel of the death, of the earlier relation. In the same way, a spiral appears over the sleeper that indicates astral travel or the departure of the soul in search of the light held by the angel found to the right of the image.
The Place of the Invisible
Visionary artists that have crossed to the realm of darkness, contemplate the hidden places of being, there where the lights confront themselves and where secret and amazing personages live there. Their vision reaches the place of the invisible and they can see the interior heaven, illuminated by some unknown universes that people who only manage their exterior world have heard nothing.
The Midnight Sun
One of the stars that illuminate the interior heaven is the midnight sun that sometimes emerges from the great sea of the world, about which the alchemists say a great deal. In the Platonic writings, to the sea one would call her the Soul of the World, the origin and maintaining of all of life, but that is invisible to ordinary eyes.
The Witches Sabbath
In the popular tradition, the representation of this dark sun is given to the Great Goat, who, with his luminous horn illuminates the Witches Sabbath, place of the invisible and a reminiscence of all ancient mysteries. The witches reached this place by virtue of their secret powers.
The Mysteries of the Light
From the dark chaos, symbolized by the mysteries of the night, surges the new virginal light, the first matter of the alchemists, which will bring to light the glorious fruit whose light will illuminate the entire world. In this painting by Cattiaux, titled “Maria Paritura”, behind the shadow of an old man who surges from the depths appears a luminous reality, to the right of the image, represented by the Virgin and Child. The Midnight Sun presides over the scene, flanked by angels render homage.
Reproduction of two illuminations from a German alchemical manuscript from XVI century, called Splendor Solis. In the first appears the reproduction of The Midnight Sun and in the second, of The Black Sun. In both cases, one deal with the image of the rise of the soul coming forth by day, or the birth of “the new chemical light”, as is said by the Cosmopolita in his famous alchemical treatise. A light permanently buried in the obscurity of nothingness till its rebirthing.
The Mercurial Trace
In Cattiaux’s work one find continual references to Alchemy, that he termed “the ancient royal art of the wise.” One deals with an art that, as in Cattiaux’s paintings, reveals, but also hides its only subject matter: the gift of Heaven. Without it, one cannot begin the alchemical work. This first matter, also known under the name of Mercury, appears shown between his father and his mother, the Sun and the Moon, such as is said in the famous Emerald Tablet, in his hand he bears the philosopher’s stone.
The Black Virgin
In The Message Rediscovered, Louis Cattiaux wrote the following with respect to the Black Virgin: “Is the black virgin not the first and most mysterious of all mothers? Is it not she whom God has looked amorously since the beginning? Is it not she who has given birth to the light that illuminates the world?” (27, 33) Symbolically the black virgin represents the place and the result of the first conjunction between heaven and earth. From her will grow the luminous tree that will produce the golden fruit, such as are shown in the alchemical miniature that appears to the right.
The Power of Magic
As Cattiaux wrote, a work of art ought to be a magical creation and, in this sense, we must refer to the long tradition of magical portraits destined to protect its owners that the art has produced throughout the centuries. Oscar Wilde found out about such procedures and wrote The Portrait of Dorian Gray to illustrate them. Cattiaux recovered the tradition and painted various magical portraits that impress through the feeling of the “presence” that they emit.
For more information about Raimon Arola, Doctor of Art History and professor at the University of Barcelona, click here.
Raimon Arola’s latest book: Alquimia y religión, Los símbolos herméticos del siglo XVII
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