Presentation The Ritman Library @Spui 25

Talk by Esther Ritman at a Spui 25 meeting on 12 September 2013 to promote the Enchanted Modernities. Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World conference which will take place from 25-27 September in Amsterdam.

Over the past years the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (also referred to as The Ritman Library) and the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy (or HHP) have intensified their collaboration to raise the profile of Amsterdam as Hermetic capital of the world. At the end of this month, the conference Enchanted Modernities. Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World, organized by Marco Pasi of the HHP center, will without doubt be mesmerizing Amsterdam. Part of the conference programme will be a guided tour of the exhibition Beauty as the Imprint of the Cosmos in The Ritman Library.

The exhibition, which  partly focusses on some of the topics that will be discussed during the conference, will introduce visitors to the world of theosophy and anthroposophy in relation to the arts. In the first decade of the previous century, a group of artists arose who sought to express ‘the spiritual in art’, as is also the title of a famous essay by Wassily Kandinsky. They used drawings, paintings, but also sculptures and the applied arts to achieve their goal. It is known that Kandinsky and Mondriaan were inspired by the works of Blavatsky and that the first abstract work of art, a gouache by Kandinsky, came about as a result of his reading of The Secret Doctrine. In the last decades there has been a lot of attention for the influence of theosophy on the big names in art history such as Kandinsky and Mondriaan. But the artists that we will be highlighting in the BPH in two weeks’ time have so far been largely overlooked by art historians, something which is true for all forms of theosophical and anthroposophical art.

The exhibition Beauty as the Imprint of the Cosmos consists of two parts: Aeon and Aenigma. The first part offers a survey of some of the theosophical and anthroposophical works to have inspired modern abstract artists in the early 20th century. The second part focuses on the anthroposophical artists group “Aenigma”. We owe this part of the exhibition to the generosity of Professor Reinhold Fäth, who is one of the speakers at the conference. He supplied us with a number of first editions, graphic art and jewels after designs by Rudolf Steiner. You will even find a sort of comfy chair designed according to anthroposophical principles in which you are also allowed to sit down for a bit – try that in an average museum!

I would now like to give you a brief impression of the soon to be opening exhibition Beauty as the Imprint of the Cosmos.

1 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
I’m starting with a photograph of Madame, a not so very well known portrait of a youngish looking Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.

2 H.P. Blavatksy, The Secret Doctrine, 1888
The BPH will also show the first edition of Blavatsky’s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine, which Kandinsky referred to in his essay Das Geistige in der Kunst of 1912.

H.P. Blavatksy, The Secret Doctrine, 1888

3 Annie Besant, Gedachtevormen, 1902
You are all familiar with the logo of Enchanted Modernities, which is derived from Besant’s Thought Forms, first published in 1901. This particular ‘thought form’ is taken from the same work in Dutch, which was already translated and published the following year.

4 Lucifer, cover illustration
The cover design of the theosophical periodical shows Lucifer as the ‘light bearer’. Blavatsky hoped to counter criticism on the part of Christians by explaining in the very first issue that the name should of course not be taken to refer to the Evil One…

Lucifer, cover illustration

5 Theosofia, illustration by Mathieu Lauweriks
In the exhibition you will also see the design which the theosopher, architect and designer Mathieu Lauweriks made for the Dutch theosophical periodical Theosofia. Not only this, but also a beautiful gouache by Lauweriks given in loan by Marty Bax. But we leave that to be discovered and enjoyed by yourselves!

6 Tarot cards designed by Pamela Colman-Smith
The conference also devotes attention to the artist Pamela Colman-Smith, whose tarot cards will be shown in the exhibition along with A.E. Waite’s explanatory guide.

Tarot cards designed by Pamela Colman-Smith

7 Ultra, Italian theosophical periodical
Ultra and its founder Decio Calvari will also be discussed at the conference. This periodical did not just ‘preach to the gallery’. It offered a forum for various spiritual currents and insights.

8 Entrance tickets to a play and a lecture by Steiner
These tickets are made out to Minna and Mania Kačer, who both attended performances by Steiner. The tickets are part of the BPH’s anthroposophical collection, but until recently we were unaware that Mania was a member of the Aenigma group.

9 Aenigma catalogue in Kunsthaus Das Reich
It was Rudolf Steiner who gave the Aenigma group its name. Aenigma alludes to the sense of the mysterious and the supernatural concealed behind visible reality, which these artists tried to capture in their work.

Catalogue of the first exhibition of the Aenigma group in Kunsthaus Das Reich

10 Maria Strakosch-Giesler, Vier Elemente
The two founding figures of the group were Maria Strakosch-Giesler, who was a friend of Kandinsy, and Irma von Duczynska, an artist and a feminist. Aenigma by the way burst through the glass ceiling already early on: eight out of twelve members were women.

11 Nora Ruhtenberg, Ein Weiser
This collage entitled Ein Weiser, A Sage, may allude to Steiner’s statement that ‘man sees the higher world with the back of his head’. The face is turned towards the brown earth.

12 Walter Besteher, gouache, untitled
Among the male members of Aenigma were Walter Besteher, some of whose gouaches we are able to show, and Josef Prinke. A compete series of drawings of figures with coloured auras by this latter artist will also be exhibited.

13 Josef Prinke, Figures with coloured auras

Josef Prinke, Figures with coloured auras

We will be showing about one hundred items, 60 of which are drawings, woodcuts and gouaches.


We hope to be able to welcome you all in The Ritman Library on Bloemstraat 13-19, Amsterdam soon!

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