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Paul Klee and the World’s Earliest Domestic Wall Painting

October 18, 2013

11,000-year-old Wall Painting

The other night I found a newspaper cutting about the discovery of an 11,000-year-old wall painting in Djade al-Mughara, Syria in 2007. The report that the painting had been moved to the museum in Aleppo – a city now ravaged by civil war – led me to do an online search to try and find out what had happened to it. Here‘s an extract from a Reuter’s article on its discovery six years ago:

The 2 square-metre painting, in red, black and white, was found at the Neolithic settlement of Djade al-Mughara on the Euphrates, northeast of the city of Aleppo, team leader Eric Coqueugniot told Reuters. “It looks like a modernist painting. Some of those who saw it have likened it to work by (Paul) Klee. Through carbon dating we established it is from around 9,000 B.C.,” Coqueugniot said. Rectangles dominate the ancient painting, which formed part of an adobe circular wall of a large house with a wooden roof. The site has been excavated since the early 1990s.

This rectangular pattern resonates with Paul Klee’s painting, Alter Klang (Ancient Sound) of 1927

ancient-sound

Aside from the checkerboard pattern which links these compositions across the millennia, there is one Klee painting which, in its red, black and white composition, is evocative of the painted wall of what looked like a communal house, constructed by people who lived from hunting and gathering wild plants; his Picture Album (1937).

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In what seems now a poignant observation, the archaeologist, Coqueugniot says, “This site is one of several Neolithic villages in modern day Syria and southern Turkey. They seem to have communicated with each other and had peaceful exchanges.” Patterns of continuity – ‘for ancients link with presents as the human chain extends’ (FW 254.8-9) – are also noted by Mustafa Ali, a Syrian artist, as a similar geometric design to that in the Djade al-Mughara painting found its way into art throughout the Levant and Persia, and can even be seen in carpets and kilims (rugs): “We must not lose sight that the painting is archaeological, but in a way it’s also modern,” he said.

Hindsight raises questions as to the wall painting’s current state: 

The painting will be moved to Aleppo’s museum next year, Coqueugniot said.

LO28906_AngelusNovus

The writer and aesthetician, Walter Benjamin, possessed a painting by Paul Klee which has become emblematic of Benjamin’s materialist historiography, as described in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Edit (20/10/13): I’ve just found out that a major exhibition of Klee’s art has just opened:

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition-paul-klee-making-visible

More on Klee: In the chaotic aftermath [of the First World War], he became part of the artists’ advisory board of Munich’s short-lived Revolutionary Republic, claiming that “the part of us which aims for eternal values would be better supported in a Communist community”… The artist Hugo Ball observed that, “in an age of the colossus, Klee falls in love with a green leaf, a star, a butterfly’s wing. I know of no man more in touch with his inspiration than Paul Klee.”… On Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, he produced 250 brutally scrawled pencil drawings permeated with a sense of anxiety about the future. Yet when asked to produce evidence of Aryan ancestry, he refused: “I would rather accept some hardship than play the tragicomic figure courting the favour of those in power.” – From here.

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