Čiurlionis’ Fairy Tale Castle: A Metaphor for the Inner Temple?

October 6, 2014

Fairy Tale Castle, oil on canvas (1909) by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

Mikalojus (1875-1911) was a Lithuanian painter, composer and writer. He is known for his contributions to art nouveau and symbolic art and is regarded as one of the pioneers of abstract art in Europe. A prolific artist, he produced more than 300 paintings. He even has an asteroid named after him, the asteroid 2420 Čiurlionis. His paintings featured in many exhibitions in countries ranging from Japan, Germany and Spain. Together with works by Kandinsky, McNeill Whistler and Paul Klee, a selection of Čiurlionis’ works was displayed at the ‘Visual Music’ festival in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The exhibition was a tribute to the phenomenon of ‘synaesthesia’, which also attracted the attention of psychologists in the 1880s. According to Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891), synaesthesia was a form of higher perception and clairvoyance which proved that there indeed existed a world beyond the physical realm. She related the phenomenon to the aura, arguing that the colours seen by people susceptible to synaesthesia were auratic. People with this ability are able to ‘see’ an oval extra-sensory aura surrounding every human being, which reveals their feelings, moods as even their very nature.

Čiurlionis’ artwork ‘Fairy Tale Castle’ depicts one of the most famous and recurrent elements of the fairytale: the castle. Esoterically speaking, the castle is a metaphor for the inner temple that is sought by the Adept in order to realign with his divine Soul and marking the completion of the Great Work. In the legends of the Grail, the castle is where the Holy Grail is hidden which knight Perceval seeks. In alchemy the castle metaphor was used by the English alchemist Sir George Ripley (1415-1490), who perceived the Great Work and the Art of Alchemy as a twelve-gated castle. Each gate corresponded with an alchemical process. Together they offer a ladder (Scala philosophorum) to the Philosopher’s Heaven (Coelum Philosophorum).

Text from The Ritman Library

Sinjar James Gordon Flickr

Yezidi Temple, Sinjar. Photograph via James Gordon, Flickr

Seeing Čiurlionis’ painting, Fairy Tale Castle, for the first time, evoked for me images of the fluted spires of Yezidi Temples and Shrines which I’ve seen a lot of in recent months. I have no idea whether he had ever seen the like – in books or on his travels – or whether it was a product of his imagination, or whether it emerged by some process of clairvoyance. Whatever, it is a beautiful and striking image.

1920s postcard showing the Shrine of Sheikh Adi at Lalish

1920s postcard showing the Shrine of Sheikh Adi at Lalish

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