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The mystery of the “Mystical Lamb” by van Eyck brothers

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The mystery of the “Mystical Lamb” by van Eyck brothers

What is the secret of the greatest masterpiece of European art – the Ghent Altar of the Van Eyck brothers? The mystery of the Apocalypse appears in him as the Easter message of the Lamb, slain, but alive. The paradise vegetation of the garden, crowned with the towers of New Jerusalem, the dazzling splendor of colors, the exulting host of angels and saints is akin to the solemn tranquility of the early Christian art … Archpriest Dontioton tells about the beautiful images of the altar of the Cathedral of St. Bavon in the Belgian city of Ghent by proto-artist Hubert and Jan van Eykov.

We have ears because we hear

Our conversation is about two lambs. One is the lamb referred to in the Revelation of John the Evangelist. The other is the Lamb of God from the Ghent Altar of the Van Eyck brothers. The theme of the two lambs brings us back to the question of religion and art, and to be more precise, the word and image, the Divine Word and the image created by the creative genius of man. This is a problem of the sacred – and that which is born as a human response to the revelation of the Divine in earthly reality, the theme of heaven and earth.

Two lamb interpenetrate each other. The closer to earth, the closer to heaven. This paradox is hidden both in the symbolic structures of St. John the Evangelist and in the secret of Flemish art, which has its roots deep in the Flemish land and therefore reaches heaven …

The expression “The Lamb of God” itself, as a rule, causes bewilderment, becomes a stumbling block. Who lives in big cities, in the world of digital technology, market relations – is divorced from the simple reality that the lamb symbolizes. Seeing the living lambs in the village does not mean seeing what John the Theologian is talking about. Livestock farming, lamb production, and tenderness for a truly meek and innocent creature does not in itself bring us closer to what Scripture is talking about, to what the lamb in the sacred world expresses. However, it should be recognized that there is nothing further from our civilization than concepts such as sacrifice and sacred. This problem, for example, is posed by Nietzsche: in our everyday consciousness, the conversation about the victim, as a rule, goes into the apology of suffering and sentiment. And nothing more.

In the context of the conversation about religion and painting, I would also like to touch on the issue of space. We are used to calling space what can be measured in steps, inside of which we can move. Art reminds us of the existence of other spaces. In music, in painting, in poetry has its own space.

It is curious that the term “interval”, used in solfeggio lessons, itself contains the idea of ​​space, that is, distance, distance, and at that distance that is not measured by meters. The word “tone” is cognate with “tone” and means internal tension, string tension. Thus, art encourages us to go beyond the usual and ordinary understanding of space.

As applied to van Eyck's painting, it is customary to talk about the space of light, as if permeated with radiance, which for a believer serves as a hint of the presence of the Risen One. Van Eyck's art changes our very perception of reality, gives a taste for contemplating the presence of God, not only in the human heart, but also in the ordinary world. We will see that the master not only creates a space of the Eucharist and eschatological glee, but also involves his viewer in this space.

Contemplation of a great masterpiece in itself is labor and work. The contemplator is required to do no less work than the one that the master did. It seems to us that we see by virtue of the fact that we have eyes. In fact, one needs to see clearly in order to see.

To do this, it is useful to walk, say, through the Hermitage, if possible accompanied by a mentor, stopping in front of one or another canvas, so that a taste for beauty and unique will gradually develop. So, to contemplate a painting is no less labor than to paint a picture. I would like to confirm the above with the words of M. Heidegger:

“It is generally accepted that we hear because we have ears. In fact, the opposite is true – we have ears because we hear. ”

Beethoven completely lost his hearing in old age, but no one doubts that he perfectly heard the music he wrote. All this suggests a certain inner space, it is the main subject of art that is created on the other side of the truth of the craft, it is the lot of the creators of masterpieces, great poets, great musicians, great artists and great mystics.

Man in a red turban

Albrecht Dürer, whose confidence in his own genius became a legend when he saw the “Lamb of God”, spent several hours contemplating this magnificence, then reverently leaned on the frame and left in deep silence. He is credited with the phrase:

"Nobody has created before van Eyck, and nobody after Van Eyck will create anything like that."

Indeed, this is the peace of God – here and now.

The glorious 15th century is the dawn of a new era, the era of Masaccio in Florence and van Eykov in Flanders. A tectonic shift in the mindsets of people is outlined, which in a century will break out in the thunderstorm of the Reformation and religious wars. Flanders is experiencing years of dizzying prosperity, becoming the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy, whose passion for luxury and splendor knew no bounds. Here, in the north of Europe, for half a century, the powers that be have surrounded themselves with a host of the best painters and sculptors. Brothers Hubert and Jan van Eycky work in Ghent and Bruges. Their eldest contemporary was the legendary Flemish master, probably Robert Kampen. Hans Memling came from Germany and became famous in Bruges, Rogier van der Weyden – in Brussels. At this time, a trend was emerging in painting, which would go down in history as a school of Flemish primitivists.

Jan van Eyck began his career in the service of John of Bavaria, then he was received at the court of the Duke Philip the Good and settled in Bruges. This transition from one monarch to another was generously paid for by several of the richest people in Flanders, and it was worth it.

The master portrayed himself in the painting "Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban." We see a courtier with an eagle eye penetrating through and through. It is said that once he elegantly tied a piece of red fabric in the shape of a tulip on his head, from this "tulip" and turned out to be a "turban" that has become widely popular from that moment on. He was not only an artist, a legislator of taste, but also a gifted inventor, diplomat. In particular, the duke entrusted him with a delicate mission – to capture Isabella of Portugal. But most of all, the titanic power of his talent was expressed in painting, which will determine not only the future fate of European art, but also the mindset of an entire era.

Partly unsurpassed skill of the younger van Eyck could be explained by the fact that in his youth he showed himself in the art of miniature. Before the creation of the Ghent Altar, he became famous for his illustrations to the Turin oracle. The art of miniature was not just the pinnacle of medieval painting. It was a space of bold experiments and new discoveries. Masters could afford a high degree of freedom, which will then appear to the world on the canvases of the Renaissance titans.

If in the Middle Ages art was subordinate to the Word, painting remained subordinate to architecture, then in the 15th century, as we will see, the painting creates its own architectural space and its own reality.

Twenty panels on oak boards

The Ghent Altar was created by private order with the money of a phenomenally wealthy man named Yodokus Weidt. Hubert, the eldest of the brothers, began work in 1420, but he died in 1426. Jan van Eyck completed the work, and on May 6, 1432, on the feast of St. John, in front of the amazed gaze of the crowd, the inauguration of the famous masterpiece took place.

The altar is an altar fold, its two side wings open and close. The central part is painted on one side, and the side on both. Thus, it consists of 20 picturesque panels painted on oak boards. When the shutters are open, the side images complement the central composition, when closed, they form their own composition. In size, the polyptych reaches 3.5 m in height and 5 m in width.

One contemporary art critic perfectly spoke about the poetic splendor of a masterpiece:

“This is the embodiment of the spirit of music, this is the highest note of an organ performing a solemn mass in a magnificent cathedral filled with the faithful. It is amazing that the ritualism of images, performed in the traditional style of the Middle Ages, does not repel, but, on the contrary, exalts hearts and truly leads us to earthly paradise, to a new paradise. ”

It may seem strange that van Eyck puts on celestial realities in the realities of his time. Thus, he manages to more deeply express the secret of the marriage of heaven and earth, the interpenetration of the Divine and human. As if eternity itself shines through the thinning time. The altar is often compared to a magic crystal, in which earthly reality appears in a dazzling radiance, refracted in the rays of internal light. Each viewer will find here exactly what will quench his thirst.

Those who want to learn about the economy of salvation will find here a rich theological program. In the beginning – the forefathers Adam and Eve, the first fratricidal killer Cain, the ancient soothsayers, the prophets of the Old Testament. In the center – God Almighty on the throne with the upcoming Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. At the end – a dazzling vision of Heavenly Jerusalem, an illustration to the last chapters of the Revelation of John the Theologian, a host of saints and angels in the new earth and under the new sky worship the Lamb.

Contemplating a sacred ritual that unfolds on a carpet of living plants, the viewer is invited to join the host of kneeling angels, burning incense. Or disappear into a concert of angels.

Thirsty for earthly splendor can enjoy the contemplation of the powers that be, sparkling with gold, the brilliance of brocade and precious stones. The procession of noble maidens amazes with the elegance of movements, the sophistication of outfits, and the beauty of faces. The cavalcade of righteous judges and soldiers of Christ amazes with the nobleness of posture, the beauty of ceremonial robes, the luxury of horse harnesses and knightly armor.

You can join the church of the poor, the host of apostles, hermits and pilgrims.

You can look at the face of the Virgin Mary, this is one of her most beautiful images in world art. You can dream together with the mysterious Eve, invisibly enter the chamber, where there is a silent conversation between the archangel and the Virgin Mary. You can try to get into the secret of the inner drama of John the Baptist or the nostalgic sadness of Adam, contemplate portraits of the kneeling Yodokus Weidt and Elizabeth Borlut.

Luxury nuances

A connoisseur of painting mastery can spend hours enjoying the game of lines, the harmony of colors, interior details, the brilliance of brocade, the expressiveness of sculptures, the subtlety of book miniatures. A look in love with the texture of the material will also be generously rewarded. He will see the warm glow of gold and copper, the dull sheen of polished wood, the crystalline transparency of water, the velvety tenderness of human skin and hair, the pleasant softness of woolen fabrics, the silky ermine, the glow of diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, emeralds.

The connoisseur of still lifes will find images of nature in abundance. A lover of flora can peer into the endless variety of tree species and shrubs. Here there are grapes, and fig tree, and pomegranate, and rose bush, and rose hips, and elderberries. Specialists have more than 40 varieties of flowers: lilies of the valley, lilies, plantains, dandelions.

A man in love with sunsets will see a dream house in the misty blue, flickering air, the movement of clouds, the flight of birds, the depth of space. You can go on a path that leads along the pines and palm trees into a lost village.

The geologist may be interested in sheer cliffs, stones and minerals. The architect will appreciate the severity of the lines of the Italian fountain, the silhouettes of the urban landscape with tall belfries and picturesque details of the old interior. A bibliophile with sacred awe will consider handwritten books with amazing calligraphy, miniatures and gold bookmarks.

The jeweler will admire the perfection of papal tiaras, scepters, royal crowns and precious jewelry. A master making musical instruments – with lutes, harps, viols. Cabinetmaker – furniture made from the rarest species of trees. Weapons collectors will appreciate banners, horse decorations, knightly armor. Couturier – the original styles of raincoats, hats, fur, shoes. The master of ceremonies will be amazed at the thoughtfulness and solemnity of the procession at the throne of the Lamb.

The sacrificial meekness of the Lamb and the power of the Supreme Judge

The time has come to turn to the theological program of the Ghent Altar. When the side wings are closed, in the upper row we see praeparatio evangelica, the “preparation” that precedes the Incarnation.

In the upper right corner is the prophet Zechariah with an open volume of Scripture, in the left – the prophet Micah. They predict the coming of Christ, whose royal dignity will combine the sacrificial meekness of the Lamb and the power of the Supreme Judge. Between the prophets – two Sibyls, Kumskaya and Eritrea, two pagan soothsayers who predicted the birth of the Savior of the world. Van Eyck perceives Christianity as the fulfillment of universal history, the fulfillment of the centuries-old expectations of mankind – both the people of the Old Testament and the Gentiles.

In the center row is the Annunciation. A silent conversation takes place in the inner chambers of the Mother of God, where everything breathes comfort and warmth. Archangel Gabriel in the form of a beautiful youth addresses with the words of greeting: "Rejoice, gracious." Virgin Mary stands up in surprise, above Her head is a dove as a sign of the indulgence of the Holy Spirit. The halo of a dove consists of three rays, pointing to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. From her lips comes the inscription: “The servant of the Lord …”, but the Latin text of the creeping line is read in mirror, as the words are addressed to the angel. They are at a distance from each other, between them are two panels. On one of them, through the open window, one can distinguish recognizable city landscapes of Flanders, everyday city life flows there, passers-by are walking, someone is talking, someone is looking out of the windows of their house, someone is bargaining, birds are flying in the sky. To his right is a panel with the image of items for washing, next to the cup hangs an untouched towel. Here, colors, lines, objects form a bizarre pattern of images, symbols and meanings. For example, a towel that wasn’t touched by a person’s hand suggests that Mary would be glorified. In an ivory vase, researchers see a hint of a tower from the Song of Songs. Mary holds in her hands a book in which each letter can be distinguished. They say that this is a treatise with the expressive title "On the omnipotence of God." In a kind of deepening of the window you can see a vessel with water, a beam of light passes through it. Thus, the rays of divine grace through the womb of the Virgin Mary penetrate into this world.

The composition looks a bit unusual. Until the recent restoration, it looked almost monochrome. The impression is that the colors are lacking in saturation, like we have grisaille. Muffled coloring expresses a feeling of vague foreboding, these are only the first rays of dazzling mystery.

In the bottom row are two saints John. On the left is St. John the Baptist. In his right hand he holds a small lamb, his left hand expresses a characteristic pointing gesture. Beside him John the Theologian, patron of the city and the cathedral. He blesses a cup of wine from which poisonous snakes crawl out. Van Eyck masterfully owns the technique of tromple, creates the effect of optical illusion. He wants to demonstrate the almost limitless possibilities of oil painting, which can even beat sculpture. He reproduces the texture of the stone with amazing accuracy. In the dusk of the cathedral, the viewer could easily mistake them for real sculptures.

Along the edges from them are depicted kneeling Iodocus Weydt and Elizabeth Borlut, ctors-customers who presented the cathedral with this altar. The harsh and impenetrable faces of these influential and wealthy burghers seem to reflect the reflections of Divine grace.

When the flaps open

So, the outer wings express expectation and foreboding of the future. When they opened, these expectations were fulfilled in the unearthly magnificence of what appears before our eyes.

At the bottom we see the worship of the Lamb, sacrificed and risen. At the top is a composition reminiscent of a traditional Deesis.

The central figure shakes with regal grandeur and serenity. On the head is the triple papal tiara (a sign of Divine authority), in the left hand is the royal scepter of rock crystal, the right hand expresses the familiar gesture of the priestly blessing. The purple liturgical vestments adorned with pearls and precious stones are amazing in their splendor. Он восседает на троне, украшенном парчой с изображением виноградной лозы и пеликана, раскрывающего свою грудь. Эти символы дают ключ к богословской программе ван Эйка. В средневековый бестиариях пеликан представлялся как образ Христа. Считалось, что пеликан бросает своих птенцов на произвол судьбы, покинутые детеныши умирают, но через три дня птица возвращается, чтобы воскресить их к жизни, изливая на них свою кровь. Виноградная лоза и кровь – указывают на Таинство Евхаристии.

На спинке трона начертаны слова: «Се Бог Вседержитель, царствующий в Божественном Величии, Превосходящий всех кроткой благостью, вознаграждающий по своей безмерной щедрости». На ступени у подножия ног – слова обетования: «На главе его жизнь без смерти, на челе его младость, не знающая старости, одесную его радость, не ведающая скорби, по левую руку его – мир, не омраченный страхом». Изумительной красоты царский венец у подножия ног Вседержителя – другой символ Христа. Сын Божий сложил с себя царское достоинство, чтобы воплотиться и стать сыном человеческим, диадема приготовлена для победителя смерти и ожидает часа окончательного торжества Воскресшего.

Многое в этом изображении остается загадкой, становится предметом дискуссий. На мой взгляд, трудные места – самые интересные, потому что за ними скрываются парадоксы творчества, художник загадывает нам загадки. Среди специалистов нет единого мнения – эта Божественная фигура является изображением Отца или Христа во славе. Есть основания в пользу и той, и другой точки зрения.

С одной стороны, невозможно не заметить вышитую жемчужинами надпись «Саваоф», на ладонях нет стигматов, то есть следов от гвоздей. С другой стороны, перед нами традиционная композиция Деисуса с предстоящими Девой Марией и Иоанном Предтечей. Вероятно, ответ на эту загадку следует искать в Евангелии от Иоанна: «Видевший Меня видел Отца» (Ин 14:09).

Слева от Вседержителя – Дева Мария. Она читает Священное Писание, Ее указательный палец правой руки заложен в другом месте книги. Именно так в западной религиозной живописи изображалась созерцательная жизнь. В ее нимбе можно прочитать: «Она прекраснее солнца и воинства звезд. Сравнить ли еЕ со светом? Она превосходит его, Она – сияние вечного света и непорочное зерцало величия Бога».

Иоанн Креститель указывает на Христа, в раскрытой книге, которая лежит у него на коленях, можно разобрать слова из 40-й главы пророка Исайи: «Будьте утешены». Этот отрывок читается в Рождественскую ночь. Надпись за его спиной гласит: «Се Креститель Иоанн, величайший из людей, равный апостолам, воссоздатель закона, венец евангелистов, глас апостолов, безмолвие пророков, светильник миру, свидетель Господень». Из-под роскошной зеленой мантии выглядывает суровая власяница аскета.

На крайних створках опять же в технике гризайль изображены прародители рода человеческого, это одно из прекраснейших изображений в мировом искусстве. Они стыдливо прикрывают свою наготу. Под ногой Адама, выступающей за рамки картины, надпись: «Адам нас низвергает в смерть»; о Еве сказано: «Ева, виновница смерти». Она держит в руке запретный плод, который больше не выглядит ни сочным, ни привлекательным. Впрочем, следует уточнить, что это не яблоко, а средиземноморский цитрон. В монохромном люнете над Адамом – жертвоприношение Каина и Авеля, а над утонченной Евой – Каин совершает заклание Авеля, так смерть вошла в мир. Согласно святоотеческим толкованиям приношение Авеля – первый прообраз жертвы Христа, а первое братоубийство – архетип смерти, которая будет побеждена Крестом.

Теперь обратим взор к центральному изображению. Читать его следует снизу вверх. Первое, что мы видим, – восьмиугольный фонтан. Это крещальная купель, источник нового бытия. Восемь – число воскресения, в течение восьми пасхальных дней створки алтаря оставались открытыми. По той же самой причине в наших храмах Царские врата остаются отверстыми на протяжение всей Светлой седмицы, Пасха открывает тайны нового творения. На фонтане надпись: «Се источник воды живой, что проистекает от Слова Божья и от престола Агнца» (парафраз на Откр 22:1). Крещение преподается Церковью, основанной на 12 апостолах. Вот почему над фонтаном струится 12 потоков воды, 12 даров Святого Духа. Затем эта вода изливается в мир.

Если мы поднимем свой взор выше, увидим, что на престоле стоит Агнец, он заклан, принесен в жертву, но живой. Здесь совершается небесная евхаристия, это полдень мира. На парчовом покрывале золотой нитью вышито: «Се Агнец Божий, взявший грехи этого мира». На вертикальной полосе слева: «Иисус есть путь». А справа: «Иисус есть жизнь и истина» (Ин 14:6). Престол окружает сонм из четырнадцати коленопреклоненных ангелов, четверо из них держат в руках орудия казни, двое воскуряют фимиам. Из пронзенной груди живого Агнца струится кровь, она с брызгами проливается в чашу.

В вышине распростерла крылья горлица, которая всё покрывает своим сиянием. Именно от Святого Духа струится тот свет, который наполняет всё пространство, освящает Тело и Кровь Христа, а также крещальную воду в фонтане.

К престолу Агнца шествуют четыре процессии святых и праведников.

Справа – коленопреклоненные 12 апостолов, к ним присоединяются апп. Павел и Варнава. За ними следуют сонм святителей и мучеников. Среди них можно узнать св. первомученика Стефана, который в складках своей одежды несет камни; св. Ливина, первого епископа Гента, в щипцах он держит вырванный язык. Среди епископов изображен папа Мартин V, положивший конец великому расколу Запада и Авиньонскому пленению пап.

Слева – 12 малых и 4 великих пророка Ветхого Завета с книгами в руках. Наконец, они могут лицезреть того, о ком пророчествовали. Позади них следуют ветхозаветные праведники, праотцы, предки Иисуса Христа. Среди празднующих выделяется Вергилий, его можно узнать по лавровому венку и оливковой ветви в руках. Римский поэт, христианин до христианства, в четвертой эклоге «Энеиды» пророчествовал о приходе Христа. Рядом с ним стоит художник с кистью в руке, вероятно, это автопортрет ван Эйка. В этой части вселенского шествия выделяются люди, одетые на восточный манер, – все, кто так или иначе ожидал, предчувствовал, предвозвещал пришествие Христа.

В верхней части слева к престолу шествуют праведники новозаветного времени: епископы, священники, монахи, миряне. Они держат в руках пальмовые ветви как знак окончательного торжества, они возносят победные гимны.

С правой стороны – святые жены, мученицы. Среди них легко можно узнать св. Варвару с башней, св. Агнию с овечкой, св. Екатерину с пальмовой ветвью, св. Елизавету Венгерскую с корзинкой фруктов, а также особо почитаемую во Фландрии св. Урсулу.

На четырех боковых створках изображены сильные мира сего: слева праведные судьи и воины Христовы, справа – на фоне девственных пейзажей отшельники, бежавшие от мира, и паломники. Впереди идет св. Христофор, рядом с ним пилигрим, совершающий паломничество по тропе св. Иакова в Компостелу…

Все эти персонажи, легендарные и исторические, богатые и нищие, с Запада и Востока, образуют единый сонм торжествующих победу Агнца.

Главная вертикаль

Единство богословской программы внутренней части алтаря обеспечивает вертикальная ось. Над Христом, изображенным в виде закланной жертвы, возвышается образ Христа-первосвященника и Бога. Полы Его мантии окаймляет вышивка со словами из Откровения Иоанна Богослова: «Царь царствующих и Господь господствующих». Знаки царской власти – знак его пасхальной победы. Это тот же самый Христос. Его кровь, истекающая в чашу, изливается в мир как вода жизни, утоляющая всякую жажду. Струя воды, вытекающая из фонтана, изображена на уровне глаз молящихся, вовлекая каждого во внутреннее пространство этой мистерии. Капли воды у основания фонтана превратились в драгоценные камни, как застывшие капли крови. По одной вертикали ван Эйк расположил голубя, агнца и восьмиугольный фонтан, графически выражая мистическое богословие Иоанна Богослова. Это символы трех «свидетелей»: Духа, крови и воды (1 Ин 5:5–12).

Нижний ряд запрестольного образа являет Церковь земную, верхняя часть – торжество Церкви небесной. Небо и земля соединены вечным союзом, хотя земля остается землей, а небо – небом. Но Бог пребывает и на небе, и на земле. Человек остается на земле, но одновременно и со Христом на небе.

Созерцая Мистического Агнца, зритель испытывает почти физическое ощущение, что вечность приподняла свой покров и Горний мир на какое-то мгновение коснулся земли, оставив отблески невечернего света.

Эта мистерия превосходит всякое слово, ее можно передать лишь другой тайной, имя которой – красота.

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