A divine cross has been created by the ascension of Dante’s Inferno and the ever expanding horizon of art history. Easton Press commissioned Marc Burckhardt to illustrate the first part of Dante’s epic Divine Comedy. Marc has painted eight color illustrations for the limited edition leather-bound print that is enclosed in a cloth slip and signed by the artist. There are 1,200 hand numbered copies in this edition, which were released December 19th at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, California for the show premiere that featured the paintings.
Canto 22: Calcabrina and Alinchino, Dante’s Inferno, acrylic and oil on wood panel
December 19-January 9
2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404
I suppose it’s arguable whether the match between Marc Burckhardt and Dante’s Inferno was a match made in Heaven or in Hell considering the content. His mythological creatures in the context of fables and allegories are reminiscent of classical motifs and styles that range from Byzantine gold-leaf backdrops to Vanitas studies. Because of this classical influence there are two important factors to consider regarding his inspiration from the old European Medieval and Renaissance Masters and that is the sacred and secular.
Himmelblick, Allegories, acrylic and oil on wood panel
Early artists mastered not just the physical depiction of idols, but invested mystery within the composition. Paintings served as sacred dogma and political propaganda that proselytized and educated the masses. All this and more was compacted into the simple images of Christ, Mary, saints, and royalty. During the Medieval era when literacy was designated for the priestly class artwork served as a means of educating the masses in understanding the narrative of the gospels, and Christianity being a mystery religion it was important to convey sacred truth through a comprehensible medium. The majority of Christians studied images, not letters.
It wasn’t until later in the Renaissance period in the Holy Roman Empire that a greater collection of secular artwork formed with Italian portraiture. It was especially during the seventeenth century in the Netherlands that the Dutch masters broke away from the sacred traditions of the Catholic church and began exploring secular themes that included common settings of everyday life, landscapes, still life, and portraits.
Bergotte, Allegories, pencil, acrylic and oil on paper
At face value a Byzantine gold leaf portrait of Christ and Madonna can be in itself inspiring, but mystery does not hide itself at face value. It requires one to examine the composition in its subtle arrangement, but also to contemplate the nature of the subject in an intellectual and spiritual context. Questions of why and what about the nature of the subject often quickly relate to the audience of how this subject matter relates to them. In Medieval and Renaissance Christian art the paintings, sculptures, and architecture are profound in that it is designed to invoke a spiritual experience within the individual, and therefore the individual is just as important to the work of art as the art itself. I suppose that could be said about any work of art but it is my personal impression that early Christian artwork, and any religious/spiritual artwork around the world, is designed as a sort of spiritual technology meant to unlock a spiritual experience in the individual.
Veil, Allegories, acrylic and oil on wood panel
What I see in Marc Burckhardt’s work is not just what is at face value, namely the influence of past art styles. Underneath classical motifs and techniques is the invisible painting-the mind of the painting. It should be understood that if Marc is inspired by the works of olde Masters that he would not only be influenced by their technique and style, but also the reason behind their technique and style. If classical Masters created art to function to teach mysteries and inspire a spiritual experience it would seem that the artwork of Marc Burckhardt would as well, which it’s quite evident with his series that deals with allegories, fables, and Dante’s Inferno. But it’s also evident that he is inspired by the secular movement of 17th century Dutch Golden Age that countered the wealth of the Church’s expansion by commissioning self-portraits-such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci.
Cassandra, Fables, acrylic and oil on wood panel
Just as sacred art functioned to contain mystery within a religious inspired composition, secular art revealed the subtle mysteries of social interactions, love, seduction, allegories, moral values, and virtue through landscapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life. It might be easier to see divinity in sacred art than in secular, but I would argue that if one cannot see the divine in the composition of so-called secular artwork then one likely will not understand the mysteries within sacred artwork. Both sacred and secular art from Medieval and Renaissance art teaches us to look beyond the obvious forms we see in the painting and to interpret and unlock the mysteries that are hidden within the pigment.
The process of unlocking mystery requires a spiritual journey, even in regard to secular content. That “spiritual” is mental, and it requires one to journey from the body into the depths of the mind where all sorts of creatures exists. Dante’s Inferno in its epic length has become the iconic representation of a spiritual journey. And it is Marc Burckhardt’s artwork that has been a lens in which to see that which is hidden.
Canto 13: A Harpie, Dante’s Inferno, acrylic and oil on wood panel
Canto 28: Bertrand de Born, Dante’s Inferno, acrylic and oil on wood panel
Canto Devil Head 2, Dante’s Inferno, acrylic, pencil and gouache on paper