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The Art Of Esoteric Symbolism: Jean Delville

20 Jul

Jean Delville was a Belgian painter (1867-1953) who painted heavily symbolic scenes with a occult oriented spiritual perspective.

He grew up in the Belgian town of Louvain, but when his outstanding talent became apparent went to Brussel to study at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts where he stood out and won some awards. He started exhibiting at 20, but it was a few years later that the focus of his work became cemented.

After Academy he traveled to Paris where he met  Sâr Joséphin Péladan, an eccentric mystic and occultist, who defined himself as a modern Rosicrucian. Delville became enamored with Peladan’s ideas and mysticism and from then on Delville dedicated his craft to esoteric themes. In the mid 1890s, shortly before turning 30, Deliville joined the Theosophy movement, whose ideas and interests would inform much of his inspiration.

The basic summation of his views was Neoplatonism, Delville believed that visible reality was only a symbol, and that humans exist in three planes: the physical (the realm of facts), the astral (or spiritual world, the realm of laws), and the divine (the realm of causes). These higher planes of existence were the only significant ones. Materialism was a trap, and the soul had to guard against being trapped by its snares. The human body he considered to a potential prison for the soul.

Let’s look at some of his work, shall we?

Parsifal

“Jean Delville’s drawing of Parsifal was done around 1885 at the height of the Occult Revival in Europe. In this stylized image, he depicts the secret of the dog-headed clairaudience: the eustacian tubes, columns of air that work like antennae to mediate frequencies beyond the range of normal hearing.

He shows the columns shooting down from Parsifal’s ears, and around the head, the horns of clairvoyance, another set of antennae but receptive to light rather than sound, particularly the soft, lunar Organic Light. Delville wanted to depict Parsifal as the example of the trained initiate able to send and receive clairvoyantly and clairaudiently.”

Parsifal

Parsifal

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Prometheus

Begun in 1904–5 and finally completed in 1907, Delville made great efforts to find theosophical significance in the theme of Prometheus. For example, the star taken by Prometheus is also the symbol of the White Order of Brussels. In 1907 the work suddenly took on increased importance with the publication in French of the fourth volume of The Secret Doctrine, in which Helena Blavatski had dedicated an entire chapter to Prometheus. No longer the thief of fire of ancient mythology, Prometheus was from this point on assimilated into theosophy as a prophet, a light bearer, revealing with his theosophical flame the suffering of humanity.

Prometheus

Prometheus

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Orpheus

After being torn apart and decapitated by bacchanals (female followers of Bacchus), Orpheus’ head and lyre were thrown into the river where they eventually washed up on the shore of Lesbos. The head awoke and became an Oracle. The lyre was placed in the night sky as a constellation. For Delville this would be a perfect subject matter. After suffering in the material world, the initiate finally transcends to a state of otherworldly knowledge.

Orpheus

Orpheus

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The Love Of Souls

While lovely and romantic on one hand, this work also portrays the coming together of the female and male aspects of humanity, which only when combined can create the perfect being. This new being is the point of the painting, as the man and woman are actually only the tail, beneath the tail even, of the phoenix which is manifesting above them.

The Love Of Souls

The Love Of Souls

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Satan’s Treasures

Delville’s vast undersea world, ruled by Satan, is almost certainly an image of the material abyss. Satan, lord of the physical realm, presides over its sleeping inhabitants. Wrapped in delusion, the dreaming men and women are mesmerized by Satan’s spell, and trapped by their own desires. Satan’s “treasures” include not only their sensuality, but also their attraction to worldly riches, represented by the pearls, coins, and corals that surround them. Above all, the entranced people themselves are the treasures of Satan.

Satan's Treasures

Satan’s Treasures

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The Age Of Splendor

Delville’s 1894 painting can be seen as an illustration of this next phase of human development, transcending the entrapment of matter.The realm of matter is represented by serpents and tangled thorny roses at the bottom right of the canvas. A male figure, with raised arms and upturned eyes similar to those of Mrs. Stuart Merrill, sits half in and half out of the material realm. On his left, a luminous and almost bodiless female angel rises upward, with the fluid and transparent folds of her dress surrounding the man in a circle of light. A vast landscape spreads out, far below the figures. It is filled with jagged hills similar to those in Satan’s Treasures. Here, however, they are painted in luminous purples and golds and rise out of a bright blue sea.

This scene can be viewed in two ways. If it is inspired by the episode from Schuré’s Initiation of Isis, the man would be the disciple’s discarded earthly self, falling back, and swallowed up by matter. In this case, the angel would be what Schuré describes as “another, purer, more ethereal self,” which has just been born. Alternatively, if the story is not taken directly from Schuré, the angel can be seen as a separate being (perhaps the man’s higher self), guiding him up from the abyss.

The Age Of Splendor Jean Delville

The Age Of Splendor Jean Delville

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The Women of Eleusis

Eleusis is an actual town in Greece, where the Eleusinian Mysteries were centered. So, you all know Elysium? Those of you who have listened to the Steampunk Opera will be more than familiar (and just WAIT til we get to the Atompunk Opera). Elysium is the final resting place of the virtuous. However, it was also specifically  a netherworld realm, located in the depths of Hades beyond the river Lethe. Its fields were promised to initiates of the Mysteries who had lived a virtuous life. In Delville’s worldview this would of course be a transcendent place where the purified initiate might arrive at their destination.

The Women of Eleusis, Jean Delville

The Women of Eleusis

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The Wheel Of Fortune

This painting is AWEsome and it stand pretty self evidently. Thus we bid you adieu on this fine day.

The Wheel Of The World

The Wheel Of The World

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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3 responses to “The Art Of Esoteric Symbolism: Jean Delville

  1. Dave

    February 17, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Beautiful paintings, so detailed and realistic.

     
  2. Verum Agnostic

    April 12, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Utterly beautiful and thought provoking. Thank you for presenting it to those of us who are woefully ignorant of the power of philosophical art. Thank you for introducing me to this master painter, Jean Delville.

     

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