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Memory of the Invisible: A Comparison of Northern and Southern Images

Diane Finiello Zervas
London, England
Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists

Francesco Donfrancesco
Florence, Italy
Associazione Italiana per lo Studio della Psicologia Analitica

When Jung published ‘On the Nature of the Psyche’ near the end of his life (1954), he reconfirmed the non-scientific nature of his psychology, emphasising its subjective and narrative character. For those of us who accept and wish to advance this aspect of our Jungian heritage, it is crucial to assume a critical-hermeneutic attitude; moreover, we must attempt to understand Jung’s ideas within their proper historical and cultural context. Indeed, his thought does not attempt to ‘explain’ the life of the psyche, but rather to ‘interpret’ it. Interpretation implies ‘pre-comprehension’, particularly a framework of cultural reference, which in Jung’s case had its origins in Goethe and the Pietistic, Protestant aspects of the Northern Romantic movement.

Under such circumstances, those of us with a Mediterranean background are, by contrast, often and forcibly confronted by the ‘Germanic’ aspects of Jung’s culture and psyche. His inability to reach Rome represents the most evident symptom of a dramatic tension between North and South. Indeed, it was Hillman, in his 1973 lecture ‘Plotino, Ficino and Vico as Precursors of Archetypal Psychology’, delivered in Rome, who emphasised that the numinous effect ‘Italy’ had on Jung, and his inability to reach the Eternal City, were aspects of his ‘Italian’ complex. Drawing on Lopez-Pedraza’s concept of a geographical and historical complex, Hillman noted that Italy is not only the ‘underside, the compensatory land of the “unconscious”’ for Northern, Protestant peoples, but also the specific geographical and historical psychic complexity that is implied in the image “Italy”, and which Jung sensed in the meanings and emotions that were unleashed by the image “Rome”’. Hillman suggested that an exploration of ‘Italian’ thought, culture, and images would help complete that lacuna in Jung’s own perspective, and thus Jungian psychology, in regard to ‘Italy’, thereby helping to extend the field of Jung’s psychology (1973, 160).

Following this lead, we intend to explore, develop, and contrast the Northern and Southern approaches to the image, suggesting a dialogue between the two different forms of artistic and psychological sensibilities, especially by means of images taken from paintings. In Jung’s case, the emphasis is always placed on the symbolic value of the image. The visible – the perceptible – is merely the portal that leads to the true reality beyond the perceptible world, the realm of the archetypal images, manifestations of the invisible and unknowable archetypes. Mistrusting the aesthetic experience of the image, Jung placed the emphasis on its meaning –iconology – that could help to reveal its unpredictable and mysterious nature. His approach favours an art that is numinous and visionary, attributes that eighteenth- century aestheticians associated with ‘the Sublime’.

By contrast, the Mediterranean tradition, based on Orthodoxy and Catholicism, is basically iconophilic. The image is treated not as a symbolic representation or an allusion to an ulterior reality, but rather as a ‘presentation’, as a ‘presence’ that reveals itself; and the aisthesis – sensate knowledge – as its form of knowing. Here the emphasis is placed on the harmonious experience of the ‘Beautiful’, rather than the awesome experience of the ‘Sublime’.

Part I

Just as many of Jung’s ideas about analytical psychology were nurtured in the womb of Romantic and neo-Romantic philosophy, so many of his theories about artists, the creative process, and the work of art were indebted to concepts of these earlier movements. They formed part of his educational background, and he had studied German Romantic philosophers, poets and aestheticians while researching Psychology of the Unconscious (1912) and Psychological Types (1921). Indeed, in his spoken introduction to ‘Psychology and Literature’, composed sometime after 1930, he acknowledges his debt to Bachofen, Carus, Schopenhauer and von Hartmann.

In Psychological Types, Jung associated two irrational typologies with the artistic personality, namely introverted sensation and intuition, but his Idealistic leanings, his own typology, and the images that had appeared during his confrontation with the unconscious served to focus his attention on the introverted intuitive artist. Attracted to the inner object, or, if stimulated by external objects, concerned with ‘what the external object has released within him’, the introverted intuitive artist moves ‘from image to image, chasing after every possibility in the teeming womb of the unconscious’, thereby apprehending ‘images arising from the a priori inherited foundations of the unconscious’ – the archetypes. (CW 6, §656, 658, 659)

Jung continued to develop his ideas on art over the next decade, turning his attention to the process of artistic creation and the work of art. Rejecting Freud’s personal and reductive view of art, Jung felt that a ‘true work of art’ escapes personal limitations and soars beyond its creator’s personal concerns, having been produced by an autonomous creative complex that overwhelms him with a ‘flood of thoughts and images which he never intended to create’, but which is nevertheless ‘his own self speaking’, his ‘own inner nature’ revealing itself. Such a work of art is symbolic, revealing an archetypal image from the collective unconscious, or, in the terms of our dialogue, making visible the invisible. Furthermore, Jung stressed that by giving this image shape, ‘the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking’. (CW 15, §107, 109, 130)

The art created by the great German Romantic artist, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840) exemplifies many of these Jungian concepts. Working in Dresden, Friedrich was familiar with many of the city’s leading philosophers and writers, who perceived his art as the visual embodiment of their ideals. Strongly influenced by the transcendentalism that the Romantics derived from Kant, Friedrich was also, for a time, supported by Goethe, and he was a close friend and informal teacher of the artist and critic Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), whose book Psyche (1846) Jung so admired. He never left Germany; thus, like Jung, he never visited Rome.

memoryoftheinvisible Reacting against the Enlightenment, the philosophical and artistic ideals of German Romanticism placed prime importance on the individual, imagination, and feeling. Fundamental to this view is the notion of the Divine in nature, and nature as an inner voice or impulse, which man can only know by expressing what he finds within him. By reconnecting with his emotional response to nature, the Romantic artist makes his inner vision manifest in a work of art, as evident in Friedrich’s beautiful landscape, Large Enclosure (1832: fig. 1), where the earth and water repeat and reflect the almost divinely lit shapes in the heavens.

Especially important was F.W. Schelling’s ‘nature philosophy’, which emphasised that it was man’s awareness both of himself and of the world around him that brought the unconscious life in nature to conscious expression. Schelling believed that the plastic arts of painting and sculpture provided an active bond (in Jung’s terms a mediating function) between the soul and nature, an infusion of the material with the spiritual. The artist must grasp the essential, instinctive spirit of nature, ‘working at the core of things and speak[ing] through signs and shapes as by symbols only’, realising ideas that were previously obscure and unintelligible autonomously, through his unique genius (Vaughan, 66). In this way, he ‘Romanticises the World’, fashioning each object as if it were the bearer of some higher significance, the culmination of a quest, an altar to the hidden God. Thus, each object becomes a symbol within a symbolic whole.

memoryoftheinvisible Friedrich strongly believed that the artist ‘must learn by experiencing, become the thing in order to get to know the soul and even the underlying form of nature’. His surviving sketchbooks attest to his repeated excursions into the wild, where he made detailed drawings of natural motifs, as, for example this Study of Fir Trees, dated 28 April 1807 (fig. 2). At the upper right, he has sketched a tree in its entirety, abstracting it from its natural surroundings. Below, he begins to reduce the motif further, concentrating on its outlines. Such sketches formed the raw material for his paint ings. By capturing each object’s uniqueness in a recorded moment of time, Friedrich’s sketchbooks embody his lived experience, they form the prima materia of Erlebniskunst: art that comes from, and is an expression of the artist’s inner response to experience.

memoryoftheinvisible But the creative process itself occurred within Friedrich’s studio, as we see in this Portrait made by fellow artist Georg Friedrich Kersting in 1819 (fig. 3). Its monk-like simplicity, uncluttered by props or sketches, with the window semi-shuttered to concentrate the light and obscure any outside view, enabled him to bring forth the invisible. Entreating his fellow artists to ‘close your bodily eye so that you may see your painting first with the spiritual eye, then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards’, Friedrich affirmed that ‘a feeling, darkly intuiting, and rarely fully clear to the artist himself, always underlies his pictures’. And Carus described how, before beginning a picture, Friedrich would wait until the image ‘stood lifelike in his mind’s eye’, and then would quickly begin to work, sketching it first on the bare canvas in chalk and pencil, and then in pen and ink, followed immediately by the underpainting (Vaughan, 68). Only then would he turn to his nature-sketches, employing them for particular details, often reusing them in different works.

memoryoftheinvisible The Winter Landscape with a Church, finished in 1811 (fig. 4), is an early example of Friedrich’s Romantic ideals. In the midst of a desolate winter landscape, we find a small Rückenfigur, a halted traveller. He rests against a jutting boulder, praying to a wooden Crucifix in a pine grove, a natural apse, composed of firs similar to those sketched in 1807. To his left stand further groves, and other boulders, their forms suggestive of gravestones. The cast-off crutches suggest the traveller’s precarious state, and signpost his path of arrival, stretching diagonally up from the lower right corner. Critics have noted that the central fir grove would have obscured his view of the church that rises in ethereal fashion from the thick mist in the distance, its multiple spires echoing the firs’ natural forms.

The painting intimates man’s earthly search for the Divine, whose forms are present in the material, perennial firs and ancient rocks, suggestive of nature’s everlasting life, and suggested by the fog-veiled cathedral, his ultimate spiritual destination, an Idea almost visible. The winter season mirrors the traveller’s state, close to the end of his mortal journey. He and the artist have become one, registering that what we, the viewers, see, is not a natural landscape, but Friedrich’s Erlebnis, his temporal experience of nature re-imagined, a memory of the invisible made visible.

memoryoftheinvisible The Wanderer above a Sea of Mist (fig. 5) painted about 1818, at the height of the German Romantic movement, is a multi-layered, symbolic and truly visionary work of art. In Friedrich’s earlier works, the Rückenfigur was placed within the landscape, but here he is monumentalised. Placed almost exactly in the centre of the painting, he stands on the summit of the rocky foreground promontory with his back to us, partially obscuring the seemingly infinite view beyond. By these means, Friedrich forces us to view the painting as if we were the halted traveller. Moreover, all the landscape elements, from the fore ground irregular rocky triangle through the isolated and dipping intermediate tree-crowned ridges to the more distant ranges and mountain peaks, are fragments that converge on him. Without him, the composition falls to pieces in the foggy mist, which in any case serves to cancel distance and perspective.

Here Friedrich is fully engaged in the aesthetics of the Sublime. The new iconography of mountains and evocative rock formations emphasise the awesome, the wilfully obscure, the moment in which the painting attempts to reveal the infinite; in this case the mystical infinity of nature in the halted traveller’s heart, upon which the two central diagonals of the distant ranges converge. As such Friedrich’s painting is the objectification, a re-membering of a multi-layered subjective experience.

In Carus’s letters on landscape painting, he states that fog was God’s assistant at creation. In the Wanderer above the Sea of Mist, it is also a symbol of the creative power of the artist, who does not imitate nature’s products, but rather nature’s unending creative process. Yet Friedrich makes us aware that we, too, must participate directly in what we see. Indeed, there are three creative imaginations involved in viewing this work: the artist’s, the halted traveller’s, and our own. Thus Friedrich’s Rückenfigur is also an image of the multiplicity of the invisible Self.

memoryoftheinvisible Friedrich created a very different mood in The Sea of Ice executed about 1824 (fig. 6). The painting is related to the destroyed Shipwreck on the Coast of Greenland that was commissioned by the future Zarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorova, after a visit by her husband, Grand-Duke Nicholas, to Friedrich’s studio in Dresden in December 1820. She had requested Friedrich to paint a subject representing Nordic nature in all its ‘fearsome beauty, ’ to serve as a pendant to another lost work extolling the generous beauty of nature in the Southern climes: in other words, the pair were to express the theme of the Sublime and the Beautiful in terms of the North and South.

Like The Wanderer above a Sea of Mist, The Sea of Ice is deeply symbolic, containing multiple levels of meaning. Although individual pictorial elements refer to precise studies made of the break-up of ice on the Elbe by Friedrich during the winter of 1820-21, they also recall a tragic event from his childhood nearly forty years earlier, when one of his elder brothers drowned while attempting to rescue Friedrich during an ice-skating outing on the Baltic. Here, however, there is no human presence, just a fragmented product of human craft, the crushed prow and mast of a sailing ship trapped by the Sublimely destructive artic ice. A metaphor of the Romantics’ crushed political hopes under Metternich, the painting has also been called a navigatio vitae that represents man’s mortal journey, whose course leads inevitably to death, but now without the redeeming Crucifix and cathedral of the earlier Winter Landscape with Church. And it is also an image of psyche frozen in the sharp shards of an icy wasteland, a votive offering and witness to man’s frail struggle to transcend the empty, hostile wastes of extreme experience.

Significantly, in Friedrich’s own time The Sea of Ice was rejected by the general public. The work of a true visionary artist who ‘bodies forth the shape of things unseen’ the painting also depicts an era about to be crushed by its opposite, the frigid, soulless wasteland of materialist culture, so despised by Jung, which would only begin to thaw again during his youth.

Part II

The painters we are going to look at now were for the most part born in Tuscany during the last fifteen years of Friedrich’s life. They began to associate with one another in Florence in the second half of the 1850s, meeting at the Caffè Michelangelo, where their passionate discussions of art became interlaced with debates over the ‘rebirth of Italy’ and the struggle for the country’s unification, in which they played an active part.

Until just a few years earlier, the somewhat sheepish expression of nationalistic feelings had been confined to nostalgia for days of glory in the remote past, and in their historical pictures artists had compensated for a humiliating present with the rhetoric of a greatness of which, in reality, only traces remained. With the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and of Florence as its capital in 1865, their exile came to an end, their common home was rediscovered and, even though a residual fragmentation of the country remained, the process of integration had reached an irreversible stage. Now the dignity of a daily life at last set free and able to proceed in peace called out for representation: city streets, cloisters, the interiors of houses and family affections, work in the fields, military life. A time that had seemed lost forever emerged again, the time of a harmony regained; and those images, almost always painted on a small scale, quietly acknowledged its presence.

memoryoftheinvisible And it was in that very year of 1861 that these artists started to paint en plein air – as we are shown in a small picture by Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega Painting on the Rocks (fig. 7) – before returning to the studio to finish the work. Immersed in the radiance of nature to the point where they felt as if they were part of a Pandean continuum, they studied the expressive ‘effects’ of natural light at length, and in their painting sought those subtle nuances of light and shade that would allow the space of the picture to take on a life of its own, and find order and harmony through rhythm and measure.

memoryoftheinvisible Raffaello Sernesi, who was twenty-three at the time, spent the summer of that year with the twenty-eight-yearold Odoardo Borrani on the highest of the mountains that stand between Florence and the sea, where he painted Mountain Pasture (fig. 8).

It is not easy to describe the absolute and solemn simplicity of this image, the crystalline brilliance that gives it form. An absorbed silence can be heard, the wonder of an apparition that has nothing unexpected about it: a calm ecstasy. The slow passage of the herds- woman and the cows, the sparse trees and the frayed white clouds all follow a harmonious rhythm, which infects anyone who looks at the picture; and who is thus able to experience that crucial moment in which the eternal succeeds in shining through an image of time, a revelation in the apparition, that sudden vision of the cosmos in just one facet of existence that has been called ‘beauty’ ever since the time of Plato. Caught up in the contemplation, we discover its form: the light, the space, the time in which it occurs.

It is an Apollonian contemplation into which we are drawn, as intimate as a statue of Apollo attributed to Praxiteles which can be seen in the Vatican Museums. The smiling god is aiming an arrow at a lizard, motionless on the trunk of a tree: at a soul in search of light, which has halted in ecstatic abandon, transfixed by a ray of sunlight. The yearning of the soul for light and the gratuitous gift to it of the divine light is the mystery celebrated, the event, at once human and divine, of that mutual contemplation in which lies the essence of every mysticism of light. And we know from his letters and declarations that the young Sernesi was conscious of this.

As observers of the painting, we are like that humble lizard of Mediterranean walls, feeling ourselves to be as small as the woman herding the cows, and sharing with her in the wonder that pervades everything. ‘Know thyself’ was written on the pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi: recognize yourself as a tiny human being before the awesome calm of the gods. This is the beginning of the illumination that Apollo gives. The vision is granted to an ordinary human being, who feels him or herself to be just like everyone else, and not to a monk, to a solitary thinker, to a visionary hero, as in Friedrich.

memoryoftheinvisible Three years later, during the summer of 1864, Odoardo Borrani painted Diego’s Garden at Castiglioncello (fig. 9). This picture reveals the maturity now attained by Borrani’s vision, in the complete osmosis between ideal form and analysis of observed reality, in the awareness of the spontaneous classicism hidden in the forms of nature and, in particular, in the discovery of the intimate cohesion between art and nature, between the work of man and natural growth, so characteristic of the Tuscan landscape, modelled down the centuries by the constant and patient labour of peasants.

All this is recomposed, and revealed to the gaze, in an instant, when the peasant working in his vegetable garden stops, lifts his head as if in response to a silent and invisible call, and remains motionless, overcome with wonder at an accustomed beauty. The peasant’s, Borrani’s and our own gaze coincide, seeing in an indeterminable moment and from an indeterminable point in space, drawn into the centre of a harmony that embraces everything: both the animate and the inanimate. Apollo’s gaze is turned on this fragment of the world, it has made the visible transparent: the invisible revealed is here, here its eternal presence is unveiled. The gods are not other or elsewhere: now we know like Thales that ‘all things are full of gods’.

Sernesi and Borrani had absorbed the lesson of Augusto Conti, a Florentine philosopher who in those years invited his students to reconcile heart and mind, realism and idealism. Bringing about this reconciliation in painting entailed being faithful to an analytical observation of the world, like the one suggested by the dominant positivistic culture. But it was precisely through this careful observation of the aspects of the world that it became possible to uncover in them the inner geometries, the measure and proportions that had animated the ideal, neoplatonic vision of the great Tuscan masters of the fifteenth century, to whom these painters never ceased to look. Thus time and eternity, present and past, found the intuitive point and the form in which to remain united. Years later Cézanne was to see things in a similar way, setting out ‘to do Poussin again, from Nature’: going back to tradition, rediscovered however in the contemplation of his own land, of its light, revealed in nature as implicit, harmonious, eternal measure, as its archetypal structure – “son classicisme”, as Cézanne called it. And the inner form that generated this classicism, and con tinues still and forever to generate it, is what resurfaces of necessity in every true rebirth, or risorgimento, as it was referred to in the Italy of our painters’ time: the solid, lasting foundation of a culture, wherein lies the energy capable of being revived in infinite transformations.

memoryoftheinvisible This vision was also shared by Giuseppe Abbati, who painted the Interior of a Cloister (fig. 10) in Florence in 1861, when he was twenty-five. Less analytical than Borrani, Abbati was sensitive to the essence of form. By concentrating on those passages where the ten sion between light and shade was most acute, he sought images that contained within themselves the luminous power of nature. In his pictures, the things of the world seem to be arranged like presences on the stage of a sacred mystery, some emerging as epiphanies of light, others sinking into a shade that is nevertheless temporary, vibrating with a possible light, ready to shine again. Everything happens independently of human will and consciousness, which are transcended by light and shade: the little man has his back to the great blocks of marble, which the light brings to life but which he cannot see. The world is not just res extensa: the spirit of the world sings of the advent of the light, contemplating it with joy, in silence. There is more: while the man’s awareness of the light is discontinuous, confined to moments of ecstatic openness, the things live on light, waiting for it in the dark, rejoicing in it in the sun. Contemplating them means, in the end, coming to resemble them, being like they are. This abandonment to the simple pleasure of existence is the condition for seeing the gods: a thought that, through Virgil and Horace, has nourished the Latin feeling for life right down to the present day.

The painting that was done in Tuscany in those years transformed the original neoplatonic vision of art at the same time as it evoked it, responding with the persuasive force of the images to the question that an expert on Plotinus, Pierre Hadot, still poses today: ‘Cannot the ineffable, the mysterious, the transcendent, even the Absolute, also be discovered in the inexhaustible richness of the present moment and in the contemplation of the most concrete, banal, everyday, humble, immediate reality? And cannot the always-present Presence be sensed in it? “Exclude all things”, said Plotinus. Instead, in sharp contradiction, should we not also say: “Admit all things”?’

The images of those small pictures resolve this paradox through a twofold operation of taking in and taking away: the sensible is intensified at some points and dissolved at others, leading to the revelation, to the gaze that re-creates it, the artist’s gaze and our own, of precisely that Presence which is immanent in it. Perhaps it can be said that in the form attained in this way being has become aware of itself and at the same time has revealed itself, or rather that the invisible has found the space and the light in which to make itself visible.

memoryoftheinvisible This process, and the image in which it culminates, is clearly recognizable in the work of Giovanni Fattori, who painted On the Lookout (fig. 11) in 1872, at the age of forty-seven. Here, as in other pictures of his, we find not so much ecstatic wonder as a sense of suspended tension. The horses, like the oxen in other paintings, appear to be pent up with a vital energy that is betrayed in minimal movements, about to be set loose. And this extends to the men, to their faces, thrust slightly forward, to their gestures, barely hinted at, and above all to the intensity of their expressions, even though concealed in shadow. An almost frozen dance, which the oblique cut of the scene both contains and orients in predictable movements: in fact the orthogonal lines in the background provide a stability that the slanting lines at once reveal to be precarious.

Here the other Apollonian quality is added to the light that pervades and transfigures, a cosmic music to which everything seems to be silently attuned. The world is pervaded by a rhythm on which the animals are intent and to which they move, thereby weaving the immanent harmony and rendering it visible.

memoryoftheinvisible The cosmic music modulates the emotions that pass through the soul of the world and percolate into the human spirit: harmonizing with this music is all the more necessary for those artists who, like Fattori, give voice to the humble toil of life and the anguish of the world. In Abandoned Soldiers (fig. 12), painted in 1870, the bodies of two dead men are beginning to sink into the earth, which opens to receive them. The orthogonal lines that suspend the movement elsewhere have vanished; to the immobility of death responds an accord of oblique lines, which direct the observer’s gaze downward: the horizon slopes downwards, the crowns of the pine and the more distant trees slope downwards, while the broad unsurfaced road seems to carry the bodies down with it, flowing like a river. Everything is viewed from below, in a foreshortening that is reminiscent of Mantegna’s Dead Christ.

The slightly rippling horizon is the silent protagonist of the picture. Everything is related to it, everything is directed towards it, even the grief, which is finally assuaged in it: the horizon, where sky and earth, death and life, personal sorrow and sorrow of the world permeate one another and coexist. This, simply this, is ‘beauty’, the harmony in which the otherwise discordant sounds of the world, of the soul, are attuned; and it is contemplating the world with a lover’s heart, as Plotinus would have put it, that reveals the beauty to the senses and allows the imagination to conjure it up, to recollect it. The beauty that presents itself, and can present itself, only here and now: in this moment, on this earth, in this life.

memoryoftheinvisible Silvestro Lega was able to see it, in his Mazzini on his Deathbed (fig. 13), even at the moment when an individual life is drawing to its close. He painted this picture at a time of grief, in 1873, when he was forty-seven and had just lost both the woman he loved and his closest friends, Sernesi and Abbati.

A few months earlier he had rushed to Pisa, to the bedside of the old champion of the republic whom he, like many other patriots, regarded not just as a political leader but also as a spiritual guide. Mazzini had taken refuge in Pisa to escape the hostility of the monarchic authorities, and was dying. Seated next to him and watching him, Lega may have eased his sorrow by drawing the beloved features. An artist who had always been so attentive to the grace of feminine gestures, to interiors and the quiet life of the home, he was now contemplating the naked simplicity of his master, lying on his deathbed.

He took the idea of the picture from those sketches, and painted it in sober colours, in small and soft touches that lend a subtle vibration to the brushwork. The light appears subdued, reflected from the cushions, from the sheet in which the old man is wrapped, and reverberating gently on the face. The body of the dying man is shown close-up, life-size; the wall behind him seems to support him and almost push him forwards; there is no perspective to place him at a distance, and so we too find ourselves at his bedside. He is lying on one side as if asleep, trusting in those who tend him, his hands at rest, inviting us to place our own on them with devotion.

We can discern in this image the harmony of a form achieved, the ‘beautiful old man’, the kalogeros of the ancients. In him the invisible has slowly come to the surface over the course of the years, finally reaching its full splendour – splendor formae was the medieval definition of beauty. The invisible has now become transparent and visible in a detail, in that unique form, in the mortal called Giuseppe Mazzini.

In the prologue to his memoirs, Jung wrote: ‘In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one’. (MDR, 18) And in a later chapter: ‘[…] my works are a more or less successful endeavour to incorporate this incandescent matter into the contemporary picture of the world’. (MDR, 225) When he wrote Freud’s obituary in 1939, he made use of similar metaphors: ‘[…] he was a man possessed by a daemon – a man who had been vouchsafed an overwhelming revelation that took possession of his soul and never let him go’. (CW 15, §71) And at the Eranos conference of the following year he had written: ‘And because individuation is an heroic and often tragic task, the most difficult of all, it involves suffering, a passion of the ego. The ordinary, empirical man we once were is burdened with the fate of losing himself in a greater dimension and being robbed of his fancied freedom of will. He suffers, so to speak, from the violence done to him by the self’. (CW 11, §233) There can be no better summary of a psychoanalytical theory that is an elaboration of an experience of the sublime. Expressions like ‘irrupted’, ‘revelation’, ‘passion’ and ‘violence’ suggest that at the root of this experience there is a split that isolates and confines the ego, separating it from a boundless world, from a surrounding mystery that is at once fearful and fascinating. It is precisely to this world that Friedrich’s figures seem to turn, staring into the distance, immobile in the face of the void that gapes before them.

There is no void or unbridgeable distance, however, in the work of the Tuscan painters. In the ‘land where lemons bloom’, as Goethe called Italy (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Book III, Chap. 1), the gods are not the disturbing ‘Absolutely Other’, but walk alongside human beings, even when they are not aware of it. They visit them freely, like Jupiter and Mercury visited Philemon and Baucis, and ask only to be received as guests. The house of analysis, in this land of images, is that of the aging couple, where men and gods meet and converse around a table, where the images that arrive are memory of the invisible, revelation of an eternal presence. There is no irruption of the ‘numinous’ to break down bastions, but a slow progress from the formless and inharmonious towards form, which grows more and more defined as the gaze becomes more attentive, the sensibility more refined, until the divine is unveiled: the gods are hidden, not separate, and reveal themselves to those who welcome them with pietas. ‘All things are full of gods’, it has been said, and beauty is the manifestation of this, every day and everywhere, even in a gesture, an image, a word; and yet evident only to those who are driven by the ardent energy of Amor, the immortal son of Venus. While her mortal son, we recall here in conclusion, was the pius Aeneas, mythical ancestor of Rome, who had Venus to guide him in the world and who was himself a bridge between past and future.

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List of Illustrations

  1. Caspar David Friedrich, Large Enclosure, c. 1832 Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 102.5 cm. Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
  2. Caspar David Friedrich, Study of Fir Trees, 28 April 1807 Graphite, 36.6 x 24 cm. Sketchboook of 1807, sheet 7, National Gallery, Oslo
  3. Georg Friedrich Kersting, Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio, 1819 Oil on canvas, 51 x40 cm. Natural Gallery, Berlin
  4. Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape with Church, 1811 Oil on canvas, 33 x 45 cm. Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Stadt Dortmund
  5. Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer above a Sea of Mist, c. 1818 Oil on canvas, 98.4 x 74.8 cm. Kunsthalle, Hamburg
  6. Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, c. 1823/24 Oil on canvas, 96.7 x 126.9 cm. Kunsthalle, Hamberg
  7. Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega Painting on the Rocks, 1866 Oil on panel, 12.5 x 28 cm. Private Collection
  8. Raffaello Sernesi, Mountain Pasture, 1861 Oil on panel, cm. 26.2 x 82.5 cm. Private Collection
  9. Odoardo Borrani, Diego’s Garden at Castiglioncello, 1864 Oil on panel, 18 x 50 cm. Private Collection
  10. Giuseppe Abbati, Interior of a Cloister, 1861 Oil on panel, 19.3 x 25.2 cm. Gallery of Modern Art, Pitti Palace, Firenze
  11. Giovanni Fattori, On the Lookout, 1872 Oil on panel, cm. 34, 5 x 54, 5. Private Collection
  12. Giovanni Fattori, Abandoned Soldiers, 1866-70 Oil on panel, 14 x 34 cm. Private Collection
  13. Silvestro Lega, Mazzini on his Deathbed, 1873 Oil on panel, 74.8 x 98 cm. Museum of Art, Providence