gallery 22    
  • Alchemical interpretation of Emma Goldman (1869-1940) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Peter Marchegger (1925-2013) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Josefine Pichler (1957-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Kurt Hofbauer (1981-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Karl Loé ( 1857-1868) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Josef Lackner (1952-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Ante Lukač (1919-1944) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Francesco Dradi (1838-1907) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Cäcilie Scheiber (1783-1874) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Ferdinand Krobath (1851-1935) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Zdenka Dujmović (1962-2011) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Walter Leitgeb (1968-2009) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Danijel Šanko (1901-1965) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Alois Prantner (1956-2012) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Carolina Bon (1881-1892) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Hans Hollein (1934-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Ana Drofenik (1895-1976) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Betti Schischa (1825-1912) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Claudio Taddei (1946-2009) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Katarina Maričević (1841-1931) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Kathrin Windisch (2003-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Manfred Fink (1955-2013) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Karl Saria (1929-2009) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Meike Jansen (1968-2015) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Angela Benelli (1881-1964) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Franz Körbler (1957-2011) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Willibald Brückler (1950-2007) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Patricia Kornfeld (1970-2015) - © Milan Golob
  • Alchemical interpretation of Frida Bivetti (1936-2008) - © Milan Golob
Emma Goldman (1869-1940), 2015, oil on canvas, 19×19 cm

 



 

 

 

THE BEGINNING OF DUCHAMP’S ALCHEMICAL ART


Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 1)

Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 2)

Wilhelmine Assinann, for example, who painted in a trance, saw herself merely as a medium, serving the paint, as Pamela Colman Smith was to claim to Stieglitz, and Duchamp in his Creative Act statement of 1951. Assinann created a market niche for herself by selling paintings under the slogan 'Flowers from another World'.

Or Herwarth Nusslein, who became very rich in his mid-20's by virtue of the occult. Meditating for self - renovation, he found himself writing and drawing automatically. He developed skills in clairvoyance and mesmeric healing, and became a 'psychic picture-writer'; here then is an example of a passive mediumistic artist combining art with healing. He was very prolific; by 1928 he had done 2000 paintings in 3 years, which had risen to 18,000 by 1935. Exhibited in his own castle in Nuremberg, and galleries in Munich and London, Conan-Doyle reportedly bought one. Theosophy had let Nusslein translate his inner vision into modern aesthetic acts. For him, the proper content of art is the spiritual. Cosmic vibrations were the source of his art; he used his soul as an antenna to capture cosmic radiation to be translated into visual form. He was a transceiver for invisible waves; with left hand opening and closing to catch the waves, his right hand moved the brush. Unlike Kandinsky, the results were not abstract, but fantastical permutations of visual objects.

Or Bô Yin Râ, a.k.a. Joseph Anton Schneiderfranke, a spiritual teacher whose revelation, also in 1912, lead him, (like the Duchamp of the "red thing on glass",) to the variation of 'occult realism'. Believing that nothing should stand between the eye and the soul, artists, in creative moments, receive vibrations sent out in original spiritual form whose cosmic signatures they enshrined in their work. Paintings, just like Rudolf Steiner's 'spirit science' stage props, are then instruments radiating waves from the world of spirit into the viewer's soul. Theosophically inspired spirit travel had enable Bô Yin Râ to paint Jesus from life; this was not vision, nor occult manipulation: he had actually met Jesus.

This new mode of modernism represents a switch by artists from a traditional aesthetic focused on objective reality outside themselves to a new aesthetic emphasizing the primacy of intuitive experience. Trietel claims many adopted this aesthetic as a result of breaking down in personal crisis and then finding their inner voice; according to some interpretations, Duchamp, in Munich, suffered such a personal crisis, and traveled to Etival, in Jura, where he spent a long night talking to Gabrièle Buffet-Picabia. Some, such as Rilke, in the 1920's, benefited from a more occult prosthesis, known as the 'spirit guide', as does the character Thomasius, a scientist engineer, in Steiner's The Guardian of the Threshold.[135] The higher authority of spirit guides offered release from the pain and loneliness of personal crisis and access to a world beyond the senses, and so a spiritual means of liberation from a creative block.

Treitel's Conclusion, consisting of the analysis of a piece of fiction epitomizing the face of German Modernism which she divines in the occult, would seem to offer a direct insight into the texture of the cultural fabric which Duchamp encountered during his sojourn in Schwabing. This was parapsychologist Willy Jaschke's Maria: Eine Stimme aus dem Jenseits? (Maria: A Voice from Beyond), of 1928. Compiled from dozens of true-life experiences, it tells of how an enterprising young man made contact with his dead fiancé in a home research laboratory, in Schwabing. Thus it was" an ideal introduction to the highly contested realm of mediumistic phenomena: their nature, setting, research, social context, usefulness, legal and scientific status, and apparently irreducible mysteriousness."

In short, what it turned on was epistemology.

Frank Werner discovered the occult in a small, smoke-filled cafe in Schwabing, "home to Munich's bohemian sub-culture" familiar to the Duchamp of 1912 who we learn of in the Ephemerides. Immersed in a local newspaper, the strains of a Beethoven sonata unleash in Frank a wave of anguished memories. Recalling the train crash which killed his beloved, his gaze settles on an advert in the paper advertising serious scientific sittings with mediums. His response produces an invitation to a preliminary meeting, not with mystical spirit-conjurors, but perfectly normal young people who require him to sign a document acknowledging that the Bavarian criminal code imposed regulations on such 'scientific experiments', since the source of the mysterious phenomena they investigated was as yet unknown. This domestic research laboratory contains a medium's cabinet, four cameras, ten chairs, a zither and a work-table equipped with a red light. Werner, struck by the objectivity, sobriety, warmth and coziness is invited to his first séance the next Friday. Participants from all social classes are present to observe the many mysterious events - from the standard repertoire of the séance - whose occurrence without any mechanical intervention convinces Frank of the absolute authenticity of occult phenomena. Now, the medium helps Frank to contact the dead Maria who, existing in another form, still loves him. Frank is ecstatic, but the para-psychological medium, and the skeptical but open-minded colonel, have no way of telling whether the 'intelligence' had been Maria.

Treitel sees in Jaschke's tale evidence that Germans turned to occult beliefs and practices by the early twentieth century to both challenge and utilize the forces of modernity shaping both their experience of life and their mental universe. But contemporary science had created an antinomy, inducing in students of occult phenomena objection to the faceless, materialistic and meaningless universe identified by that very science which they utilized to reinvigorate their lives in the world, through experimental research and developing the occult powers of the psyche.

In Maria, the heterogeneous presence of scientific modernity turns on the poles of the train and the laboratory, the former, an agent of both anxiety and progress, and the multivalent latter, the cozy and reassuring domestic science lab in which inexplicable mystical events were scientifically authenticated. Treitel identifies the occult as offering modern men and women, adrift in a world disenchanted by an ethic of reason, both relief from their suffering under modernity's burdens and the promise of the restoration of purpose to their meaningless existence - on scientific grounds. In an anonymous, irrational world the occult offered the discovery of one's true identity through enlightenment of the self, the solution of crimes, the finding of the well-springs of one's inner creativity, the healing of the body, the researching of the unconscious, travel through time and space and the selection of a mate (- precisely what the advertisements in the back of Vogue offer today's fashionista.)

In the form of séances, it catered to all classes and estates - men, women, professionals, workers, petty-bourgeois and aristocrats, doctors, psychologists, engineers, teachers, writers and housewives, in cities, town and country, the honorable and the impostor, the opportunists and actors in search of fame and fortune; and the mediums were not so much wild-eyed unbalanced mystics as the clear-eyed, fresh-faces epitomes of modern healthy youth that we see in photographs of Duchamp, by Man Ray, in New York, after 1915, or the same subject in Buenos Aires, in 1918, or in Apollinaire's Peintres Cubistes, taken in Franz Marc's old studio, in Schwabing, in 1912.

It was the psychological condition of Argentine women which Katherine Dreier was to research, for her book, Nine Months in the Argentine, in the company of Duchamp in 1918.

Treitel also notes how Jaschke's tale confirms the importance of the market place in setting occult ideas and practices into general circulation. Werner finds his way to the occult via a general-circulation Munich newspaper in a bohemian cafe; presses were particularly important in disseminating occultism to the masses in the decades before World War 1, and after 1918, the growing market place of occult books, instruments, medicines, clairvoyant character analysis, horoscope casting, water-divining and graphology quickly and efficiently made occultism available to anybody with the modest fee. And the ambiguous and contested status that the occult retained for both consumers and authenticating authorities, including the academic and scientific communities, the church and state, is pointed up by Frank's requirement to sign a document acknowledging legal restrictions on para-psychological experiment at home, whose results remained un-certifiable. At the heart of this antinomy, and of Duchamp's new practice, this gap through which the occultist like Steiner slipped, was the thoroughly modernist recognition of the ultimate uncertainty of all human knowledge, since neither priest, scientific nor legal expert employed by the state could completely resolve the uncertainty surrounding the occult sciences, which bent the laws of chemistry and physics just a tad.

In the second part of Duchamp at the Turn of the Centuries[136] Jean Claire underlines a seamless continuity between the occult milieus of Paris and Munich, drawing direct parallels between examples of Duchamp's work and occult phenomena; the comparison between With my Tongue in my Cheek, of 1959 and the mould of an imprint produced by the medium Eusapia before the editorial committee of the magazine Lux, for example. Perplexed by Duchamp's destination and his length of stay, Claire now confirms Treitel's identification of this Haupstadt, described here as the most kitsch town in Europe, as a polyglot melting pot, the home of refugees from the east and the south, such as Jawlensky, the brothers Burliuk, and Chirico. Bohemian Schwabing drew other anti-conformist spirits, such as Lenin, and Hitler, who never succeeded in being accepted at the Academie; it was more difficult to live as an artist in Munich, the ambiguous European capital of the occult, than Vienna.

By the time Duchamp arrived, the Gesellschaft für Psychologie was in full swing, and multiplying its exchanges with Italy, England and France. The Kosmiker Stephan George circle functioned as a barometer of all things occult. Von Stuck and Marées perpetuated Symbolism; von Max, and his photographer brother, who supplied his mediumistic imagery, we have already discussed.

But the most important occult institution which Claire discusses is Rudolf Steiner's enterprises. As Claire recounts, between 1909 and 1913, his mystery play, and lecture series, attended by Klee, Kandinsky, Jawlensky, Gabriella Munter and Marianna van Werefkin, were staged here.

We have established that the Steiner Archive has no record that Duchamp or Bergmann had direct involvement with Steiner's organization, but Claire asks whether it is credible that "this disciple (who) was reading (Kandinsky's Du Spirituel dans l'art) so attentively" could not have been "listening in", in some way. And in that it was in Munich that Duchamp "discovered" the theme of his Grande Oeuvre, Alchemy, how could he have failed to have gone to Alchemy Museum, with its "cornues threaded into one another like the sieves in the Large Glass?"

What may account for any fragmentary or dislocated character to Duchamp's response to the culture of Munich was his access to sources, and the less than satisfactory grasp of German that he reports to his grandmother on August the 25th. However, whilst only members of Steiner's society were admitted to his plays, anyone could attend his lectures, and since the milieu in which Duchamp moved included, by his own admission, the visually sensitive, artists, he could easily have benefited from vivid and accurate descriptions of stage-props and sets. But Duchamp, who could read German, had direct access to theatre reviews and the contents of the scripts, since these were on sale two days before the premiered performance. Further, the performances took on average two months to rehearse, and were not necessarily closed to the public. And since each play was revived each year, 1912 saw a performance of the entire trilogy in the period Duchamp was in Munich.

Robb Creese[137] offers some insight into the circumstances of the production of Stiener's plays.

Each was finished just a couple of days before they opened. Scripts were literally still wet from the press when the actors got their parts. They barely had time to memorize the lines of the final scenes. The Mystery Dramas were not well received in Munich. Many things confused the audiences. Each play took all day to perform, with one break in the middle of the day. Characters in the dramas appeared in different incarnations and in different spiritual states of being. The performance style was highly conventionalized and the words were recited very slowly and rhythmically.

Richard Rosenheim[138] notes that spectators who were inwardly aware of occult science were deeply moved by the plays. Others laughed at the performance and many were silent. The reviews condemned the plays as too dogmatic and too doctrinaire to be performed.

Never returning to Munich, after his success at Armory Show Duchamp turned his eyes towards to occultists in the eastern United States, particularly after the outbreak of hostilities which would have inhibited the cultivation of a potential German market. But a cryptic comment to Walter Pach suggests that in Paris, after 1913, Duchamp's abdication of painting was the consequence of his experience of a decidedly exoteric Esoteric Munich. In the letter appearing as Item No.6 in Affetueusement Marcel, Duchamp tells his friend in New York that he is doing some work "pretty well interrupted by a bunch of people one never sees in peacetime but whom one is forced to see by the war."

Orthodox biographies offer no insight into what Duchamp maybe referring to here. It could not be his library employment, which he described in a letter of January the 19th as "even more extravagant than in peacetime. By which I mean how little we have to do". But having, in the first paragraph of the letter, cogitated on the American art sales Pach has helped him with, here, speaking in the singular, Duchamp refers to what is presumably that which he had clarified in a letter of March the 12th, the "few minor things" on glass from that year, including the realisation on glass of his Cimetière des Uniforms et Livrées, the blueprint for the Neuf Moules Malic, which he describes to Pach as his "red thing on glass."

Since Duchamp was not known to have been involved with war work in any form, and was not medically qualified, or a practicing optician, dentist or lawyer, it would seem reasonable to propose that his particular experience of the Munich occult identified by Treitel could have equipped him to offer services to bereaved women calling upon mediums for reassurance of the survival of the souls of their dear departed, services which Duchamp provided for the war-widow Mary Reynolds after the war, and until her death; and Katherine Dreier, as a careful sifting of the evidence presented throughout the Ephemerides demonstrates.

(Andrew Lambirth[139] informs us that, in Paris after the second war, Duchamp was generally considered to be, amongst the art community, a well-dressed parasite, living off rich women, which his comment to Bill Copley, reported by Tomkins,[140] confirms; Duchamp tells Copley the he had made parasitism into a fine art.)

These services increased exponentially during the First World War, on both sides of the channel, as Robert Graves reports in his memoirs, noting particularly the mediumistic charlatans increasingly clogging the London courts, who had sprung up overnight on every street comer and in every back-street of the capital, and as J Williams[141] confirms for Paris. Here mourning wear became widespread, worn by women for any relative, close or distant, "killed on the field of honor", and a huge demand developed for mourning brooches and trinkets of black jet. Williams also confirms John Covert's observation on church attendance, noted below, and records that the New Testament became a popular talisman amongst the conscripted.

At the same time, Paris saw a vast influx of middle-aged workers from France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, clearly not in mourning, though quite how Duchamp might have satisfied any enthusiasm for avant-garde art they might have espoused is difficult to divine, as none appear as purchasers of his accredited works; those which did not remain in his possession, such as the Moules Malic, went to his friends and relatives.

There was also a huge increase in drug taking, of cocaine in particular, but we lack evidence implicating Duchamp with the satisfaction of either that or the paradoxical home-front extravagance represented by the free-spending on 'nonessentials', such as the 1,000,000 plus items of scent and fancy underwear sold by a popular store in the Rue de Rennes in 1915.

John Covert, Walter Arensberg's cousin who had studied painting in Munich and Paris between 1909 and 1914, reported on conditions in Paris at the outbreak of the war, remarking that;
The churches, they too were busy, filled and packed to overflowing with men who had probably not been to church in years. Now they came for a service before going off to the front.[142]

Both Houdini's far from unique personal crusade to expose the charlatans preying on the bereaved and desperate, sales of ouija boards, peaking in 1916, and articles carried by theosophical magazines such as Bibby's Annual, bear witness to the magnitude of a problem which the boom of séances, palmists, fortune-sellers, soothsayers and much sought-after crystal-gazers confirms; its cause, the mounting tide of casualties: 19,000 British soldiers died on the first day of the Somme offensive alone.

This epidemic of crystal gazers was matched by one of venereal disease, resulting from the relaxation of moral standards caused by the changed social conditions during the war. This might have offered an opportunity for a form of crystal gazing, a la Max Jacob, via an occult version of the stained glass window, as our analysis of the 'Rousellian’ Large Glass suggests.[143]

On the way to Munich, Duchamp, whose enthusiasm for the Cranach's he saw in Munich was viscerally translated into the last two paintings he produced there, could have seen Grünewald's therapeutic Isenheim altarpiece, showing a venereal Man of Sorrows, in Colmar, where he began his transalpine jaunt, followed shortly by a possible viewing of Böcklin's Peste, since, as the Ephemerides entry for the 19th of June tells us, in Basle Duchamp was much taken with the work in the Böcklin Museum.

Now, relieved of military service, divorced from the avant-garde, and kicking his heels in a library, Duchamp was free to pursue the career of consultant occultist for which Munich had offered endless models, an occupation he plainly followed in New York later. Encouraging this thesis, Kim Munholland,[144] reviewing Jay Winter's Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European and Cultural History notes that;
Living with loss under harsh material conditions meant that millions of widows, orphans and veterans sought ways to express their grief and mediate their bereavement. Some turned to spiritualism and sought to communicate with their dead relatives. Traditional forms, seen by Winter as an eclectic mix of classical, romantic and religious motifs, held greater powers of healing than the ironic, hard-edged anger of modernism.

Traditional forms like stained-glass windows, perhaps, or the vivid and luminous Hinterglasbilder, paintings on glass, showing saints and seasons, which Duchamp also saw at the Alte Pinakotheck, in Munich.[145] That Duchamp's change of style, rejecting Cuba-Futurism in favour of an allegorical realism, was evidence of his following the market Jay Winter identifies would indeed seem to be supported by Duchamp's "red thing on glass."

To support this thesis we suggest that the anachronistic style of the diagrammatic Large Glass is highlighted by its essentially Symbolist graphic character, as Sandro Sprocatti's summary of typical Symbolist conventions of representation, in his chapter entitled Symbolism suggests.[146] According to Sprocatti, works by Gauguin and the Nabis were;
exquisite icons, in which nature became stylized, imbued with mystical values and elegantly rendered by means of arabesques, curves and the à plat technique. But the fact of nature, however stylized, was never abolished, like the anecdote, the fiction symbolique, the theme. Symbolist painting exploits religious, philosophical and mystical motifs in order to construct a pictorial reality, and it never uses color and shape as independent elements. Gauguin had already arrived at a Symbolist synthesis in 1888, creating large flat areas of color encased in strong dark outlines. His compositions are all based on the interplay of unexpected shapes resolved by means of slanting angles and the addition of diagonals intended to remove any illusion of depth. Resisting all analytical-descriptive temptations, Gauguin built up his compositions in layers, with brightly contrasting colors, in order to obtain an icon-like whole.

In a passage recalling the Nude Descending the Staircase, Sprocatti further identifies;
the titles of the (Polynesian) works inscribed directly onto the canvas in the native language (as assuming) a linguistic dignity equal to that of the pictures, strong enough to form solid, plastic figures. The title of Whence do we come? What are we? Where do we go?, is written, rather like a cartoon caption, in the comer of the canvas, which is filled with people portrayed in an accentuated stylized way and surrounded by a mysterious and magical atmosphere. The vibrant, linear repertoire of the Symbolists was ideal for an icon-like portrayal of modern life. Hodler never abandoned the anecdotal; instead he strengthened it by imposing an allegorical role on his figures, which are arranged in the foreground in processions that nullify any perspectival differences. The faces of these figures are depicted in a precise, analytical way, while their bodies, elegantly delineated by firm, modulated outlines, are strongly modeled.

This identification seems to confirm the more conventional nature of the products of the Large Glass project when compared to Duchamp's assemblages and readymades. Perhaps now we can establish why.

As we recall, on page 47, Moffitt cited Jolivet-Castelot's adept's curriculum, which includes a reference to Nicholas Flamel, and note that his Illustration No.12 shows the frontispiece of Poisson's Théories et Symboles des Alchemistes, entitled Flamel's Hieroglyphic figures from the Cemetery of the Innocents. On the next page Moffitt recalls how in Huysman's Là-bas, which "neatly pictured the current state of esoteric knowledge at the height of the Symbolist period, and created its wide diffusion", Durtal takes from a shelf a manuscript written by Flamel, the "celebrated hermetic artist of enigmas."
It is precisely this volume, we learn on page 58, which Breton recommends in his Manifestoes of Surrealism, pages 10-11, as a guide to ensuring the incomprehension of the common herd.
And on page 213 we learn that Pernety cites Flamel in his definition of the Powder of Projection. But on pages 215 and 216, Moffitt ties Flamel's unique record of the appearance of the medieval tympanum erected in the Cemetery of the Innocents in Paris specifically to Duchamp's "red thing on glass."

As Moffitt's bibliography informs us, the 1612 edition, published in Paris by Guillaume Marette, was in the Bibliothèque Ste-Genevieve before Duchamp took up employment there.

Some of the figures in Flamel's Explication des figures de cimetière des Innocents are, like Duchamp's, professionally designated. Besides "Gendarmes" (à la Duchamp) there also appear "un Roi", "des Soldats", "petits Enfants", "Les Mères", "du Innocents" and others. To an uninitiated layperson, nothing suggests an alchemical interpretation, but according to Poisson's neo-alchemical gloss;
the body, the spirit and the soul, otherwise The Matter of the Stone, which are shown here to be figured like men and women dressed in white; these are the ones who are raised up, in order to symbolize the revivifying whiteness which only comes after death, here meaning the black phase, putrefactio.

As we now know, in alchemy, new life comes only from death, the Black Phase, followed by the Red, which Duchamp's figures presumably represent; putrefactio is the preliminary to the culmination of the Grande Oeuvre, and in which the Matter of the Stone is fixed; death before resurrection.

But Moffitt did not go back quite far enough, back to Poisson's source, as Duchamp had been in a position to. Stanton J Linden[147] gives us more than Moffitt's Poisson does. Here we are informed how the late sixteenth century sees "the emergence of a new pattern of alchemical imagery which places primary emphasis on change, purification, moral transformation and spirituality", an important part of which was imagery which fused alchemy with eschatology, the Christian doctrine concerning Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell and the Second Coming, and millenarianism, the belief in an approaching millennium or earthly paradise, instituted by divine intervention. Prophesied in Scripture, these subjects (portrayed, notably, by Kandinsky) will bring about a new and radically better state of existence for the Elect. The result was a strikingly original and effective concordia discors whose provenance includes passages from a variety of alchemical treatises.

Seventeenth century alchemical authors were, Linden explains;
especially interested in setting forth the sacred implications of the art, chiefly by devising or reaffirming intricate systems of correspondence occurring within their alembics and spiritual transformations taking place within their hearts and souls. In each case the desired end was purification and perfection; the attainment of the philosopher's stone, or the moral and spiritual regeneration of a believer whose soul, through God's grace, has been fitted for salvation.
Central to this analogical system was, of course, the traditional idea of Christ as the philosopher's stone; the agent of healing, the deliverer from sin and baseness, the rewarder of merit, the author of grace and salvation, and the creator of new heavens and a new earth.
The successive stages of the preparation of the philosopher's stone are likened to Christ's Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection; and by a curious extension of the analogy, the two major events of the world's past and future, the Creation and the Last Judgment, are often described in terms of alchemical processes. In its most extreme form, this analogical mode of thought leads to a direct identification of Christ, or his attributes, or God, with the master alchemist who creates, directs, and will some day end the world and the course of human history.

And just as alchemists had the power to draw forth a purifying and restorative balm or transmuting agent from base matter, so God can "extract" the "Elixar" of "true penitence" from sin itself.

The 1624 English edition of Flamel is explicitly directed to making gold and to reporting philanthropic work, which the supposed transmutation makes possible. Its illustrations, Linden reports, are at once personal (representing Flamel and his wife) religious and pietistic, and alchemical.

In describing the celebrated figures which he caused to be painted in the fourth arch of the Church-yard, of the Innocents in Paris, Poisson states that they are;
the most true and essential marks of the Arte, yet under vailes, and Hieroglyphical Couvertures, which may represent two things, according to the capacity and understanding of them that behold them. In the first place, these figures may teach the truths of the Resurrection, the Day of Judgment, and the Second Coming; secondly, they may signifie to them, which are skilled in Natural Philosophy, all the principle and necessary operations of the [alchemical] Maistery.
The possession of the philosopher's stone, for Flamel, removes the holder from the roote of all sinne (which is covetousness.)

We are then shown how Flamel's eschatological emphasis and pervasive alchemical allegorizing fused in an analogy between mercury's irrepressible fusibility and Christ's Second Coming; as the Saviour will purify souls and drive away impurity, so the white Elixir, which "unites to himself all metallic natures", becoming silver, rejects all that is "impure, strange, Heterogeneal, or of another kind": for Flamel, the analogy between the Elixir's potency as transmuting agent and Christ's capacity to purify and regenerate human souls is close enough to permit a virtual identification of Christ and lapis. Linton notes that now simile and analogy give way to metaphor, in which the terms are nearly interchangeable.

So Duchamp's alembic-like Hieroglyphical Couvertures, his Uniformes and Livrées, would appear to inscribe a highly topical discourse, one whose exposition appears to be rooted in standard esoteric linguistic practice, creating a concordia discors around an alchemical soteriology, since a livrée, a livery, can also be, according to the rules of grammar Duchamp espoused, a delivery, a livraison, since livrer means to deliver, and Resurrection means deliverance, from sin, death and eternal damnation. Further, a couverture, a protective covering, is a covert, which also means sheltered, secret, of hidden meaning, a characteristic of a hieroglyph. Ironically, it also means cover for troops, under fire.

Troops wear uniforms, when they are not wearing the everyday liveries of the station-masters, policemen, delivery boys, flunky's, priests, mounted soldiers, and undertaker's mutes, whose designations appear on Duchamp's drawing of 1913 entitled Cimetière des Uniformes et Livrées No.1, and who parents, children and widows mourned in war-time Paris.

According to the analogical conflation of alchemy with Christology described above, Christ's Nativity is synonymous with the White Stage, his Crucifixion, the Black, and Resurrection, the Red, the color of Duchamp's moules. If so, his livrées espoused a reassurance, for the fallen, of healing, delivery from sin and baseness, the reward of merit and the blessing of grace and salvation from the creator of a new heaven, and of an new earth for the bereaved; a délivrance, both deliverance and delivery, release from troubles and the delivery of new birth.

Such an analogical conflation within Hieroglyphical Couvertures had already occurred in Duchamp's milieu. In Figures 97 and 98, Henderson illustrates scientific equipment she associates with Duchamp's drawing, her Figure 96. These illustrations, taken from Nature, of 1910 and 1896, show equipment for the investigation of aspects of electrical discharge in rare gases, and Crookes' tubes, and other types of cathode ray tube, for experiments with X-rays. These matters she discusses, on pages 41 and 42, apropos Crookes' concept of Radiant Matter, which, preoccupied with the state of residual gases and radiation in cathode ray tubes, this scientist obsessed with occult phenomena characterizes in the following ways. As a condition as far removed from gas as a gas is from a liquid; as little particles supposed to constitute the physical basis of the universe: as being by turns as material as a table and as immaterial as Radiant Energy: as existing at the border where Matter and Force seem to merge into one another: as standing on the threshold of the Known and Unknown: as the Ultimate Reality, subtle, far reaching, wonderful.

These are the well-attested attributes of the Philosopher's Stone, which is why Madame Blavatsky cites Crookes' work in both her hugely influential major tomes, and Jolivet-Castelot takes it up. So, apparently did Duchamp, since these retorts would appear to be ideal iconographical sources for the form of his little alembics, in which the Great Work is brought to fruition, the Neuf Moules Malic.

[Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich. (Unwinding Duchamp: Mots et Paroles à Tous les Étages. Volume 1. Text., pp. 120-131.) Dissertation. The University of Leeds School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. September 2008.]

Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 3)
Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 4)


References and Sources:

[135] Rudolf Steiner; The Guardian of the Threshold, in Four Mystery Plays (translation Harry Collison , Shiley Mark Kerr Gandell, Robert Theodore Gladstone), Anthroposophical Press, London, 1925.
[136] Jean Claire; Duchamp at the Turn of the Centuries. tout-fait, Vol. 1, Issue 3, December 2000.
[http://www.toutfait.com/issues/issue_3/News/clair/clair2.html] Part II. passim.
[137] Robb Creese; Anthroposophical Performance. The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 22, No. 2, Occult and Bizarre Issue. (June, 1978). pp. 45-74.
[138] Richard Rosenheim; The Eternal Drama. The Philosophy Library, 15 E. 40th Street, New York, 1952.
[139] Andrew Lambirth; (Paris Recalled. Art Line Magazine. pp. 23-25.) From the National Life Story Collection: Artist's Lives. F Series. Medley, Robert.
[140] Calvin Tomkins; Duchamp: a biography. Henry Holt & Co, 1996.
[141] John Williams; The Home Front: Britain France and Germany: 1914-18. Constable, London. 1972.
[142] John Covert; The Real Smell of War. Trend magazine. Volume 8. 1914, pp. 205-8.
[143] See Pinacotheca: Mariee. "That old Saloperie!" (Glyn Thompson; Unwinding Duchamp: Mots et Paroles à Tous les Étages. Volume 2. Pinacotheca. Dissertation. The University of Leeds School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. September 2008.)
[144] Kim Munholland; The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 5, Dec. 1977.
[145] Jennifer Gough-Cooper (author), Jacques Caumont (author), Pontus Hulten (editor); Ephemerides on and about Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy 1887-1968, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Entry for 07.08.1912.
[146] Sandro Sprocatti; A Guide to Art. Little, Brown and Company, 1991. p. 126.
[147] Stanton J. Linden; Mystical Alchemy, Eschatology and Seventeenth Century Religious Poetry. Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 19, No. 1/2, 1984, pp. 79-88.

- John Francis Moffitt; Alchemist of the Avant - Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp. S.U.N.Y., Albany, 2003.


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