|Written by Mika TAKIGUCHI|
|Published: October 14 2008|
In order to represent the Expulsion from Paradise, Michisei utilized the landscape of his hometown, the river Susobana [fig. 1].
There is neither the gate of Paradise, nor a cherb with a sword of fire who guards the gate, which often appear in traditional Christian paintings of Paradise. There is a river flowing between the middle ground and foreground. A man is swimming in the river, but his lower body is not that of human beings. Yes, it is the snake which tempted Adam and Eve. It is swimming away, pretending not to see them. The river divides the middle ground and foreground, and at the same time, it is a borderline between Paradise and the outside.
Behavior of Adam and Eve seems odd. The viewer cannot see their faces, for Adam covers his face with his hand and Eve bends her head. It seems as if two blind people are groping around in the darkness. God forced them to leave Paradise, and they reluctantly crossed the river. Immediately after they reached the other side of the river, the darkness brooded over their eyes. The view of Paradise, so familiar to them, suddenly disappeared. They covered their eyes instinctively because of the abrupt darkness. Their blindness conveys that earth is completely dark whereas Paradise is luminous.
In the darkness of earth though, the light will be brought again. That is to say, the Nativity of Christ. Christ said that he is the light of the world (Jn 8:12). He comes to earth to lighten the darkness which was brought by Adam and Eve. Their posture alludes to the darkness which remains on earth until at last Christ arrives.
Now Christ was born [fig. 2]. Again, Michisei did not follow the traditional iconography of the Nativity. How come could he alter the elements of the Nativity in such a striking way? First of all, the Virgin, the mother of God, is naked! The catalogue explains that it is not really like a biblical story, but more like Greek mythology. It reminds the feast of Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility.
Angels floating with bunches of grapes are more like cupids in the bacchanalia than biblical protagonists. People who have come to celebrate the birth of Christ are more like drunken, cheerful party goers. They are dancing, singing, and making noise. Having drunken like fish, a man is lying on the ground.
The viewer is, however, suddenly made realize that all wine in the feast is, in fact, the blood flowing from the body of Christ on the Cross. Unexpectedly the feast is overturned: the passion and pain of Christ are the very source of wine in the feast. People who gather there do not realize what is concealed behind the joy and excitement of the feast. However, a sign which foretells the life of Christ is overlaid on this festive painting.
As is implicated in the Nativity painting above, Christ sheds his blood on the Cross [fig. 3]. The Cross here is strikingly high. People around the foot of the Cross are far below, and it seems as if we look down the ground from the rooftop of the five-story building. Christ on the Cross might ascend to the sky. Why did Michisei decide to depict such a tall Cross?
The angel on the left (whose garment is like a noble lady) is receiving the fluid from the side of Christ. The other angel on the right, what is she doing? She kneels down, turning her back as well as her soles to the viewer, and raising both arms. The intention of this posture is unclear. The waistcloth of Christ is somehow like a small tornado, and also unnatural.
We could find the prototype of this angel in one of Michisei’s drawings. It is a copy of Michelangelo’s fresco [fig. 4]. In the drawing, a medium holds an open book in her hands.
In the Michisei’s Crucifixion, the medium was replaced by the angel, and the book by the waistcloth of Christ. The trail of the waistcloth is blown from the below, drifting in the air. What for did Michisei adopt the posture of the medium to his angel? Did he simply want to imitate Michelangelo?
No, it is not a simple imitation. In Greek, ‘pneuma’ means wind as well as breath. Once God blew into the mouth of Adam and gave him life in the Old Testament. Likewise, God is sending his breath, blowing the wind of Resurrection into Christ on the Cross. Now he is dying on the Cross, but his Resurrection is promised. The angel looks clumsy at a glance but she is bringing the breath (wind) of God. The unnatural movement of the waistcloth, the conspicuous height of the Cross, and the awkward angel are to visualize the breath of God, which is otherwise invisible.
Michisei altered the traditional iconography of the Expulsion, the Nativity and the Crucifixion in his own way. Such alterations may be unorthodox. Nonetheless, such intentional deviations contribute to highlight the very core of the biblical story.
* Images from "Michisei Kouno. A Genius in the Taisho Period", Exhibition Catalogue, The Japan Association of Art Museums (Tokyo, 2008).Related Exhibition
|Last Updated on March 09 2011|