środa, 1 lutego 2012

Angel Dance or Sistine code?

Wiesław Gdowicz

While looking for solution of specific problem, it happens that I go away from the main issue, to take under consideration elements which are associated. This way, created side tracks which can be spread and looks like enormous, branched out tree.
About one of this branching – medieval conception about space of gestures – I’ve written in the first number of magazine TAKEME, reminding the figure of 12th century scholar Hugo of St. Victor. Abbot of Saint-Victor Monastery was convinced that there is a simple relation between gesture and its meaning – between invisible and visible. He drew up documents which are used to learn young monks about relations between invisible soul and visible body. He enlighten that gesture can be material, visual manifestation of invisible. This kind of thinking brings up desire for looking for the source.
Following up this rout – analyzing gestures with context of hole body – I pay attention to fresco which were made by Michael Angelo in Sistine Chapel. In this article I will describe project that I am conducting, which I have taken up to follow up my desire. I hope it will lead me to the source. To source of gesture.


Project Sistine grow up from conviction that the union of intuition and rational analysis is possible. I don’t try to answer for a specific questions – rather, I want to come under accepted schemes of interpretation, using different point of view which comes out from this union. The project is fulfill in six stages. The main idea I will present on example of four young men who symbolize the four elements: earth, fire, air and water and accompany the fresco “Separation of waters over the vault from waters under the vault”. More information about the project are on blog: http://projekt-gesty-sykstyna.blogspot.com/.


A. Theological and historical analysis of content of painted frescoes with context of chosen group of young men.

From enormous amount of figures on frescoes in the chapel I choose group of young men which are painted on the vault. They are painted as if they were outside the painted frescoes – you can say – between two-dimensional world of frescoes and three-dimensional world of observer.
Figures which have drew my attention are young men, holding themselves by scarves – illusionary tond made from bronze – showing the scenes from the Old Testament. Figures of young men Michael Angelo place around smaller frescoes. Around every fresco there are four figures. All figures of young men are twenty.
In the Renaissance Art were obeyed rules of grammar conformity of type of the defined idea with it representation. Idea of feminine gender were presented by woman shape, and the male gender by man shape. Idea of “night” in latin “nox” has a female gender. Michael Angelo show it - similarly as others figures – as a Man. It’s mean that young men which illustrated the episodes of Revelation, are mediating in God Revelation, so they are angels. In renaissance theology all spiritual powers are God’s angels. Things that are perceived – sensibilia – were shown by nude woman, the purely spiritual powers – intelligibila - by naked man.
Frescoes can be divided in three groups: first shows the world creation, second – creation of human and third – scene from Noe’s life. Figures of young men are placed around five smaller frescoes:
1. Separation light from darkness. Night, Morning, Evening, Day.
Night is beside morning, evening is beside the day. Night is vis-à-vis evening, morning is vis-à-vis day.
2. Third and fourth day of Creation.
3. Separation water over the vault from water under the vault. Earth, Fire, Air, Water. Earth is beside fire, air is beside water. Earth is vis-à-vis air, fire is vis-à-vis water.
4. Adam’s creation.
5. Eve’s creation. Justice, Bravery, Prudence, Wisdom.
Justice is beside braver, prudence is beside wisdom. Justice is vis-a-vis prudence, bravery is vis-à-vis wisdom.
6. The original sin and exile from paradise.
7. Drunk Noah. In this fresco the young men have no names.
I have gave them names: Young man 1, Young man 2, Young man 3, Young man 4.
8. The Flood.
9. Noah’s sacrifice. Melancholic, Phlegmatic, Sanguine, Choleric.
Melancholic is beside phlegmatic, sanguine is beside choleric. Melancholic is vis-à-vis sanguine, phlegmatic is vis-à-vis choleric.
Illustration 1 Water separation over the vault from water under the vault. Figures of Young men – Earth, Fire, Air, Water.

B. Psychological analysis of figures.

What and how express those figures in such or other position and gesture. What kind of gestures and body positions the young men are performing? Are this positions associated? What kind of meaning they have? How Michale Angelo was planning the gestures of painted figures?

C. Figure re construction in photo studio.

Precisely Photo reconstruction of young men’s shape. I don’t take photo of naked figures because their sexuality could lead a observer to other path, that is opposite to my intetions. I take photos of a young woman, which wear special cloths - the relevant elements of gestures are well seen.
Working on this project I cooperate with Agata, who is the visual character of this project. Apart from posing in photo and video sessions, her task is to get know very well position of every figure, an attempt to describe – basing on image analysis – “inside” state of a person and to perform sequence of movement of the figure continuously according to attached picture.

Illustration2 Figures of Young men chich symbolize the four elements.

Illustration3 Gosia, imitating the four elements.

D. Analysis of position of every body in space.

The figures can be grouped in different ways. One of the way, which I have chosen is space orientation of the figure in relation to reference arrangement and grouping according to body bend from left to right side.

Illustration4 Group of figures - orientation according to reference arrangement.

E. Conception of sequencial movement of figures as if they were performing a linear movement.

Gruping figures creates sequence of changes of body positions – as if they were an instruction of dance.
kod sykstyny-krąg ruchu-bezśrodka
Illustration 5 Circle of changes

F. Realization of such conception in photo studio - model and video recording

Illustration 6 Film scenario

I have started from position 12h and I have been moving in the opposite direction to the clock. The identifications are according to point A. Position record in the circle: 03w - 07m2 - 05mę - 03o - 09s - 01p - 07m4 - 09f - 05mą - 09ch - 01d - 01n - 05s - 07m3 - 09m - 03p - 05r - 01w - 07m1 - 03z03w.

Illustration 7 Position record is a type of film scenario – record of movement sequence

Probably the Hugo of St. Viktor, has right that gestures are the manifestation of invisible soul. Hole process of monk’s training was conducted in such way to shape the soul through specific movements, set of movement and their succession – that is gestures. Through this training they were aware that material gesture carries the immaterial content. Harmony that is form inside through gesture says about harmony. Using the rule of analogy – I look at the Sistine Chapel, as a place where immaterial content is manifestated in matter of iconic representation.

kod--ruch-www213pxtrimm It’s mean that the way of showing the figures, is some kind of reflection of immaterial author’s soul. When I was considering this issue, how Michael Angel was organizing his work with model or models – I came up with idea, that he could have some kind of vision of moving body in space. Finally the young men are pictures of angels, according to the renaissance theology. Vision of some kind of changeable postures and gestures extend in time and space. Specific sequence, that has been taken out from the hole sequence could be the young men presented on the vault.

Can the performed gestures be combined? Are the twenty young men an images in Michael Angel’s vision, when he was looking at empty vault of the Chapel? Did he see the Angel’s dance?

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