The Eternal Essence of the Floating World

800px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_lacemaker_(c.1669-1671)

Johannes Vermeer, “The Lacemaker”

Lately, my thoughts have been spiraling around a deep need to focus, to cut off all the extraneous details by finding a focus of devoted dedication. In a painting by Vermeer that I have always loved and was lucky to see in the Louvre many years ago, a young lacemaker is utterly dedicated to her task. We are feeling the sheer density and gravity of the moment. Our eyes gravitate towards the centre of the painting with the V shaped threads that are sharp in focus as opposed to the rest of the painting, which forms a blurry background. But at the same time and quite miraculously, out of that gravity arise extraordinary lightness and luminosity, as if the moment was transcended and made eternal. A famous quote from Rilke’s letters comes to mind:

“…it is our task to impress this provisional, transient earth upon ourselves so deeply, so agonizingly, and so passionately that its essence rises up again ‘invisibly’ within us. We are the bees of the invisible. We ceaselessly gather the honey of the visible to store it in the great golden hive of the Invisible.”

“Letters on Life,” New Prose Translations by Ulrich Baer (excerpts of Rilke’s letters arranged by theme), Kindle edition

Every moment carries seeds of eternity. Like in another widely celebrated work of art – Utagawa Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo– the artist intensely focuses on the moment in space and time in order to experience the transcendent lightness of the Invisible breaking through the hard crust of matter. As an art critic wrote:

“Hiroshige’s vision is evident in the name he gave to this collection. Within the title, Meisho Edo Hyakkei—literally, ‘one hundred views of the famous Edo,’ the word meisho carries multiple meanings. The word means ‘a place with a name,’ but it implies that the named place contains poetic attributes. In other words, these ‘views’ are less important than their poetic associations are. Hiroshige chose to depict these views because of what they symbolize poetically and artistically. His woodblock prints are not postcard pictures, but rather visual allegories.

But unlike the Impressionists, who strove to depict the transience and immediacy of a single moment, Hiroshige instills his images with a poetic vision that renders them timeless. Hiroshige’s prints follow the tradition of ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating world.” Ukiyo-e embraces the Buddhist idea of the transience of the visible world and the impermanence of nature, an ideal that sounds like that which the Impressionist project attempted to achieve in its paintings. Unlike the Impressionists, however, the Japanese did not intend to depict this transience but rather to capture the eternal essence of each moment as it passes.”

Michelle Knudson, “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXXIV, Number 42, 29 March 2000, retrieved from http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/columbia?a=d&d=cs20000329-01.2.28&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——#

100_views_edo_101

Part of the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, no. 101, part 4: Winter, via Wikipedia

 

 

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18 Responses to The Eternal Essence of the Floating World

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Oh how lovely. The Vermeer and woodblock are stunning~

  2. Slartibartfast says:

    Monika another thoughtful and delightful post. I imagine one day having all of the wonderful images and words from this blog sequenced into chapters and bound into a hard-cover book. Such things may be easily realised nowadays with on-demand print technology (?)

  3. Jack Eason says:

    Give me the old masters any day of the week… 🙂

  4. Hi Monika
    thank you for that wonderfully acute, subtle commentary on The Lacemaker by Vermeer; he is one of my favourite painters. And I loved revisiting Rilke’s ‘bees of the invisible’ letter extract. Much needed inspiration in an especially dark time for our world this season of Advent. I’ll post the link on my 12th House Page.

    • Dear Anne,
      Thank you for your kindness. I love Vermeer, and I agree that this eternal perspective is something much needed amidst the current crises.
      In gratitude,
      Monika

    • As an afterthought, I have just come across another Rilke passage that I found amazingly timely: “I confess that I consider life to be a thing of the most untouchable deliciousness, and that even the confluence of so many disasters and deprivations, the exposure of countless fates, everything that insurmountably increased for us over the past few years to become a still rising terror cannot distract me from the fullness and goodness of existence that is inclined toward us.”

  5. Hi Monica I was prevented from posting the link on my 12th House Page – apparently the Privacy settings on the post blocked it.

  6. Jeff Japp says:

    Being able to focus… that is a challenge, especially in these times of limitless distraction. Reminds me that I need to meditate. 😉

  7. The ‘invisible’ can not be painted or written down, such attempts only show a glimpse of this matter. It is here and there, but where?

  8. Jude Cowell says:

    Reblogged this on Jude's Threshold and commented:
    Art and thoughtfulness…

  9. Maria F. says:

    What an exquisite artist Utogawa Hiroshige was.

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