Art is the Universal Language that Bridges Time and Space
I have been waiting patiently for the opening of a small show of paintings at the National Gallery by an Estonian painter, from Tallinn, MICHEL SITTOW. He lived from 1469 to 1525 and was trained in the Netherlandish Schools, perhaps in the Northern Renaissance lineages of Rogier van der Weyden, and later Hans Memling. One can certainly see similarities in their styles, one of minutely detailed portraits that bring a kind of hyper sensitive life to the faces of the portrayed.
But what interested me was not these historical depictions in the paintings of courtiers from the royal houses of Europe, but rather an energy that came out of TALLINN, ESTONIA, a place I LOVE. I wanted to see the art of one of her “native sons,” regardless of the fact he may have been formally trained by other masters in the Netherlands. I wanted to see HIM, the MAN, in the works from “back then”, because I LOVE PEOPLE NOW in Estonia. Connecting with HIM was like connecting with THEM, the ones I love NOW, in this time and space. And, I surely did that last Sunday with SONDRA at the National Gallery.
I must have strong Northern blood, because I love the cold and I love the detail of the Northern Renaissance painters. This painting held me mesmerized. The feeling of the fur collar; the delicate tiny pleats on the neckline of the white undergarment; the determined, yet kind gaze of a man almost poised in some solemn oath of allegiance, sworn on some holy book upon which the delicate fingers of his left hand rest; and the pointing to his heart by the other hand—all coming together in a most exquisite telling of LIFE. I felt so connected to my friends seeing this painting—to Pille, Rain, Marcus, Angela, Kerttu, Maren, Mari-Liis—through the hands of this Estonian master painter.
ART is the bridge over time and space. BEAUTY travels trough paintings and transcends all limitations. It brings the Universal to this particular moment of observation. It stops the MIND and catapults thought into a profound sense of gratitude.
This portrait, attributed to being Catherine of Aragon as a young woman, the first Queen of Henry the VIII of England, shows a kind of humble resolve. She was later divorced by Henry, for producing no male heirs, but during her life was loved by the people for her charity and sensitivity to the common folk. One can see the orderliness of her thought. There is a “subtle halo” of a shadowed circle, offset in the background behind her head. One cannot ignore the holy like qualities of such a person. She could be nearly “sainted” by virtue of her humble gaze downward.
In this moment can we see Her? She could be standing by you right now. What would you say to such a person? Would you have anything to say? The simplicity of her beauty is astounding. Could you see the simplicity of your own beauty? Your own resolve? Your own humble joyousness for Life?
Now this guy is a little more stern. A serious patrician or scholar in a kind of professorial gaze. Simple clothes. Down to business stare. Those Red Beads, almost like a “string of cherries,” what could they possibly be for? A fur collar, but not as opulent and tactile as the Spanish Courtier’s fur collar. That long and straight nose. A kind of determined frown, but not quite a frown. There is a hint of pervading holiness that MICHEL SITTOW cannot help but infuse in all the characters he paints.
This brings me to this statement about Art being the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE that Bridges Time and Space. We relate to what we are seeing, and we see what we have the eyes to see. Fortunately this man, MICHEL SITTOW, had the ability to capture in paint what took 500 more years to record with the camera. And we are the beneficiaries of his skill and artistry. The red beads of time, counting off, cannot anticipate this moment of holy encounter. BEHOLD THE MAN. He is here with us now. He is in the core of our hearts with his gaze of serious scrutiny.
Many of the SITTOW works are small, as you can see in this photo of Sondra and the Madonna and Child. All the more reason to appreciate the detail, and the intensity of the attention the painter gave to such a tiny corner of his world. But in PRESENCE, this corner has the stature of INFINITY. It grips you, and holds you mesmerized in this moment of artistic transcendence.
Offering an orb to her boy, the Mother of us all is giving us the fruit of our child’s perpetual innocence and care—for all time. Yes, one could say the Northern master painters painted the face of Baby Jesus to look like that of a young man instead, but the sentiment is intact. Innocence of the scene prevails 500 years later. I am uplifted by this offering of the orb of Life to the Savior of my Heart’s Desire. And I receive it.
Mary’s gesture of her hand holding the orb is most graceful. It is almost a “pinch” of palpable prolonging of that one moment. “I give you the globe of this universe, my child.” He grabs his toe with the right hand to ground his mission, and stretches to receive his destiny with the left hand of Divine Receptivity. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow in the form of our Divine Mother.
The last work noted in these “moments outside of time” is the Ascension of Mary. One could say it is “corny” and dated to the iconography of a Medieval naiveness and church propaganda. Angels don’t really exist in this way, and no one floats to “heaven on a cloud.” But, though it may be false to the dimensional science of the age of enlightenment, it is true to the “aspirations of our heart” to transcend the base struggles and pains of an earthly life.
We are “crowned in the glory” of our unlimited Holy Possibilities. Standing on the “crescent moon” of Divine Motherhood, would we not aspire in these times to an ascension of real life sorts? Though it be a “symbol of aspiration,” where would we be without these SYMBOLS? We may not quite “buy into” the winged victory of young girlish angels carrying us off to the coronation of our higher Self, but we could aspire to something more beautiful in LIFE, IN OUR OWN LIFE. And this is the real POINT. The beauty is here and now. MICHEL SITTOW transmits it just as powerfully now as he did back then in 1520 something—into our own bosoms as much as into the bosoms of the lofty members of the Royal European Courts.
ART bridges the gap of Time and Space, and transcends as well the boundaries of royal versus common delineations of class and economic status. The art for the Royalty is now the art for the People. Be it common or not so common, the Beauty is in the eye of the BEHOLDER. And all can nurture that gaze to see with the eyes of the present, outside of “time and space.” We can all receive the glory of the UNIVERSAL ORB of LIFE, of this world, given to us by the Holy Mother of the Universe, here in the Universal and Immortal NOW of Beauty that is all around us. Especially in these works of the Estonian painter, MICHEL SITTOW.