- The duration of speakers' papers will be 20 minutes each with 10 minutes for questions following.
Day 1 - Wednesday 25 September
8.00-8.50 Registration (Singelkerk)
9.00-10.30 Session 1 (Singelkerk)Welcome (Singelkerk)
Rosenberg (University of Vienna)
‘Mapping the Aura in the Spirit of Art and Art Theory: Blavatsky, Leadbeater, Besant, and Steiner’
In 1966 Sixten Ringbom made the first attempt to demonstrate in detail that it was the interest for esoteric movements (theosophy, anthroposophy) that gave painters such as Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian the decisive boost to the invention of abstract art. Ringbom thus attracted the attention of art history to the books of Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater's Man Visible and Invisible (1902) and Thought-Forms (1905) with their abstract representations of auras. Ringboms theses were ignored for two decades. It is the exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 (Los Angeles County Museum, 1986) that made them popular. Meanwhile his ideas are considered to be the most popular explanation for the creation of abstract art.
The similarities and the potential dependence of early abstract paintings and esoteric illustrations have been repeatedly discussed. However neither Ringbom nor any other art historian has inquired the sources of the abstract images in the books of Besant and Leadbeater. After some extensive research, I conclude that the starting point for these images lies in the confrontation with synesthesia. Synesthesia, a phenomenon that still is partly enigmatic, became fashionable for scientists in the 1880s in the nascent field of psychology. At the same time the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena P. Blavatsky developed the idea of an auratic egg, a multi-colored envelope of the physical body that can be seen by clairvoyants. This was useful to elucidate a phenomenon that academic sciences could not explain: The colors seen by synesthesia are the aura; synesthesia is a form of clairvoyance. Blavatsky did not give details about the colors and forms of the aura. It was only after her death in 1891 that leading members of the Theosophical Society attempted to give an exhaustive description of the Aura—first in essays, later in books: Alfred P. Sinnett in 1893, Leadbeater from 1895 on, Besant from 1896 on, August J. B. Marques in 1896. They made extensive lists about the significance of each color and gave explanations about the meaning of certain lines and forms. From 1896 they helped themselves with non-representational images.
I will demonstrate that the theosophical explanations about auratic colors and lines derive from art and especially from aesthetic theories that were popular among artists in the 19th century and particularly among the avant-garde around 1900. Recognizing that the source for the visualization of the aura lies in art and art theory enriches the understanding of the theosophical and anthroposophical system. At the same time this mitigates the importance of Thought-Forms for the genesis of abstract art. © Raphael Rosenberg 2013
Chair: Sarah V. Turner (University of York)
10.30-11.00 *Coffee break * (Singelkerk)
11.00-13.00 Session 2 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
13.00-14.00 *Lunch* (Singelkerk)
14.00-15.30 Session 3 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
15.30-16.00 *Coffee Break* (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
16.00-18.00 Session 4 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
18.00-19.30 Launch of Abraxas 4 (Fulgur Press), intoduction to the Friends of Theosophical Archives (FOTO) and welcome reception (Singelkerk)
Day 2 - Thursday 26 September
14.00-16.00 Session 5 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
16.00-16.30 *Coffee Break* (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
16.30-18.00 Session 6 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
20.00-21.30 Session 7 (Stedelijk Museum)
Admittance to the Stedelijk for Session 7 is
free to conference
attendees when you show your conference badge.
Members of the public
must register and purchase a ticket by visiting the Stedelijk event page.
(University of Texas,
view abstracthide abstract
One factor that made Theosophy appealing to many individuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that some of its doctrines seemed to align quite closely with contemporary science as it was understood by the general public. In the public sphere it was not until the early 1920s that Relativity Theory began to displace the reigning model of late Victorian ether physics with its suggestion of a meta-reality beyond the reach of human vision. In the years from the 1890s through the 1910s discoveries like the X-ray and radioactivity as well as the hypothesis of a space-filling ether, highlighted already by Madame Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled in 1877, complemented interest in higher unseen dimensions of space. Theosophists C. W. Leadbeater and Rudolf Steiner, for example, wrote or lectured extensively on the fourth dimension and the ether. Artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, and many others found critical inspiration in such writings, and their works are highly creative responses to this early twentieth-century milieu. This talk addresses these themes with the goal of recovering the context of both early twentieth-century science and the Theosophical interest in it that was central for a number of modern artists.
Chair: Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam)
Roundtable dialogue with artists and scholars
Theosophy and the spiritual in modern and contemporary art
Coordinated by Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam) and Sarah V. Turner (University of York) with the participation of Linda Dalrymple Henderson, Frederik Söderberg and Christine Ödlund
Day 3 - Friday 27 September
9.00-10.30 Session 8 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
10.30-11.00 *Coffee Break* (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
11.00-12.30 Session 9 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
12.30-13.30 * Lunch* (Singelkerk)
13.30-15.00 Session 10 (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
15.00-15.30 *Coffee Break* (Doelenzaal, UvA Library; Singelkerk)
15.30-16.30 Session 11 (Singelkerk)
Open Access session
Discussion led by Demetrius Waarsenburg (KNAW; University of Amsterdam) (tbc) with conference organizers, Marco Pasi and Sarah Turner
16.30-18.00 Session 12 (Singelkerk)
Keynote Address: Anna Gawboy (Ohio State
Christopher Scheer (Utah State University)
‘Synaesthesia imagined, synaesthesia revealed’
Synaesthesia is now technically defined as a neurological condition, but one hundred years ago the term described a large set of potentially overlapping scenarios involving multisensory correspondence. Theosophists and occultists viewed synaesthesia as a means to access esoteric knowledge or a higher spiritual state; artists premised their work on multisensory correspondence in order to transcend ordinary subjectivity and endow their creations with spiritual significance, aesthetes sought synaesthetic enlightenment in hallucinogens and art. I trace the clinical discovery of synaesthesia in the nineteenth century, its enchantment through the acquisition of an imaginary history, and its subsequent revelation and disenchantment in twentieth-century neurology.
These changing perspectives have distorted the reception of three notorious works of experimental multisensory theatre: Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, Poem of Fire, Wassily Kandinsky’s The Yellow Sound, and Arnold Schoenberg’s The Fortunate Hand. Conceived around 1910, these pieces de-emphasized conventional narratives in favor of a design premised on the correspondence between colored lights, music, and drama. Some scholars have imagined them as revelations of each author’s synaesthetic experience, but their aesthetic and philosophical complexity betray a constructedness incompatible with modern notions of the syndrome. I argue that, in each case, the use of multimodal correspondence owes more to sensory theories found in theosophy, anthroposophy, and symbolist interpretations of Gesamtkunstwerk. Because the original productions failed to achieve multimodal synthesis, these works gained their fame through critical literary discussion instead of actual performances. The irony of early “synaesthetic” artworks is that they were more stimulating to the imagination than to the senses. © Anna Gawboy 2013
Chair: Christopher Scheer (Utah State University)
20.30-22.00 Exceptional Concert with Luciano Chessa at the Italian Institiute of
(Keizersgracht 564) - Chessa will perform music by
G. Scelsi, G. Chiari,
R. Sender Barayón, S. Bussotti, and L. Chessa
(to register for this concert email firstname.lastname@example.org, be quick to avoid disappointment as places are limited. Entrance is free of charge.)