Painting “The Last Kingdom” by D. S. Reif, Missouri, USA (Oil on textured canvas,  75cm x 100 cm, 2019)

           

In 1800, the year before his death, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), writes the poem, “To Tieck”.  It contains the following lines:

 

last kingdom thumbYou will proclaim the last kingdom

Which will last a thousand years;

You will find the abundance of being

And meet Jacob Boehme again.”(1)

 

  

The poet is envisioning an event where the “last kingdom” will be declared and we will meet Jacob Boehme in this enchanted future.  Perhaps not literally meeting in person but we will come face to face with with the philosophical corpus proclaimed by Boehme. 

            Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg 1772-1801) was one of the writers who would become famous for helping to establish the cultural movement in Jena, Thuringia (now Germany) that would come to be the informal philosophical association known as The German Romantics.  Kristine Hannak2 explores the influence of Boehme on artists who would inject Boehme into post-Enlightenment Europe.

            Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) was a Christian mystic and prolific author but his work was not given the attention it deserved within his lifetime. To some of his contemporaries his writings were enigmatic and arcane. Over the years his works found their way to Amsterdam, London (with the English Behmenists), and other centers of advanced Protestant and theosophical thinking.  When Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) introduced the poet Novalis to Boehme it not only changed his life but would change the world. 

            The concept of “the last kingdom” resonated with me from the first time I saw it.  The poet Novalis understood Boehme in a manner that I had not considered but was profound in its simplicity.  Novalis and his colleagues regarded Boehme as much a poet as a speculative theologian. “The most important transformation in the Romantic perception of Boehme is the understanding of Boehme as a poet.”3 The language of both religious as well as mystical texts are filled with metaphor, analogy, symbolism, and other poetic techniques.  Drawing the concepts of Boehme together with poetry was a sensible conclusion.

            The Austrian theoretical psychologist Herbert Silberer (1882-1923) observed this about Boehme, “This theosophist (Boehme) makes such full use of the alchemistic symbolism that we find it wherever we open his writings.”4 The language of alchemy is another parallel to poetry with a constellation of symbolism that can be interpreted in several ways depending on the context yet maintaining a meaning that is within acknowledged perimeters.  Put concisely the similarities between Boehme’s writings and symbolistic (Romantic) poetry absolutely scream at us through the vapors of history.

            The challenge for me was to create a painting that would convey the power of Novalis interpreting Boehme in the shape of an image without appropriating the concepts by addressing them too literally.  So I was driven to the world of symbolism and metaphor.  The holistic view of my painting, “The Last Kingdom”, was part of the symbolism.  The broken (or textured) surface of the painting style lends itself well to the theme of seeing the image in a poetic and softly defined fashion. 

            Our view of the painting is through the window of modernism whose slashing lines and distractions attempt to shutter our understanding. The image of a desert-like landscape could mean desolation or to me it represented a clean-slate or field of endless possibilities.  Upon it I placed the rich dark pyramidal form alive with ancient mystery and perennial wisdom which embraces the secrets of the Trinity. 

            This sets the stage for the glowing sphere of immortal creation floating above the horizon with its seven spirits of God illuminating the conceivable universe with the living Light and Divine Sophia. In a brief flash this is the vision I had when I first read the words of von Hardenberg. Somehow across space without time Novalis projected a vestigial reality so profound that it was able to cut through and reach me with the ewige Wellenlänge (eternal wavelength).

D S Reif

1 An Introduction to Jacob Boehme, Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, ed. Ariel Hessayon and

 Sarah Apetrei, (Routledge, New York, 2014), p. 162

2 Ibid., Boehme and German Romanticism, Kristine Hannak, pp 162-179.

3 Ibid., p.166.

4 Dr. Herbert Silberer, Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts, Dover, 1971, p. 170.

originally, Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik