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Mystics, Shamans, and Visionary Arts  

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

Diverse theories and cases are associated with artistic expression attributed to mystical experience. To showcase variety as well as underlying commonalties, the intersecting experiences of mystics, shamans, and visionary arts builds on understanding shamanic altered consciousness in multiple time periods, attunement to nature manifest through art and sacred sites, and modernist impulses beginning in the 20th century. Cases range from prehistoric cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux to contemporary shamanic rituals of Siberia, from oracles, amphitheaters, and firewalking in Ancient Greece to the calendrical mysteries of Egypt, Stonehenge, Crete, and Mesoamerica. The cosmology-saturated paintings of Wassily Kandinsky and the mystical mountains of Nicholas Roerich can be productively juxtaposed, since these artists created resonating movements of global followers. For deeper analysis, insights of artists, including poets and epic singers, into their creative processes can be combined with analytical literature on spirituality and visionary arts. Focus on roots of shamanic consciousness and on cases selected from cultural anthropology and art history shifts analysis away from famous examples of religious art within organized religions. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian mystical traditions should be celebrated, but not at the expense of fluid and open-minded definitions of spirituality in the arts. This shifted gaze enables some conventional distinctions to be dissolved, for example, that between “art for art’s sake” and art that may result in individual and communal healing. In some interactive contexts of mystical artistic expression, distinctions between artists and their perceivers may also dissolve. In sum, mysticism and art are “eye of the beholder” phenomena. Experiences of mystics, shamans, and artists can be viewed as having significant interconnections without overgeneralizing about mysticism, shamanism, or the arts.

Article

Kabbalah in Art and Architecture  

Batsheva Goldman-Ida

Kabbalah (literally “the receiving” [of tradition]) is an early form of Jewish mysticism. Key concepts include the ten sefirot (heavenly spheres), the Hebrew alphabet, Shiur Qomah (dimensions of the divine body), the archangel Metatron, and the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of the Godhead). The main books of the Kabbalah, written in early antiquity, include Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), an early and major source, thought to be from the 3rd century ce, whose commentaries constitute most subsequent Kabbalistic literature and Sefer ha’Bahir (Book of Enlightenment), first published in the early 12th century. Both works discuss the ten sefirot and the Hebrew letters. Other works are the Hekhalot (Palace) literature, which includes the ritual praxis of “descending to the Chariot” and hymns recited in a celestial Temple, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the book of Enoch, and sections of the Dead Sea scrolls. In the Mishnah Hagigah (220 ce), two variants of Kabbalah are mentioned: the study of Creation and the study of the Heavenly Chariot. These two categories are linked to biblical prooftexts: the study of creation to the first chapter of Genesis, and the study of the Heavenly Chariot to the first chapter of the book of Prophet Ezekiel. Of the Kabbalistic treatises and texts written in the medieval period, the most important ones are the book of the Zohar (Splendor) by Moses de Leon (c. 1240–1305) and possibly other authors, and the writings of Abraham Abulafia (1240–c. 1291) and that of his student Joseph Gikatilla. The book of the Zohar is distinguished by a reliance on the ten sefirot, although couched in esoteric references, while the many books by Abulafia present linguistic mysticism with permutations of divine names. The former emphasis on the sefirot is also known from the ‘Iyyun (Study) Group in Provence, and Azriel of Gerona (1160–1238), whereas in works by the Hasidei Ashkenaz (German Pietists), led by Judah the Pious (1150–1217) and Eleazar of Worms (c. 1176–1238), numerology and angelology are basic tools.

Article

Conventual Visual Culture in Ecuador  

Carmen Fernández-Salvador

Women have been typically excluded from the study of colonial art from Quito, except for a few salient names, among them Isabel de Cisneros, the daughter of celebrated painter Miguel de Santiago. Other than Cisneros, indeed, other women artists did not sign documents such as contracts or testaments. More importantly, the artistic canon has focused on sculpture and painting, and thus women’s artworks, usually described as miniature, has been traditionally deemed as a lesser form of art. Other than Cisneros, however, there is ample evidence that other women engaged in artistic creation. Estefanía de San José Dávalos, a member of the Creole nobility, may have learnt to paint along with other arts such as singing or playing musical instruments. Estefanía entered the convent of El Carmen Moderno in Quito, where she probably continued to practice the art of painting. Sister María de la Merced, from the convent of La Concepción, in Cuenca, signed a painting depicting the Virgin of Mercy, while the Clarise nun Gertrudis de San Ildefonso may have practiced drawing to translate her visionary experiences, as an act of obedience to her confessor. As Estefanía, María de la Merced, and Gertrudis, other nuns silently made many of the anonymous works that are still preserved in nunneries. Artmaking was probably connected to Christian piety and devotion, as it accompanied spiritual exercises. Shaping a conventual visual culture, aesthetic similarities are evidenced between painting and other forms of artistic creation practiced by women, such as embroidery, manuscript illumination and the making of devotional objects.