Friday, May 24, 2013

Christian Sacred Geometry from the Holy Land - Octagons in the Form of a Quincunx

Christian carpet page.14th.century.palestinian

Following on from a recent look at the significance of the number eight in the liturgy, here is an example of geometric art that incorporates this symbolism. I discovered these images on the British Library website (which is wonderful resource for images of ancient manuscripts). These are from a 14th century gospel of St Luke made in the Holy Land.

It strikes me as a faceted variation on the traditional 'quincunx' design in which four circles spin out of one central circle. This shape has its roots in pre-Christian Roman culture, and then was adopted in Christian art, East and West. I wrote about this in an article 'The Quincunx - a Geometric Form of Christ in Majesty'.

I do not have information about the intentions of the artist, so am giving a personal interpretation here. This design seems to be loaded with an additional symbolism by using octagons rather than circles in the basic quincunx design, which has a fourfold symmetry.

Four symbolises the world and four gospels were chosen by the Church so that the Word was carried to  the four corners of the world by the four evangelists, each evangelists is symbolised by the four figures described as sitting around the throne of Christ in the book of the Apocalypse. Eight, many will remember, corresponds to the eighth day of Creation that ushers in the new covenant: the incarnation, death, resurrection of Christ. Sunday is the eighth day of the week.

In the basic repeat unit, which is repeated like floor tiles, we have, geometrically portrayed, four versions of the Word in the gospels (four small octagons) spinning out of one large one, the Creator himself, enthroned and in glory. This might be considered a geometric representation of the Christ in Majesty (also called Christ Enthroned) in which his emissaries, the Angel, the Lion, the Ox, and the Eagle representing the four evangelists, are shown pictorially taking the Word out to the world.. When you have four of the repeat units combined, there is long-range order which has a fourfold symmetry in which four large octagons surround the central, which is the broad design of this 'carpet page'. There is a beautiful harmony to this, and it seems to me to reinforce the superabundant truth of Eucharist: that through the propagation of his gospel in a literary description of his life, Christ in Majesty is really made present in the world in the liturgy of His Church.

As I mentioned, this is my personal meditation upon what I am seeing, so I could be reading more into this than the artist intended. However, as an artist, I would happily reproduce this design with the intention of incorporating this symbolism into it..

Images: below the images of the 14th century gospel, I have given the Thomas More College, Christ in Majesty to illustrate the point, painted by myself.


Christian carpet page.14th.century.palestinian

And finally, here is a 13th century Western Christ Enthroned, with the Four Evangelist taking the Word to the World, presented pictorially and below that the traditional quincunx in the Western medieval form of the cosmati pavement as seen in many churches in Rome:

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