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In the passage we have already quoted, Coomaraswamy says that the early non-representational spiral has a meaning that is lost to us. The implication is that that meaning is symbolic of a religious mystery. But for Gleizes the meaning of the spiral lies in an act that propels the person making it, or the person contemplating it, into movement, or time. Since this capacity for movement and time is inscribed in our nature as human beings it cannot ultimately be lost - though we can lose intelligent consciousness of it. Again, Coomaraswamy, after evoking the spiral of the bishop's crozier in The Christian and oriental, or true, philosophy of art, continues: 'It is not by the looks of existing things but as Augustine says by their ideas that we know what we proposed to make should be like.' This is essentially the central idea of The Transformation of nature in art: the form is not copied from nature but it is copied from a divine original seen in vision as the result of a process of contemplation or meditation. It is still a representational art but in practise the representation becomes a highly stylised version of the forms found in nature.

That this is indeed how Coomaraswamy saw things is suggested in a letter he wrote in 1938 to Gleizes's pupil and colleague, Jean Chevalier, in which he refers to Eric Gill as 'the most important representative of that point of view which, in common with Mr Gleizes, interests you.' Gill is also associated with Gleizes in a note added to Coomaraswamy's essay 'Is Art a superstition or a way of life' when it was published in the collection Why exhibit works of art? grouping 'Gill, Gleizes, Carey and me' together as people assumed to be 'Mediaevalists'. [20]

[20] Jean Chevalier to Albert Gleizes 4/8/38 (Coomaraswamy's reply) and 4/9/38 (Gill's reply). Gleizes MSS, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris. Note on 'Gill, Gleizes, Carey and me' in Coomaraswamy 1956, p.86. 

Indeed we might suggest that those aspects of Gleizes's thinking that Coomaraswamy understood and appreciated were precisely the aspects in which his thought resembled Gill. In a footnote to his essay The Interpretation of symbols (not published in his lifetime) Coomaraswamy quotes Gleizes attacking the idea that history is a progress from 'barbarism' to 'civilisation' and continues:

'I cite these remarks not so much in confirmation as to call attention to the works of M. Gleizes, himself a painter but who says of himself: "mon art je l'ai voulu métier ... Ainsi je pense ne pas être humainement inutile"' (I have wanted my art to be a craft ... In this way I do not feel that I have been useless from a human point of view - my translation, PB). [21] 

[21] See note [13] above.

The emphasis on the artist as a craftsman, certainly central to Gleizes's thinking, is reminiscent of Gill, as is the importance Gleizes attached to a specifically religious motivation. Gill also shared Gleizes's interest in Romanesque art, and his hostility to the innovations of the Renaissance - all very much in line with both Gleizes and Coomaraswamy. But what Gill derived from Romanesque art was the stylised representation, not the rigour of construction, the manipulation of the purely non-representational power of vertical - horizontal - diagonal - spiral - arabesque - circle that Gleizes admired. Insofar as all that is present in Gill's work it is present as decoration, the essence lies in the stylised 'figure'. Neither Gleizes nor Chevalier were aware of Gill's work. After receiving Coomaraswamy's letter, Chevalier wrote to him and Gill sent him one of his books but it does not seem to have made a large impact in the Gleizes circle. We could imagine though that Gleizes would have found much to please him in Gill's writings, but he would certainly have felt that his art was still sentimental, still too firmly attached to the 'anecdote'.

Nonetheless, in his tribute to Coomaraswamy published in Krishna Bharatha Iyer's anthology Art and thought, Gleizes presents his own technique as if he is elaborating on Coomaraswamy's thought. Here and in his essay Spiritualité rythme forme he speaks as if he and Coomaraswamy had the same idea but that Coomaraswamy had seized it before Gleizes joined him and that it was only through Coomaraswamy that he realised that this idea was an integral part of a single world-embracing 'tradition'. But if my argument is accepted, Active Tradition of the East and West can be read as a criticism of Coomaraswamy's limitations, or at least an attempt to nudge him further in a direction Gleizes believed he was already headed. 'Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has severely condemned this aberration', he says, referring to the 'enslavement ... which gives all credit to sensible appearances to the point of depriving them of their symbolic value and of their power as images.' Thus far there is indeed a correspondence between Gleizes and Coomaraswamy. But Gleizes insists that the origin of the deviation lies in the 'iconographic figures' themselves: 'having wished to possess a significance of their own, they will have broken loose from their own interior structure of which, in fact, they should be only modalities.' [22] I see no sign that Coomaraswamy would have agreed with this or even would have understood what exactly Gleizes meant by 'their own internal structure'.

[22] Iyer 1947, p.250. I should perhaps note that Gleizes also says (p.246): 'Coomaraswamy, by giving me perfect enlightenment, by inviting me to share the fruit of his great learning, helped me to a better understanding of the treasures of my own heritage. Thanks to him the Christian rediscovered himself in a mood of integral understanding of the magnificence of the letter, of the telling power of the iconographic figures, borne out by what his own discoveries concerning the traditional act had in part allowed him to see.' I do not have the French original but here Gleizes seems to be saying fairly clearly that it is the ideological meaning ('the letter') not 'the technique of traditional act' that he found in Coomaraswamy That being the case the rest of the essay is about Gleizes's own discovery of the technique, not attributing any of it to Coomaraswamy. He concludes (p.250): 'If this has been my task, it is to Coomaraswamy that I owe the enlightenment without which I should not have been able really to turn to account this technique of the pure act ...' It may be that what Gleizes is saying is simply that Coomaraswamy enabled him to marry the 'technique' and the 'letter' ie to use a more or less conventional Christian figuration (as he did from the mid-1930s onwards) with a clear conscience.

What, then, was the basis of Gleizes's obviously very sincere admiration for Guénon and Coomaraswamy? What did he find in Coomaraswamy that he did not already have from other sources and from his own thinking? He had already argued at some length in La Forme et l'histoire - before the encounter with Coomaraswamy - that the principle he was defending could be found in many other cultures, that it was indeed the basis of all the productions of societies that were guided by a truly religious idea, implying what one might think is the basic contention of the traditionalists that the 'truth' in question was an objective truth common to all men at particular moments of history, whatever its local form of expression (Islamic, Hindu, Christian ...). 

I think that what Gleizes found exciting in both Coomaraswamy and Guénon was indeed this air of 'objectivity'. He had already had dealings with the esoteric philosopher René Schwaller de Lubicz and his friend, the poet Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz. [23] His most important intellectual influences were, I believe, the poet René Ghil and the 'psycho-physicist' mathematician Charles Henry. In the 1930s, at the time of his first contacts with Coomaraswamy, he was closely associated with the Theosophist and 'Naturist' Jacques Demarquette (who later met Coomaraswamy and contributed to Art and thought). But these were all impressive individuals expressing original ideas which could be interpreted as resulting from their own personal psychological development. Both Guénon and Coomaraswamy had the same impersonal character Gleizes himself was aiming for in his painting. Both repudiated any suggestion of 'originality' except in a strict etymological sense of a return to the origins. Gleizes told Coomaraswamy in 1945 that rereading The Transformation of nature in art he was 'verifying my own modest observations as a painter ... It is rather strange that my research, without specific guidance, has led me to the terrain of tradition. I was led to it without knowing that it existed. I thank Heaven for having introduced me to these regions and having permitted me to find there men like you and René Guénon. Your works give me great joy ...' [24]  He was not searching for individuals who might agree with him, he was searching for verification, for an objective criterion. And that in turn reflected the need, both as painter and as thinker, for a truth that existed independently of his own psychology, a truth of human nature other than and greater than his awareness of his own immediate selfhood, something to which he could aspire, a consciousness that the 'spiritual ' is something other than the psychological.

[23] There is a brief account of the relations with Schwaller de Lubicz in Adams 2004, p.37. Alibert 1990 p.207 says the meeting between Gleizes and Guénon took place in the home of Mme René de Brimonte, a close friend of Milosz. 

[24] Gleizes to Coomaraswamy 5/11/1945, translated in Lipsey vol iii, pp.222-3.

Gleizes occupies something of an anomalous position in the history of twentieth century painting - too traditionalist for the modernists, too modernist for the traditionalists. For Gleizes, as we have said, the great achievement of Cubism had been to restore the capacity of the eye to enter into an ordered contemplative movement, independent of the figurative iconography. This can be seen clearly in most of the work of the best known Cubist painters until the 1920s. Thereafter the course of modern painting spins off in a quite different direction. Only Gleizes and his immediate circle remain faithful to this idea of the mobility of form. I have had some contact with that circle and share their sense of its importance, both as the central idea that makes sense of the disruption of the post-Renaissance illusionist ideal of painting; and as a restoration of contact with an earlier, religious art; but for the moment it - and consequently the greatness of Gleizes's achievement - remains invisible to modernist (a term that I think embraces what goes under the heading 'post-modernist') and traditionalist alike.