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This spiritual, religious technique, of which the examples I have given are taken from Christianity, belongs to tradition insofar as tradition goes beyond Christianity, as the beginning of the world goes beyond our particular age. The evidence is before us which outweighs all the arguments. It is that which explains those mysterious carvings on numerous Celtic stones, in France, in Ireland, in Scotland, and more or less everywhere in the West where concentric curves interweave endlessly. In my book Form and HistoryI have given numerous examples of these graffiti that have until now seemed to be inexplicable. I have even shown the undeniable identity of construction and of spirit which exists between the combinations of cadences and rhythms of a Celtic stone found at Gavr'inis in the Morbihan and the cadences and rhythm of the 'Virgin with Angels' of Cimabue which is in the Louvre Museum. When one knows that this technique derives from the imitation of nature in its manner of working, everything can be explained and understood. There is nothing about such correspondences that is out of the ordinary.

Carved stone from Gavr'inis, Brittany, Virgin with Angels by Cimabue.
Illustrations from Gleizes: La Forme et l'histoire.

It is this that we find, just as we do in our Romanesque sculptures and our mediaeval wall-paintings, in a host of works which show the same spirit in the East. I have presented analyses of these in Form and History and in Homocentrism. The parallel is striking and easy to explain.

Let no-one accuse me of wanting to be too syncretic. There is no question here of an intellectual thesis but of certain objective realities. It is the works that bear witness, and with such eloquence! Is there any reason to complain if the states of mind which gave rise to them, stimulating the same techniques, should, for all their differences, be seen to have much in common? Do not the religious, Catholic works of art produced from the Renaissance to the present day evoke unavoidable analogies with the works of art of the classical ages of Greece and Rome? Do we not find in the East also, starting from a particular moment in time, works which bear a striking resemblance to those of the Renaissance and of the Hellenic and Roman classical periods? To state as much is not to express any desire to bring about a confusion between differing philosophic doctrines. It is not any offence given to the truth if we say that the explanation can be found in a common attitude derived from an identical state of mind. In fact it is truth itself that demands that we recognise by their characteristic signs the manifestations of the RHYTHMIC PERIODS and, equally by theirs, the manifestations of the SPATIAL PERIODS, which always resemble each other in all places in all ages.


The contradictions that disturb the principles of an officially recognised technique, their persistence and their ever increasing vigour, are the signs by which a decisive change in the state of mind of an epoch can be recognised. The transition from a rhythmic period to a spatial period - from a state of mind that understands nature in its manner of working to a state of mind that understands it only in its effects - can be seen in the disturbances undergone by the techniques of the different crafts. In the twelfth century, we see the growing importance, and the individualisation, worked out on the basis of principles derived from antiquity, of the figurative elements, which, more and more, tend to evoke the appearances of things as experienced by the senses. Although the rhythmic technique is never questioned, it never ceases to dominate the work, the scenery in which the action takes place begins to attract the painter's or the sculptor's attention more than it had in the preceding centuries. Already, the representational elements are derived more from observation than from memory, which had previously been all that had been needed for the evocation of sensible images, considered as accessory and as having to be deprived of seduction and charm so as not to hinder the movement of the soul towards God. In the twelfth century, this law is still respected and no-one thinks of questioning it. But, all the same, no-one protests against the ever more lively advance of the figurative aspect and of its appearances which are ever more accurate, offering an ever greater satisfaction to the senses. The Kings of Judah on the royal doorway of Chartres are outstanding proofs!

King of Judah from the Royal Doorway, Chartres, illustration from La Forme et l'Histoire, together with Melchizedek, a later sculpture from the North transept.

They are marked by the last rays of a light that is fading. In the twilight that is on its way and which is all the more developed in the thirteenth century, the figurative appearances are enough to show that the pact has been broken. The rhythmic technique, with its successive stages harmoniously arranged in a hierarchy of values, is no more than a memory. Barely does this memory convey a certain nobility of style to the effigies that are drawn wholly from the spatial technique, the exact expression of the state of mind that is in the ascendant and that will, more and more, be governed by the senses. The proof can be seen in the difference between the figures of the royal doorway of Chartres and those of the lateral doorways. Later it is still possible from time to time to find reminiscences of the rhythmic technique. They can be found even in the fifteenth century - the Virgin in the Rainbow in the Triptych of the Master of Moulins, for example - but its period of domination is certainly past, and that of the spatial period is well established. In the thirteenth century, the period of the Summa (which attempt to settle accounts with the earlier period), Saint Thomas, writing on the problem of religious art in his Summa Theologica, recalls the old order and reveals nothing of the thinking behind the art of his own time, which is, more and more, freeing itself from the traditional, Christian, popular and, as such, metaphysical technique. What St Thomas puts down on paper is what was taught by word of mouth and through practice in the workshops of the preceding centuries and, in doing this,he is at one with all those who are doing the same thing in other fields. Étienne Boileau, who writes down the statutes of the corporations which, up to that point, had been passed on by word of mouth; Vincent of Beauvais, author of the Speculum Maius in which all the reflexions of a caste of mind which has already disappeared into the past are fixed and frozen; there are many others also, drawn to the same task of retrospection, but it would be unwise to regard them as representative of the mind of the thirteenth century, which is already engaged in suppressing the religious tradition and entering upon an opposite path which is orientated uniquely by the requirements of the senses.

Central panel of triptych in Moulins cathedral, France, c1500

This transition from the rhythmic technique to the spatial technique did not take place behind closed doors. The moment one becomes conscious of the two casts of mind which alternate regularly through the history of human civilisations and of the technical principles they determine, one can recognise, each time one comes across them, the marks of the transition from one to the other. Nothing is more instructive in this respect than the album prepared by Villard de Honnecourt, an architect who lived towards the middle of the thirteenth century. Certain leaves - plates XXXIV, XXXV, XXXVI - show strange figures which are born, not from the self-assured imagination of the master-builder, but from his doubts and aspirations. 

Illustration from La Forme et l'Histoire

Here we see him trying to justify logically what has been demanded by the new position that is being adopted as the basis of his work - the position which puts that which can be appreciated by the senses in the dominant position; and his justification cannot satisfy him until he is able to evolve the new technique out of the conditions imposed by the old; the sketches of translation/rotation,

 (12) of surfaces and lines which are very geometrical in their nature, relegate the cadences to the background of the construction without, however, doing away with them. As for the rhythm, the form is born out of the geometry, taking advantage of the possibilities it offers, and one sees the emergence of figures - unadorned and greatly simplified - images which, without too much effort of the imagination, can begin to assume all the appearances of the things of the world.

(12) Technical terms developed by Gleizes in Painting and its laws. 'Translation' is static, based on the vertical and horizontal, 'rotation' launches the eye into movement beginning with the inclination of the picture plane diagonally to the right and/or left.

The further we move away from the twelfth century the less important become the cadence and the rhythm in their own right and the more stridently the spectacle is asserted. All that remains of the spiritual technique based on movement is, perhaps, the continuation of a certain agitation evoked more because the eye still needs it than because it belongs to the logic of things. This is what explains the multiplicity of perspective points in a single painting which the commentators of the future, by reason of the premises on which their thinking is based, will see as proof of ignorance because it looks like a first clumsy attempt at that science of perspective which, finally, in the fifteenth century, was to adopt, definitively, the single perspective point.

 (13) At that moment we can say that everything of the rhythmic technique has been lost, right down to the objective manner in which it arranged the space of the painting. In fact, in a spiritual, religious painting, it is the wall itself that constitutes the space; the extensions and divisions made by the planes and lines change nothing of what is already there, supporting them. They organise its time into cadences; the eye runs over the surface like the legs of a walker going from place to place over the plane surface of a particular piece of ground. The transformation of extension into rhythm is real, objective; it can be seen and touched. Of quite a different nature is the space of a picture that is offered as a spectacle - subjective, based on nature considered only in its effects. Single point perspective will stop the man who enjoys going out for a walk in his tracks. It demands only a spectator. The wall crumbles and a hole appears in it. Don't move, otherwise the illusion will vanish. The Renaissance has cast over its walls marvellous spells to hypnotise the senses. It was the songs of the siren that carried all before them. The West dreamed without sleeping an extraordinary adventure in space. Real life, it seemed, was only now about to begin. The past became a dead letter and even just to remember it was frightening. But, after a thousand troublesome ups and downs, of hopes too often disappointed, after having often thought that one was on the point of reaching the longed for object and having seen it vanish in the unreality of a mirage, have we not now reached the point at which, at the very basis of this state of mind, troubling contradictions are beginning to appear? They can be seen everywhere, disturbing everything, whether it is in philosophy or in the sciences or in the arts. Might it not be that the time is come when the classical age based on space must give way to a new age based on rhythm? In any event, the transition will not be sudden. The change will take place more by insinuation than by any abrupt transformation.

(13) 'I have shown elsewhere, in Art and Science for example, that Cubism, in opposing single point perspective. restored to sight its living characteristics. The eye is in fact an organ which when stopped creates space and in movement creates time. It is centred and it realises extension; it senses the fluctuations of a cadence and a rhythm and it realises periodical time and continuous form. When we recognise this, we can then understand how Cubism has to a large extent helped in the recovery of 'Man' that is talked about a little everywhere these days - and that people are still searching in the SUBJECT instead of recognising him in his own OBJECT, in his role as Man, consequently as 'living man', rejoicing in all his faculties put into action.' - Note by Gleizes

See Gleizes: Art et Science, Moly Sabata, Sablons 1933; La Presse Universitaire, Aix-en-Provence 1961. Also Art et Religion, Art et Science, Art et Production, Editions Présence, Chambéry, 1970. In English, translation with introduction and notes by Peter Brooke, as Art and Religion, Art and Science, Art and Production, Francis Boutle publishers, London, 1999.