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Three things, then, to keep in mind - and I stress that this is not a history lesson. I'm not tracing lines of influence just pointing to things that were 'in the air' at the time.

1) Peter Lenz and his insistence that an ecclesiastical art had to respect the flatness of the picture plane and not attempt any illusionist tricks of perspective.


2) Wilhem Worringer and the distinction he drew between two types of art, one of them 'empathy', reflecting a lively, often idealised, appreciation of the appearances of the world both human and natural; the other 'abstraction', emphasising a non-representational, intellectually conceived geometrical approach.


3) a tension within French painting between a tendency that looked to 'Eden' - an earthly sensual paradise, and a tendency which proclaimed itself to be 'realist' but which understood reality to lie more in a large intellectual understanding of the world than in its external appearances. Both these examples are in fact by Gleizes. The first is his parody of a painting suitable for exhibition in the Salon d'Automne in the 1920s, the second is Project for the M[oscow] Station done soon after his return from the US. Still a big urban subject but with a new emphasis in the flatness of the picture plane.

We have brought the story to the 1920s and a moment when Gleizes believes that the universal reality painting can and should express does not lie in the representation of a subject but in a universal principle, and that the starting point must be the immediate reality the painter is dealing with - the flat surface, thus joining up with the concerns of Peter Lenz.

It was at this time that Gleizes began to form a 'school' - or rather, since Gleizes never sought pupils or disciples, a school began to form round him. It began with two young Irish painters, Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett, who came to his door and asked him to teach them.

Jellett and Hone were Christians, Anglicans who attended one of the very few Anglo-Catholic churches in the Church of Ireland. There can be no doubt that they recognised the essentially religious nature of what Gleizes was offering even though he himself was still far removed from any engagement with the Church. His circle included the physicist Paul Langevin, engaged at the time in the work of understanding and promoting the discoveries of Einstein, Paul Vaillant Couturier and Raymond Lefevre, engaged in the formation of the French Communist Party, and the specialist in Egyptian religious symbolism, R.A.Schwaller de Lubicz. Not to mention, according to Mme Gleizes, Teilhard de Chardin. Gleizes was particularly associated with two journals - Clarté, the pro-Bolshevik journal directed by the pacifist Henri Barbusse, and La Vie des lettres, later La Vie des lettres et des arts, directed by the poet Nicolas Beauduin, which could be said to be continuing the epic cosmic realist tradition of René Ghil.

It was in La Vie des lettres et des arts that Gleizes, forced  by his relations with Hone and Jellett to clarify his thinking, published La Peinture et ses lois. This is important as a first clear statement of the principles in the practise of painting he would continue to develop for the rest of his life, but it is also a first statement of an overall historical perspective that in some ways resembles Worringer's Abstraction and empathy and also Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, which appeared in German about the same time.

Spengler draws a distinction between 'culture' - essentially religious and poetic - and 'civilisation' - essentially materialist and technical. Culture characterises the youth and growth of a society, civilisation its old age and decline. Gleizes also saw history as a matter of alternating cycles very roughly coinciding with Spengler's culture and civilisation and Worringer's abstraction and empathy. Gleizes, however, uses the terms 'spatial' and 'rhythmic'. The spatial periods were concerned with the external appearances of things and their situation in a space thought of as external to the observer; the rhythmic periods were concerned with the internal life and movement of the spirit. The period from the Renaissance to the present day was a spatial period. The period of the early Christian Church up to the 'Romanesque' art of the twelfth century, was a rhythmic period. The break-up of Renaissance perspective in painting, the aspirations dimly articulated in Cubism, were among the first signs of the opening of a new rhythmic-religious age. Culture. Abstraction.

But note the emphasis on movement and rhythm. Where the liturgical art of Beuron is essentially, after its Egyptian model, hieratic and static, Romanesque art encouraged the eye to follow a dance of lines and colours. And in the first instance, Gleizes argued, this meant that the static verticals and horizontals of the initial rectangle had to be destabilised by the diagonal, by the tilting of the picture frame to the right and, to maintain balance, to the left. This was the formula that he called 'translation' - referring to the essential stability of the vertical and horizontal, corresponding to the hieratic painting of Peter Lenz - and 'rotation' - the destabilising effect of the tilting of the picture plane eventually facilitating the emergence of the curve, circle, spiral.

This is an illustration from Gleizes's book Form and history, published in 1932: 

It is taken from one of the prehistoric carved stones in Gavr'inis, Britanny, and Gleizes regards it as a classic example of what he calls rhythmic art in its pure principle. 

Since in his view human nature is a constant, the same rhythmic phenomenon will recur in different ages in different societies. Another illustration from Form and history based on Cimabue's thirteenth century 'Virgin with angels': 

And here is Gleizes himself, using a similar construction in a painting begun in 1924 but completed in 1934.

And on the next page, under the same title - Seven elements - is a version done in 1943. I take the view that this is the masterpiece of the twentieth century, the summit. I can't think of anything else that comes close to it. I would love to discourse at greater length on the process by which Gleizes arrived at it but I think I have to hurry on to what, after all, is the main theme of this talk which is the suitability or otherwise of this art as an ecclesiastical art.