Buch La Cathédrale de Monet

Yadegar Asisi. 360° Panorama

La Cathédrale de Monet / Yadegar Asisi. Berlin 2020.
La Cathédrale de Monet / Yadegar Asisi. Berlin 2020.

Sprachen: Frz./Engl.

Erscheint anlässlich der Eröffnung des gleichnamigen Panoramas von Yadegar Asisi in Rouen.



Berlin, Deutschland



Seite 8-17 im Original

[Englische Fassung]

France has been the land of the metaphysics of light ever since the 1140s, when Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis brought the divine light of heavenly Jerusalem to earth with his revolutionary architectural ideas for the choir of his abbey church. In order to gauge the grandeur of Suger's ideas, it is worth remembering that Christian purists of the time rejected any kind of human embodiment of the divine light as an insult to the fundamentally unrepresentable sublimity of God. They believed that spirituality can only be revealed through words and must therefore be limited to conceptual thinking. Suger, however, was convinced that the Word must become flesh, as stated at the beginning of the Gospel of John. Incarnation in the modern sense refers to the necessity of embodiment – we must accept that there is no such thing as unembodied thinking. This remains valid even when thinking threatens to become dogmatic through becoming concrete.

Suger's vision of the inner-worldly, earthly representation of heavenly Jerusalem through an embodiment of light was spectacularly realised through the completion of the large windows conceived as visions of paradise. The sunlight streaming through the windows elevates the colours of the stained-glass window motifs to an ethereal level of radiance. In everyday life, colours had only been perceived relatively dimly as a reflection of light on bodies. Since Suger’s invention spread from France to Central Europe through the architectural designs of Gothic sacred buildings, Europeans experienced colour for the first time as an overwhelming experience transcending everyday life. This marked the birth of painting. Ever since then, we can define painting generally as the metaphysics of colour.

Returning to modernity, in 1975, the leading science theorist Sir Karl Popper and the Nobel Prize winner for neurophysiology Roger Sperry discussed Suger’s ideas in the book The Self and Its Brain. Suger’s ideas were eloquently confirmed: there can be no such thing as nonrepresentational thinking. Material, mental, physical and metaphysical conditions form a unity through the feedback of thoughts, ideas and visions to the material world, because thoughts can only have vitality and effectiveness if they are made tangible. And this process of appearing or becoming apparent is the origin of the concept of ‘gloire’: to emphasize an event, to present it as significant by elevating it to the status of a phenomenon in the light of the history of salvation, the history of ideas or the history of the world. The Latin ‘gloria in excelsis deo’ was secularised to refer to the gloire of those who know how to praise the greatness of an event. Even the term ‘enlightenment’ itself – or éclaircissement in French – contains the basic meaning of ‘shedding light onto something’, as one must illuminate an object under the microscope in order to be able to recognise it.

Painting with light

In the 19th century, after Viollet-le-Duc had very effectively implemented his vision of the Gothic cathedral as a cure for the destruction caused by the Reign of Terror, the metaphysics of light from the Gothic Middle Ages began to fascinate those working in the field of ‘scientific progress’. They studied the consequences of the invention of photography as well as the science of the phenomenon of light. The Romantics were particularly interested in the compatibility of Christian theology and modern natural philosophy, which was now known as the natural sciences. Was it possible to replace God, the Creator with the creative laws of nature and thus establish ultimate legitimisation? For the first time, the speed of light was measured and defined as an absolute quantity, and the question was debated whether the discrepancy between light’s wave-like and particle-like characteristics in fact reflected the historical confrontation between theology and natural philosophy.

The creative power of light, which the camera obscura phenomenon had previously only been able to reveal for brief moments, had now been rendered permanent, through photography, as divine light writing. Heliography and photon graphics could be translated into pointillism on the one hand and brush-scrolling on the other, which made contemporary painting techniques particularly qualified to reproduce atmospheres and moods. This is how Impressionism was defined in the second half of the 19th century. Interestingly, it was specifically experiences that created a sense of movement in the mind through perception – as fleeting impressions, or figments of imagination – that attracted widespread attention. In pictorial works, painters expressed this inner movement through imagination.

With the advent of bourgeois tourism, people developed a feeling for the geopsyche, i.e. the influence of landscape on people’s minds. Very quickly a ‘change of scenery’, i.e. the deliberate change of one’s usual living environment, was prescribed as a form of therapy for mental and physical illnesses. And thus the creators of pictures – painters – became agents and assistants of general recreational programmes. It is therefore only natural that painted representations of the therapeutic powers of these magical health spas should be able to bring about a change of perspective, attitude and outlook. It was obvious that artists, for their part, had come to appreciate their change of location – or their ‘search for motifs’ as they traditionally called it – as an inspiring influence on their work. Since the advent of landscape painting in the 16th century, it has been known that landscapes are not preconceived in nature, but rather represent ensembles of natural elements that have been transformed through perception. Painters are highly sensitive specialists in the process of transforming bush and tree, hill and valley, or water and stone into imaginary spaces, landscapes, or attractive illusions. And indeed, therapeutic effects do arise from the power of these visions.

La Cathédrale de la Peinture

For the creators of therapeutic landscape paintings, there were two technical developments that helped them to be able to paint not only in the studio, but also under open skies. One was the invention of aniline paints, available for immediate use in tubes; the other was the development of portable stretcher frames. Changing one’s location in order to access ever new motifs was par for the course. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, who was after all the most important open air thinker of his time: ‘never trust a thought that didn’t come by walking’. Changing location meant changing perspective and consequently became a driving force for the whole activity. A change of location is naturally associated with a change of light, because the process of encountering the motifs during the course of the working day outdoors changes the lighting conditions in a striking way. A change of location becomes a change of light, i.e. a change of perception, when the artist keeps their geographical position constant throughout the day.

Standing in Monet’s shoes

Claude Monet developed this method systematically by observing different sets of motifs in changing daylight over a long period of time and deriving mood variations from the different light characteristics. Confronted with the motif, he was able to generate highly nuanced emotions in himself in order to then record them as moods in his paintings. The concept of mood originates from the world of theatre, where it was essentially only after the introduction of electric stage lighting that the audience’s perception could be guided beyond the traditional claireobscure contrast. Monet tested this translation of moods into a psychodynamics of painting in front of a motif, regardless of whether it was an avenue of poplars or haystacks or a cathedral.

Monet has a magnificent artistic instinct for the ‘lingua mentale’, or mental language. In the numerous variations of the motif of Rouen’s Gothic cathedral, the master painter succeeds in translating local colours into painting under the influence of light, marking the pinnacle of plein air painting. It is not clear to what extent he was subjectively motivated by the history of the metaphysics of light in his choice of the cathedral motif. But objectively we need to accept this connection – not least because the power of the subject is so great that the motif cannot be relativised as just one of many possible choices. Nor can we necessarily assume that Monet wanted the colour veils in the cathedral depictions to be directly reminiscent of the light effects of the fire that forced Joan of Arc to separate her metaphysical soul from her physical body in the marketplace of Rouen on 30 May 1431 – just as Monet taught us to distinguish painting from the mere representation of coloured objects, i.e. local colours. It is also open to individual interpretation whether the shifting views of a cathedral might be seen as mirroring the change in historical attitudes towards the church as a secular institution and mediator between physics and metaphysics.

Regardless of how potential visitors – whether Rouen tourists or Monet admirers – might have resolved such questions for themselves, now they are about to be given an opportunity that no visit to a Monet exhibition, or indeed the cathedral itself, has ever been able to offer. Yadegar Asisi, a renowned master of panoramic imagery, is now providing far more than cinematic fisheye perspectives or virtual reality glasses are able to – namely, the most remarkable visualisation effect since the invention of the central perspective in the early Renaissance. The central perspective enables the viewers standing in front of a painting to position themselves exactly in front of the construction centre of the pictorial space. But the viewer can only grasp the space with their eyes. The painting remains opposite them in a different object plane than the one they represent themselves.

The panorama allows viewers to enter the picture as if the ontological status of the picture and the viewer were the same. Until now, only dreamers have had the possibility of immigrating into pictorial spaces as if they were imaginary. Now Asisi is making it possible for viewers to dream with open eyes in an overwhelmingly impressive real experience. The viewer can log into the painter’s changing perspective and navigate the enormous discrepancy between the life of a picture and the creation of a picture without falling prey to any cynicism and atheism towards the medium of painting.

Landscape painting, whether in urban interiors or in the open countryside, is necessarily linked to the distance between the observer and what is viewed, even if the depiction has a strong psychoclimatic effect. In Asisi’s panorama, this distance is eliminated and the viewer is completely and fully absorbed into the painting. Viewers can walk around in the picture or pause for a moment to reflect, just as they would in real life. Asisi uses the scale of everyday experience to portray every one of Monet’s movements in front of his subject over a whole day, transforming cityscapes in local colours into paintings of light – or ‘Lichtbilder’, to use the traditional German word for photography. And just like a ‘Lichtbild’, a perception of the world is created that is so overwhelming that one wishes it were permanent, beyond all historical change.

The Asisi panorama offers a real-life experience of Rouen around 1900, although the reality of that time barely exists anymore: there are still buildings that represent historical reality, but the subjective experience of reality as experienced by people of that time can only be simulated. Thus the walk through the panorama becomes an experiment in psychoarchaeology. For the Monet era, this has only existed in reality through words in the novels of Marcel Proust. The experience of Monet’s world has so far been limited to viewing his paintings. In the panorama of Asisi we do not have to stop in front of the paintings, but can immerse and integrate ourselves in that world as an image.

In the panorama we experience ourselves in an intermediate realm between actuality and reality, between the objective world and subjective experience: we move along the image bearing canvases at different height levels, fully real, under the perception of gravity, and yet still have the feeling of movement as when dreaming. The panorama appears as if there were no difference between dreaming and being awake.

The fascinating question remains as to the extent to which visitors can reconcile their real-life experience in the Monet panorama with the way they view the paintings in museums. Now we know why tourists complain when the actual holiday fails to exactly match the advertising brochure. In Rouen, we will find out whether the viewers standing in front of Monets in the museum are as passionately captivated as they are in the panorama. This question is intended to explore the relationship between impressions and expressions – after all, it is Monet, in particular, who is known as an Impressionist. But in order for him to be able to show what impresses him through perception, as every person does, he has to be able to express himself. It is an intrinsic effect of linguistic or pictorial expressions that we are paradoxically accustomed to seeing those things that impress us only as a consequence of our ability to express ourselves. In this respect, too, the panoramic experience offers an opportunity for viewers to perform self-experiments. However impressed they may be, they will only know this when they have learned from Monet and artists in general what impressions can be achieved through the power of expression.

Asisi’s panorama

is an homage to the actions and works of the French impressionists and above all, Monet. With his series of cathedral paintings, he created a unique example in art-historical terms of the triumph of painting over local colours – the colours of our everyday perception. In this way, Monet reveals France to be a country of longue durée, in which over course of centuries, history becomes the present. In the aforementioned world of Suger, Monet's (re-)invention of painting was treated as a problem of universals: red lips exist, as do red clothes, red poppies and red wine. The question is: is the redness, i.e. the redness that is common to all of these things, real in the same way that these red things are? Does love itself really exist in the same way that we recognise loving people as real? Do universal concepts such as friendship, love, faith, freedom, glory, painting, art exist in the same way in the world as the people who grasp their world through these concepts? Or are they only flatus vocis of the imagination? Twentieth-century modern art has long since confirmed on all levels that the general concepts are real in the ‘lived world’. Monet and the French Impressionists have given the art world the assurance that the term ‘painting’ denotes an independent reality that only has marginal contact with the colours of nature. Since then, painting has referred to the world of the mind, to the lingua mentale, which fundamentally determines all our world relations. Pictorial representations have existed at all times in all formats, materials and colours. Image production techniques have been highly developed for thousands of years. But painting is an achievement of recent European art history, just as the rule of law, the welfare state or parliamentarism are only late creations evolved from ancient techniques of organising the coexistence of people. Since the 15th century, the idea has been gradually emerging that painting is an independent field of mental activity. Monet provides one of the most important justifications of this view. Asisi pays homage to this achievement by making visible – and tangible, as gloire – how the invention of painting has contributed to the honouring of human thought.