Around 1135 St. Hildegard undertook a series of visionary symbolic paintings in unmistakable mandala-forms. It is unclear what her role was in these illuminations. Scholars have assigned her every role from being uninvolved, to directing others to create them, to being their direct creator. In an illustration included as a frontispiece, St. Hildegard is shown sketching on a wax tablet while dictating a vision to her secretary, the monk, Volmar. If she made the illuminations herself, no one mentioned it when writing of her life. According to Madeline Caviness, she may have sketched the outlines of her visions at their time, perhaps dictating their content simultaneously, and they were subsequently detailed.
In any case we do not know that she drew the pictures in Scivias. The manuscript containing them was lost during the destruction of Dresden and its occupation by the Soviets. What we see now are copies from the 1920s. Other manuscript illuminators had their own ideas of what her visions would look like.
|Anointed by the Holy Spirit|
In a time when women were not allowed self-expression, St. Hildegard used art for very specific communicative purposes. The pictures were thought to be as strong or stronger than the words themselves.
Most people are struck by the bright, strange illuminations in the original manuscript.
|6 Days of Creation|
Their jagged lights and castellated lines have encouraged hypotheses that St. Hildegard had migraines or temporal lobe epilepsy. Perhaps she did, but that explains nothing. She wrote of her visions, which on their own are far from transparent. It was in her long-meditated explanations that St. Hildegard’s genius lay.
Central to her paintings is the understanding of a ‘cosmic equilibrium’ and a reverence for all life. In her use of ‘quartering of the circle’ we recognize the four elements (fire, air, water and earth), an archetypal depiction also used by Native American sand painters for the four sacred directions.
Her concept of Viriditas, the Greening, was a precursor to our ecology movement. She described this power as the agent of the God, a divine vitality, that was the animating life-force within all creation. This ‘Greenness’ was the very expression of Divine Power on Earth.
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