The Shadow of the Sacred

Lucifer-Agostino Arrivabene 1997
Lucifero-Agostino Arrivabene 1997

The paintings of contemporary Italian artist Agostino Arrivabene are grounded in the techniques of the Old Masters and inhabit the timeless realm of dreams and mythological, religious archetypes. Against a  backdrop of either luminous darkness or apocalyptic landscape, figures that have haunted the collective unconscious for centuries or longer, Orpheus, Lucifer, Elizabeth Bathory, Persephone, enact sacred ritual dramas. Among  the memento mori lie the possibility of transformation and metamorphosis; an actualisation of becoming.

Arrivabene cites as influences the Symbolist Gustave Moreau, the master of the Northern Renaissance Albrecht Dürer and the Neo-Baroque/Kitsch artist Odd Nerdrum. Also discernible are traces of Max Ernst’s eroding mineral frottage derived inscapes, Giger‘s spectacular visceral transfigurations and Blake‘s sheer burning visionary intensity. In keeping with the Symbolist tendency towards drawing inspiration from literature elements of Ovid, Dante and Giordano Bruno are included within the occult and occasionally infernal worlds of Arrivabene.

Below is a selection of images showcasing Arrivabene’s unique art. For a more comprehensive view  please visit the artist’s website For details on the artist’s fascinating process visit the interview at the excellent Fulgur Press.

Sacrum Facere-Agostino Arrivabene-2016
Sacrum Facere-Agostino Arrivabene-2016
Prefica Mutante-Agostino Arrivabene-2014
Prefica Mutante-Agostino Arrivabene-2014
Rhitmus de die mortis-Agostino Arrivabene-2013
Rhitmus de die mortis-Agostino Arrivabene-2013
Il sogno di Asclepio-Agostino Arrivabene 2015
Il sogno di Asclepio-Agostino Arrivabene 2015
Ematofaga (Elisabeth Bathory)-Agostino Arrivabene 2014
Ematofaga (Elisabeth Bathory)-Agostino Arrivabene 2014
Crux Mystica-Agostino Arrivabene 2017
Crux Mystica-Agostino Arrivabene 2017
Proserpina ornitofobaoilo-Agostino Arrivabene-2011
Proserpina ornitofobaoilo-Agostino Arrivabene-2011
Angelo del Versamento III-Agostino Arrivabene 2016
Angelo del Versamento III-Agostino Arrivabene 2016
The Seven Songs of Orpheus-Agostino Arrivabene-1996
I sette giorni di Orfeo-Agostino Arrivabene-1996
Nozze Infernali 2-Agostino Arrivabene
Nozze Infernali 2-Agostino Arrivabene



Venus Descending

Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942

Watching from the balcony of the hotel room
as the heavens are roused from the operating table
after a long coma induced by a junkie anaesthetist
the wild eyed planets are out of sync, unaligned
dying stars radiate their baleful influence
motionless waves frozen smooth as panes of glass
we intuitively understand what this stillness signifies
so let’s down this bottle, the last of the champagne
negligently toss the empties onto the street
step inside, close the curtains, turn off the lights
hastily fumble with underclothes and clasps
you’re needling kisses are more suggestive
of bite marks and deep wounding scratches
that infect immediately with a vivid fighting fever
hopefully there is time enough left to stake
out exclusive territories of mutual antagonism
time enough for you to taunt me with infidelities
for me to tease you with my wanton indifference
to tie each other up in exquisitely painful knots
bound together by our hatred occasioned by passion
that exhilarates to the point of total exhaustion
let the world go to its doom, why pretend to care
about some misty future when we have this moment
a moment of sleek skins pressing each other slickly
a moment of merging mouths breathing in fumes
why lose this moment stretching towards eternity
when before we were alone on separate islands
calling out to each other as we stumbled and fell
over roots hidden in the treacherous undergrowth
this moment when we have discovered each other
if you move over a little and lie back I will continue
we still have time enough for one last big fight
before we fuck again, die a little death before
the grand operatic finale scored by some bombast
and as I repose supine I see you as Venus descending
with a movement fluid yet infinitely heart breaking
flaring up with a sudden intensity that I cannot contain
even as I hold down your head and grab the rope
of your tangled unruly tresses flowing over my thighs
and at long last I let the universe and everything
dissolve in the flash of illuminating blinding white light.

Cosmic Hotels


The shy, reclusive and self taught maker of shadow boxes and experimental films, Joseph Cornell , rarely left New York State, with the exception of a few college years in Andover, Mass, spending most of his life in a modest house in the beautifully named Utopia Parkway, Queens, caring for his mother and disabled brother. His artwork is filled with a yearning for the unobtainable ; birds with their freedom of flight, glamorous movie stars and ballerinas as the source of passionate, platonic romances and especially travel to the most luxurious and wondrous locations.

Hotels are a common feature of his shadow boxes, miniature visions of rest stops and trysting places for artistic, mythological and astrological archetypes as they travel through the starry Empyrean and the wastes of infinity.

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Pagan Poetry

Daria Endresen-2011

The self portraits and the eerie frozen landscapes, empty apart from figures engaged in disturbing occult ceremonies, of Norwegian photographer and digital artist Daria Endresen combine various elements from Nordic mythology, fetishism, Surrealism and a particularly Northern form of romanticism to skillfully evoke a mysterious Gothic, ritualistic dreamworld.

In this cold, isolated, sinister fairy-tale like realm she has managed to capture the essence of a pagan poetry long since disappeared from the world.

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A Heresy for the 21st Century: Nobodaddy

The_Ancient_of_Days-William Blake 1794
The_Ancient_of_Days-William Blake 1794

The strange, visionary genius of the English poet and painter William Blake, one of the touchstones here and the feature of a number of posts including The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Proverbs of Hell, Auguries of Innocence and Tyger Tyger, is of such depth and complexity that it has invited any number of interpretations, including, somewhat improbably in my opinion, becoming a standard bearer for atheistic humanism. That Blake espoused an idiosyncratic, Hermetic form of humanism is beyond dispute, however Blake was deeply religious, albeit in a unorthodox and heretical fashion, and was vehemently opposed to the materialistic atheism that was beginning to emerge during the Enlightenment, a period where quantity began to supplant quality.

Suggestions for possible sources of Blake’s dense and highly personal mythology have ranged from Neo-Platonism to Buddhism and although Gnosticism is mentioned in the melange, it has been sidelined to a degree. However I believe that Gnosticism (of a libertine variety) and Hermeticism are the two major components that formed the basis of Blake’s belief system.

The most notable element of Gnosticism within Blake’s art and thought is the idea of the Demiurge. In a conversation with Crabb Robinson Blake noted concerning the poems of his fellow Romantic William Wordsworth, “The eloquent descriptions of Nature…were conclusive proof of Atheism, for whoever believes in nature, disbelieves in God – for Nature is the work of the devil.” In the magnificent poem Tyger Tyger, the creator of the Tyger is memorably presented as a craftsman and the original meaning of the word Demiurge in Greek is craftsman or artisan.

In Blake’s art and poetry, the Creator, the Ancient of Days, is named Urizen (either Your Reason and/or To Limit from the Greek) or Nobodaddy (Nobody’s Daddy and/ or possibly an anagrammatized riff on Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit). Urizen is the representation of abstraction and reason who creates the universe with architectural tools and ensnares humanity in a web of conventional law and morality.  He constrains us in the ‘prison of the senses five‘ and is quite clearly identified with the Old Testament Jehovah and is definitely Satanic. Hence Blake’s anti-clericalism, priests are literally devil worshippers. Prophets, on the other hand, can ignite the divine spark within us, which Blake identifies as Imagination. Imagination allows us to escape from this cage of matter created by Nobodaddy, the Father of Jealousy who farts and belches in darkness and obscurity while enjoying a spot of ‘hanging & drawing & quartering/ Every bit as well as war & slaughtering’.

I sincerely hope that in the preceding posts in the series that I have presented the basic outline of Gnostic thought, though admittedly in my own eccentric way, with many regrettable gaps, omissions and lacuna. So with this information in mind we can proceed to the 20th & 21st Centuries, a time when new discoveries into the origins of Gnosticism and the rapidly changing nature of reality itself saw a remarkable resurgence of the oldest of heresies.