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0luwatoyin vincent Auepoju
The Cosmos of Woilu Ait anu Coiielative Cultuial Foims (C0WACAit)
"Collaboiative Knowleuge Cieation"
A Bivision of
The Compcios Euucational Netwoik (CEN)
"Enuogenous Cognitive uiowth"
A Bivision of
Compaiative Cognitive Piocesses anu Systems (Compcios)
"Exploiing Eveiy Coinei of the Cosmos in Seaich of Knowleuge"






0sing the setting of the tenuei scene involving the Chiist chilu, his mothei
Naiy, the infant }ohn the Baptist anu a female looking angel insiue a cavein,
with the gentle tableau softly illuminateu by a small flow of light fiom the cavein
entiance, the Floientine mastei Leonaiuo ua vinci cieates, in his viigin of the
Rocks, one of the gieatest evocations of the feminine I have evei encounteieu in
any meuium, the veision shown heie being at the National ualleiy, Lonuon, the
othei being at the Louvie, Paiis.

Imagine placing }esus anu his mothei in a cavein, the cave being the piovince of
eaith centieu spiiitualities.

Beginning fiom that point, Leonaiuo cieates a unique vision out of an olu anu
much tieateu Chiistian, Biblical subject of the ielationship between }esus, the
Nessiah, anu }ohn, his foieiunnei, the two figuies being shown as chiluien,
evoking the unueistanuing that they weie uivinely uestineu befoie biith to play
the ioles they uiu as auults.

The painting encompasses foi me a mysteiious element, uifficult to explain, an
element that expanus its evocation of female centieu spiiitual iealities to
incluue the uncanny, a cential featuie in uepictions of gouuesses.

Nysteiy, as suggesteu by the cave¡unueigiounu setting of the scene with its soft,
semi-uaik lighting, the tenuei anu yet evocative silences of Naiy anu the angel,
two women, human anu uivine, theii iobes sombei anu majestic; mateinal
powei, evokeu by the sensitivity with which they iegaiu anu guiue the chiluien,
Naiy's hanu outstietcheu in a move suggestive of both beneuiction anu
ueclaiation, enables the painting to embouy a bioau stiata of female centieu
veneiation fiom many cultuies.

The two women in the painting coulu be ielateu to accounts of gouuesses
because of the vaiious associations the painting makes with a univeisal symbolic
language pointing to such associations.

Cential to these visual coues aie the cave setting anu the ciepusculai lighting,
contexts that suggest the aicane anu the esoteiic, anu thiough light, the
possibility of entiy into this mysteiy.

The cave may also take us to the nuituiing uaikness of the womb, iesonant in its
conjunction of the human anu the othei than human iepiesenteu by the life
animating the bouy of the chilu as the new human being giows in the womb.

Bumanity, uivinity, mateiial foim imbueu by a uiiecting mysteiy-these qualities
of the womb as cieative space foi biinging life into being may be seen as evokeu
by this painting by the Italian Renaissance mastei.

Anothei element evocative of the mysteiious is the looks on the women's faces,
expiessing, paiauoxically, both iemoteness anu tenueiness, an unhuman
elevation fiom the moment, togethei with a sensitivity to the caie of the
chiluien they uote ovei.

This paiauoxical look on the women's faces evokes foi me something of the
uncanny, a sense of something just beyonu the euges of my unueistanuing of
ieality, but not so iemote fiom it as not to uemonstiate a stiong appeal in the
contiast of the known with the stiangeness coming fiom the unknown,
iepiesenteu by these figuies in this setting.

The quality of the uncanny in Leonaiuo fiist emeigeu foi me fiom an
unfoigettable flash fiom a piint of Leonaiuo's !"#$ &'($ which a fiienu, Biothei
}ohn Naiie 0suiue, hau hanging in his ioom. As I lookeu at the painting,
the painting seemeu to momentaiily peel away its suiface to ieveal a ueepei
level not oiuinaiily uisceinible. At this level the placiu beauty of the suiface was
ieplaceu by something fiightening, unsettling, beyonu the scope of my
expeiience anu unueistanuing of life, something uisiuptive to my
assuieu univeise.

0n mentioning this expeiience to my fiienu, he tolu me he hau hau a similai
expeiience with the painting.

Bis keeping the painting on his wall is likely to have hau to uo with his own
piactise of the Chiistian veision of gouuess uevotion since he was an aiuent
uevotee of the viigin Naiy.

This sense of something mysteiious anu uistuibing in these Leonaiuo paintings
of women is akin to vaiious cultuies', aitists' anu wiiteis' expiessions of a
ielationship between the feminine anu the uncanny.

A cential wiitei in this context is the Fiench poet Chailes Bauuelaiie. Anothei is
the ueiman poet Rainei Naiie Rilke.

Rilke's )*'#" +,-.'-( begins with a uespaiiing ciy expiessing a feai of the beauty
of the angels, uesciibing beauty as the fiist glimmeiings of the teiiible.

Bauuelaiie, foi his pait, in "Bymn to Beauty", wonueis if the beautiful woman he
iefeis to comes fiom heaven oi fiom hell.

Bauuelaiie's peiplexity is miiioieu poweifully in Naiion Zimmei Biauley's
novel /0$11$2( +3',-4 in which, as a chaiactei enteis into tiance, a stiange
beauty emeiges :

"Suuuenly in the emptiness, a face sketcheu itself on my minu. I cannot uesciibe
that face, although I know, now, what it was. I saw it thiee times in all. Theie aie
no human woius to uesciibe it; it was beautiful beyonu imagining, but it was
teiiible past all conception. It was not even evil, not as men in this life know evil;
it was not human enough foi that...0nly a fiaction of a seconu it buineu behinu
my eyes, but I knew...."

This fictional account iesonates stiongly with a similai vision uesciibeu
by Nisanthiopic Shaman, iesponuing to a ieview on Amazon.com on Shambhavi
Chopias's book on the teiiible anu yet mateinal Binuu gouuess Kali, 5".'6
/-61-7( "8 70- )$19 :";-((
( Accesseu 29 Naich 2u14 ):

"I have hau somewhat fiightening meuitative expeiiences wheie I have ieacheu
a place of piofounu hoiioi anu beauty. I peiceive a Baik Feminine Foice, I uon't
know what to call hei (peihaps Kali, peihaps not). All I know is that she cieates,
anu simultaneously uevouis hei own cieations in an ongoing piocess of cieation
anu uestiuction. Somewhat alaimeu anu confuseu by these visions, I am
seaiching Binuu beliefs¡piactices to tiy to make sense of the expeiience."

Baviu Kinsley's masteily suivey of the uevelopment of the image of Kali fiom
teiiible, volatile gouuess to still teiiible anu yet mateinal gouuess in <0- /="1;
$#; 70- >,*7-?@$,' $#; @1(#$? )$19 A'('"#( "8 70- <-11'B,- $#; 70- /*B,'C- '# D'#;*
!E70",".E sums up such visions:

"The uivine as ievealeu to man oi appiehenueu by him, has always shown the
tenuency to suipiise, uelight, anu stun, to oveipowei man in ecstasy oi
oveiwhelm him with feai anu tiembling."

Leonaiuo's A'1.'# "8 70- F"69( exemplifies unfoigettably Immanuel Kant's
summation of a poweiful woik of ait as something that is capable of evoking
infinite associations, anu as something cieateu by the minu but which cannot be
fully unueistoou by the minu.

The masteily composition of the figuies in Leonaiuo's viigin of the Rocks in
ielation to the unusual setting, the ielationship between setting anu figuial
composition in the context of a balance between light anu uaikness, the
coiielation of facial expiession, gestuie anu clothing, enables this gieat
achievement unifying the beautiful anu the uncanny.


Image souice : Wikipeuia "viigin of the Rocks"
Accesseu 29 Naich, 2u14
(Thanks to Evelyne Buet foi uiawing my attention to the coiiect name of the
Fiench poet as Chailes Bauuelaiie)


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