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Im Angesicht des Ewigen | In the Presence of the Eternal
HERBERT BOECKL Wandmalerei / Mural painting, 1952–1960, Freskomalerei / Fresco painting, Engelkapelle, Benediktinerabtei Seckau. Nordseitige Stirnwand / Front wall to the north: Offenbarung / Revelation. | Diözese Graz-Seckau/H. Jesionka
HERBERT BOECKL Wandmalerei / Mural painting, 1952–1960, Freskomalerei / Fresco painting, Engelkapelle, Benediktinerabtei Seckau. Südwand / South wall: Jugendlicher Weltenrichter / Juvenile Judge of the World.
HERBERT BOECKL Wandmalerei / Mural painting, 1952–1960, Freskomalerei / Fresco painting, Engelkapelle, Benediktinerabtei Seckau. Ostwand / East wall: Knecht Gottes / Servant of God.
HERBERT BOECKL Wandmalerei / Mural painting, 1952–1960, Freskomalerei / Fresco painting, Engelkapelle, Benediktinerabtei Seckau. Ostwand / East wall.
In the Presence of the Eternal
A comprehensive cycle of frescoes, which was painted by Herbert Boeckl (1894–1966), one of the most important Austrian artists of the post-war period, between 1952 and 1960, can be found on an actual side stage of the Seckau basilica. It is a one-of-a-kind example of modern sacral art of international importance. The commission for this monumental work was the outcome of an encounter of the abbot of the Benedictine abbey, Benedikt Reetz, with the then rector of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The abbot wanted to have a fresco design of the chapel, which had been erected from the arcades of the wing connecting to the basilica to the north, which was to have the “apocalyptic lamb” as its subject. Boeckl engaged himself with the adventure of the fresco technique, which he was not familiar with at that time. He made use of the technical and formal specifications of the painting directly applied to the fresh plaster in order to optimise the luminosity of the colours surging from the inside to the outside and to give the visionary overall picture of the chapel a basic characteristic style of simultaneous fragility and spontaneous power by clearly visibly joining the individual supporting structures. Boeckl’s painting opens up a large number of spatial niches, shows passages and overlappings of both temporal and spatial relationships, and thus builds up a pictorial structure that connects imagined worlds and spheres. Boeckl also did not content himself with a chronological account of the subjects from the Revelation of John but freely combined the individual visions of the Seer of Patmos with each other, and supplemented them with other biblical images, excerpts from the lives of the saints, and some non-Christian image fragments. The numerous figures are almost consistently rendered in a dancing mode and a visual language that oscillates between powerful realism and elusive abstraction. In this aspect too, Boeckl’s painting corresponds with both the quick-witted realism of apocalypse, which attempted to provide a comforting interpretation of their pressed situation to the communities in Asia Minor around 100 AD, and the promise of still pending final salvation through God which refers to the future and the visionary. An image of Christ can be found on each side of the chapel in the midst of a network of apocalyptic scenes which acts as a hermeneutic key for the understanding of the associated representations. On the front wall to the north, you see the apocalyptic lamb that stands up energetically and resolutely and with the greatest of ease opens the seals of the book in the form of red balls falling down. The mysterious book, a synthesis of the entire history of the world and humankind, is not represented itself but is replaced by the allegorical figure of a woman. The seven eyes and the beams of the cross on the nimbus behind the tossedback head of the lamb hint at Christ, who was slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb and acquired the ability to reveal the secret of the book that was seven times sealed by giving away his life. Four human-animal figures can be found on a floating stage under the victorious white lamb which symbolise the four Evangelists in the pictorial tradition of the Church. In the Revelation of John, they represent God’s greatness, power, glory, and omnipresence. The opposite south wall of the chapel is dominated by the image of the youthful judge of the world who has sat down on an earthy reddish ground. He is surrounded by small human figures striving upwards and waiting for their eschatological raising. With his stretched-down left hand, the judge of the world is clasping the globe, which is deliberately depicted small, and is holding a sickle in his right hand to bring in the harvest of the history of humankind and the world (Revelation 14:14–20). The winner dressed in white conducts his work with ease and a likeable smile. Why? “Wal er g’wunnen hot” (“Because he has won”) was the answer the artist provided with a broad accent. Boeckl’s humble judge, who is sitting on the ground on eye-level with the viewer, is the visual code to understand the entrance wall. It is about testifying to one’s affiliation to Christ, which is leading the “old earthling” that has been so drastically presented by Boeckl into a way of life suffused by God and the Holy Spirit. The warning image of the seductive Whore of Babylon but above all the evidence of beheaded Dionysios, poor Lazarus admonishing death, and King David ready to turn around as well as brave Catherine whose wisdom was superior to all her opponents indicate a decision necessary for this. On the east side, to the right from the entering viewer’s point of view, there is the image of Christ as servant of God “who has borne our sufferings and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). Obviously, this Man of Sorrows is deprived of all beauty and held up to the derision of the crowd. Small figures (Adam and Eve) are holding a rope that ties up the hands of the suffering. Further heads and hands are directed towards him, partly accusingly but also tentatively trying to touch him in order to receive salvation through his wounds. Boeckl successfully created a revolutionary, mystical devotional image with this image of Christ, which has always challenged its viewers, both at the time when it was painted and today. This painting had to be covered at times, and/or the chapel had to be locked, in order to protect it against the grasp of angry zealots who spotted a blasphemous representation of the Son of God in it. Not only some of the apocalyptic plagues are depicted over the Man of Sorrows but also the demonic performance of the animals rising from the sea. They are surrogate gods who want to lead the faithful to Christ astray. It is the time of suffering, which has to be withstood until God decides that enough is enough. What is central on this wall is what Boeckl called the “Mother of the Bottleneck”, a pregnant woman surrounded by stars. The child that she gives birth to is threatened by a six-headed dragon. It is an image for the bottleneck for all believers who have to fight a spiritual struggle. Finally, the fourth substantial image of Christ of the cycle of frescoes appears between the window apertures on the west side. Risen Christ shows himself—his contours sketched on the wall—like a watermark that becomes visible at the bottom of the delineated apocalyptic events. Distinctive red emphasises the lapped stole of the eternal high priest who has overcome the domination of sin and death through his suffering. Now, he is present as the victorious Lord in the midst of the still lasting distress of our world. Who looks at this faithfully and does not let himself be seduced by unnecessary fears, will recognise him and live in him. Already before the Second Vatican Council, Herbert Boeckl developed an extent of contextual density using the artistic means of modernity which turns this space of meditation and worship into one of the significant places of innovation of contemporary sacral art.
Text aus |Text from: Sakral : Kunst, Innovative Bildorte seit dem II. Vatikanischen Konzil in der Diözese Graz-Seckau | Sacred Art Innovative Pictorial Sites in the Diocese of Graz-Seckau since the Second Vatican Council. Ausgewählt und mit Texten erläutert von | Selected and explained with texts by Hermann Glettler, Heimo Kaindl, Alois Kölbl, Miriam Porta, Johannes Rauchenberger, Eva Tangl. Mit einem Einleitungsessay von | with an introductory essay (German only) by Johannes Rauchenberger, Regensburg 2015, S. | p. 90-95.