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05/07/2023 07:54

Everything runs on electricity.
Electricity, there's something
strange about that.
Electricity flows everywhere,
as you know,
back and forth across the threads.

Thus sang Theodor Lorentz Larsson, aka ham comedian Lasse from Skåne, in the twenties and there is certainly something strange about electricity. I don't get any wiser no matter how much I read about it. All living organisms are constantly taking in and releasing energy and electricity manifests itself in a variety of forms; such as lightning, static electricity, electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic induction. Our thinking – our brain – is mostly powered by electricity.

A couple of my friends have recently suffered from various, rather dramatic changes in their brains and I have increasingly come to think about electricity, personality ,the  soul and consciousness. It's probably my own age that's haunting me - the older I get, signs of aging will appear and steadily become  worse.

It is only in recent years that I have come to think about body and health. I could previously identify myself with the chain-smoking, hypochondriac Zeno Cosini’s description of his father in Italo Svevo’s novel Confessions of Zeno:

My pursuit of health had lead me to study the human body. He, on the other hand, had succeeded in banishing from his memory all thought of this terrible machine. As far as he was concerned the heart did not beat, and he had no need to remind himself of valves and veins and metabolism to explain why he was alive. … For him the earth was  motionless and solid, poised between its poles.

I have now been shoved into magneto encephalography (MEG) machines that measured and photographed my brain’s electrical currents, as well as I on a screen have watched my resilient heart beating, something it has done for almost seventy years – at least sixty beats a minute, night and day. Incomprehensible. What makes it go on like that? Where is the power behind all this? What is life? Is it all electricity based? The entire Universe?

_

Everyday miracles, like the constant activity of the gelatinous, folded lump of fat and proteins that is hidden behind the shell of the skull. One and a half kilograms packed with 86 billion neurons, which through electrical impulses and chemical signals control and coordinate thoughts, feelings, behaviour, body movements and sensory impressions. From this organ emanate nerve fibres scattered throughout the body, from where they receive and transmit signals to the grey fat mass, which processes and interprets them, during wakefulness as well as sleep.

With new insight I read Walt Whitman's I Sing the Body Electric in his Leaves of Grass from 1855. In that long poem Whitman describes the human body as a miracle. How it gives each of us our distinctive character, while it at the same time connect us with other individuals, as well as the entire humanity, yes - with the Universe. To have a body means, according to Whitman, that you are an integral part of a beautiful, well-ordered, fantastic and joyful Cosmos.

Like several of Whitman's poems I Sing the Body Electric is partly a list, which powerfully, lyrically and enthusiastically presents a catalogue of human body activities; our thoughts and how they are connected to our bodies. Whitman describes a variety of external and internal body parts in a way that reminds me of James Weldon Johnson's gospel song Dem Bones:

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Hear the word of the Lord!
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

In Johnson’s song, it becomes clear that it is the power of God that gives life to our bodies. The poet and politician James Weldon Johnson wrote more than 200 songs for various Broadway musicals. For Dem Bones he found inspiration in a vision by Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.  And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

The Bible proclaims God’s Great Power, how it permeates the Universe in the form of The Holy Spirit. Several years ago I wrote about how peasants in the Dominican countryside worshiped a divine force which came forth in springs, caves, crops and not least in people. I called the book I wrote The Great Power of God in the San Juan Valley.

According to Christian doctrine, God’s Spirit is present in all true believers. It gives knowledge of God, unites His creation with Him. The Holy Spirit provides a foretaste of and a guarantee for the establishment of The Kingdom of God on earth. The Spirit is eternal, like God and Christ, it is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. It creates and sustains the World, gives it life.

That a life-sustaining force pervades the entire Cosmos is far from being a notion unique to Christianity. Such a thought seems to exist within most religions. In 1917, the German historian of religions  Rudolf Otto published his influential book The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, in which he argued that every human being deep within has a sense of the presence of a supernatural force, or “reality”. Otto described this presence as numinous, a word derived from the Latin Numen, a spirit, or force, the antique Romans assumed to be present in nature. A force that is “holy” in the sense of being separate/different and thus it is also a Mysterium tremendum, a grand and terrifying mystery, while at the same time it is a Mysterium fascinans, something that fascinates and attracts.

The British ethnologist Robert Ranulph Marett (1866-1943) gave the belief in an all-ruling power the Polynesian name mana, a term denoting a kind of spiritual energy that is not solely present in individuals. Entire peoples, governments, places, and even inanimate objects can possess mana. Mana generally protects what/whoever it encompasses, but it can also prove to be far too strong and thus harmful. According to Marett, the concept of power was the origin of all religion.

Notions of power is also present in science. The Three Laws of Thermodynamics indicate the presence of a force in the Universe:

• Energy is transported by heat and can neither be created nor destroyed.
• Disorder, entropy, constantly increases in the Universe and causes all natural processes to move in one direction
Absolute Zero is the temperature at which the vibrations of atoms and molecules completely stop. However, the Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics forbids such a situation. 

The Second Law implies that everything ages and dies. The Greek prefix en- means “within” and the word troproten “change”. The word entropy can thus correspond to “change within (a closed system)”. In science, entropy can be said to be a disorder which is created by the fact  that energy/heat sources, such as the sun, are over time losing more heat than they regain. This appears  to be the case throughout the Universe. Everything ages and dies, just like we and our brain cells. Nevertheless, doesn't the first law of thermodynamics state that energy can neither be created, nor destroyed, so how come that everything ages and dies?

The Uncertainty Principle means that a particle can actually function as a wave function and not only be a point-like object and therefore it cannot have both a well-defined position and a momentum. Do I understand that? Not at all. An acquaintance from my hometown, a former schoolmate who now is a mathematician and nuclear physicist, told me when I asked him to explain something about quantum physics: “I'm sorry, Jan, but if you’re bad at math can't it's almost impossible.” I have always been lousy when it comes to mathematics and it is a small consolation that the possibly the greatest nuclear physicist of them all, the Dane Niels Bohr (1885-1962) wrote:

Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it [...] We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language  be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.

But that is actually not at all a consolation. Bohr was a master mathematician and his mind was unfortunately considerably greater than mine.

When I in the following speculate about life, energy and the brain, I do so well aware of my own ineptitude and it comes to mind how in 1996 the physics professor Alan Sokal in a scientific magazine published an article he called Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermaneutics of Quantum Gravity. The article applied an extreme relativism, but was in fact pure rubbish, a crazy concoction of postmodern platitudes. Despite this, Sokal’s essay was perceived as a serious account of the connection between physics and philosophy. Shortly afterwards, Sokal revealed that it had all been a “joke” aimed at “the pretentious and amateurish abuse of recent physics by leading French theorists, such as Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard and Kristeva.” Some of these French philosophers actually fascinate me, especially Derrida and Baudrillard. I am thus convinced that if Sokal had, which is highly unlikely, seen what I am writing, he would certainly have perceived me as yet another postmodern dilettante, more confused than the French professors he enumerated.

Back to poetry. Whitman’s I Sing the Body Electric is much more than an enumeration of body parts, activities, opinions, memories, and poignant images. According to him, everything he mentions constitute the basic material for dreams and poetry. The poem deals not only with the body, it concerns a symbiosis between body and soul how they together receive the all-encompassing power of the Universe. For Whitman, the body is sacred, it is not only a companion and servant of the soul, but also its accomplice. Accordingly,  our body is united with the Universe, an abode of the all-encompassing soul, enabling not only human spirituality, but also a sense of belonging and poetry. Body and soul are sacred.

I sing the body electric, .
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them, .
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them, .
 And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul. .
[…].
and if the body were not soul, what is the soul?

The Whitman admirer Allen Ginsberg reflects in his Footnote to Howl along similar lines of thought:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an angel!
The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul is holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the listeners are holy the ecstasy is holy.

A distinctive feature of Whitman’s poetry is his association of it with a democratic feeling, as well an often almost tangible expression of power and change, linked together within a pantheistic universality. Everything is animated. Rarely has Whitman’s enthusiastic pantheism been reflected as beautiful as in the poetry of Finland-Swedish Edith Södergran (1892-1923):

What do I fear? I am a part of infinity.
I am a part of the great power of the universe,
a single world within a million of worlds,
a star of the first magnitude which is extinguished at last.
A triumph to live, a triumph to breathe, a triumph to exist!

A triumph to feel time run icy cold through your veins
and hear the silent river of night
and stand on the mountains under the sun.
I walk on sunshine, I stand on sunshine,
I know of nothing but sunshine.

It was only by the end of the 19th century that electricity was transformed from being a scientific curiosity, or mystical godly force, to become one a prerequisite for our modern existence. When Whitman paid homage to the “electrified body” advanced electrical technology was still in its infancy and it was only later that “electrical” geniuses like Bell, Bláthy, Edison, Kelvin, Siemens, Tesla, and several others like them appeared on the scene.

What Whitman got right was the connection between body, thoughts and electricity. He found himself in the midst of the age of galvanism, i.e. electric current produced by chemical processes, not the least within the human body.

During the 17th century, some philosophers had begun to consider the body as nothing more than matter subjected to mechanical rules. The concept of soul became the same as the human mind/consciousness/reason. The brain became the seat of the soul and the nerves mediators between soul and body.

It was only a few philosophers/natural scientists who assumed that soul and body could in fact be one and the same, i.e. constitute parts of a single common substance. Pre-Christian Greeks imagined such a substance as an extremely subtle and refined fluid – pneuma. In principle, both soul and matter were thereby tangible. A school of thought that was pushed to its limits  by the French physician Julian Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) who, in his L'Homme Machine, argued that moral judgment, free will, yes – any thought and thus also what the Christians calls “soul” were  nothing but bodily functions based on how a human body is composed. La Mettrie denied any divine presence in human existence. However, a crucial question remained – What kind of force could sustain and gave life and movement to the entire Universe?

According to La Mettrie, bodily functions were activated by what the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) had called Vis viva, Living force. A concept based on what in physics cam to be called  the Energy Principle, i.e. that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. This is how, for example, potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy (from the Greek word for movement and work). Potential energy rests in a bow. When the bowstring is released, i.e. set in motion/work, energy is transformed  from being dormant (potential) energy into motion/kinetic energy. It is such interactions between rest and movement, cause and effect, which according to La Mettrie and Leibnitz keep the body going.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin had during a thunderstorm brought his finger close to a key connected to a kite by means of a metal line. He saw and felt a spark and thereby understood that the “positive” tension of the key had been activated by the “negative”  tension in his hand, thus Franklin was able to introduce into science the concepts of positive and negative charge.

Luigi Alosio Galvani (1737-1798) was from 1776 professor at the University of Bologna, where he taught anatomy, which made him well acquainted with autopsies, a specialty for which the Universities of Bologna and Padua were famous. In 1780, Galvani, apparently inspired by Franklin, attached by means of hooks several frog legs to a metal rod, which was connected to a lightning rod. Galvani then discovered what he called animal electricity. When a flash of lightning struck, the frogs’ legs twitched in spasmodic movements. Galvani soon found that the phenomenon could be repeated even when he pressed his fingers on the brass hooks he had attached to the spinal cords of dead frogs. Apparently, the human body also harboured electrical voltages.

Galvani's contemporary Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) was  professor of “experimental physics” at the University of Padua. When he checked Galvani's experiments, he found that the twitches in the frog legs were not produced solely by lightning strikes, or Galvani touching the hooks. In fact, the phenomenon arose through the metal cables that Galvani had used to connect nerves and muscles. Volta therefore hypothesized that electricity was propagated through the dead frog’s body via electrochemical cells and that such energy generation could also take place outside of an animal body.

Volta constructed what came to be known as a Voltaic Pile, the first electrochemical battery. Alternately, he stacked copper and zinc sheets on top of each other, separated by pieces of cloth soaked in brine. When the upper and lower metal layers were joined by means of a metal wire, electric current flowed through wire and Voltaic Pile.

It was not only Galvani's discoveries that inspired Volta, but also the inventions of the Swedish physicist Johan Carl Wilcke (1732-1796). Wilcke was born in Wismar, a town that at the time was part of the Swedish empire. At the age of five, he had followed his father to Stockholm, when he became a pastor at the German Church. Wilcke later became a doctor after presenting his thesis De electricitatibus contrariis, The Opposites of Electricity, at the University of Rostock. In Sweden, Wilcke received a professorship at the University of  Uppsala and was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, after submitting two theses - Findings Concerning the Production of Electric Charge with Other Objects than Glass and Porcelain and History of Naturalists’ Opinions Related to the Causes of Thunder. In 1762, Wilcke invented a friction machine which he called electrofor.

The electrofor  consisted of a “dielectric” plate made of pitch or wax and a metal plate with an insulating handle. By being rubbed against fur the dielectric plate became statically charged. Note the dead cat in the picture. A metal plate was then placed on the dielectric plate, thereby it became grounded with a positive charge. The positively charged metal plate was then removed from the dielectric plate. The positive charge of the metal plate remained and could be used for various electrical experiments. The voltage in the metal plate could become quite high.

An Italian fresco depicts Volta demonstrating his Voltaic Pile to Napoleon, it also depicts him using an electrofor.

Eight years after Wilcke, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), on the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus’ recommendation, elected to the Royal Academy of Sciences. Swedenborg was then an internationally recognized author, natural philosopher, mining engineer, inventor and scientist. Four years later, in 1744, a spiritual phase began in Swedenborg’s life when, through dreams and visions of a spiritual world, he was enabled to speak with angels, spirits and the deceased. Swedenborg considered himself appointed by God to spread a heavenly doctrine. He claimed that God had opened his eyes and mind so he could visit Heaven and Hell. During the next 28 years of his life, Swedenborg wrote in Latin and published eighteen unusually extensive theological works.

The main reason for Swedenborg being elected to the Academy and appreciated by esteemed scientists like Linnaeus and Wilcke was his treatise Oeconomica regni animalis in which he described and analysed the structural and functional organization of the cerebral cortex, the structure of the nervous system and cerebrospinal flow and secretions emanating from the pituitary gland .

Upon entering the Royal Academy of Sciences, Swedenborg presented his work De cerebri motu et cortice et de animo humano: anatomice, physice et philosphice perlustrata which he in 1740 had published in Amsterdam. In this book The Brain and the Movements of the Cerebral Cortex and the Human Mind: Anatomically, Physically and Philosophically Examined, Swedenborg described how various processes of the brain were caused by breathing.

Swedenborg had spent 18 months in Paris and there become acquainted with the world-famous French scientist and anatomist Jaques-Bénigne Winslow (1669-1760), who performed public dissections in his Amphithéâtre Winslow. A pompous anatomy hall which still can be visited by the Rue de la Bûcherie.

The original name of famous anatomist was actually Jacob Benignus Winsløw. The strange surname came from the fact that he was Danish and that his father had been born in the Scanian village of Vinslöv, not far from my place of birth,  Hässleholm. Swedenborg owned Winslow's extensive Exposition anatomique de la structure du corps humain and it was primarily through such anatomical writings that Swedenborg based his insightful observations and speculations. He was early on aware of the fact that brain activity was dependent on chemical processes and something that could be compared to electrical impulses.

After his time in Paris, Swedenborg spent more than a year in Venice and it was probably there that he became familiar with the theories of Marcello Malpighi. It was the microscope that had opened up a new world for Malpighi (1628-1694). Like so many before him, he had searched for an explanation to the enigma of life. What makes us live? Among other things, it must be the lungs that keep us alive. It's not just humans who breathe, animals do it as well. Insects also need to breathe, but do they have lungs? Malpighi used the microscope to find out. He found that insects do not use lungs as their respiratory organs but small holes in their skin which he named tracheae.

From insects, Malpighi moved higher up on the evolutionary ladder and microscopically examined the airways of dissected human lungs. He found how the airways branched out in the form of thin membranous and spherical cavities that he likened to the bees’ wax cakes. He gave them the name alveole, small cavities. Continuous inhalation and exhalation fills and empties the alveoli with air. Malphigi wrote in his De pulmonibus observationes anatomicae that the alveoli functioned as “imperfect sponges” and brought air into the blood, which then distributed the “Spirit’s” life-giving power throughout the entire body. Like several other anatomists, Malphigi was a skilled draughtsman who carefully copied what he had seen under his microscope.

In search of other microscopic structures that could explain the secrets of life and the passage of air through the body, Malpighi continued his search in other body parts of the body, not least the brain. In 1665 he published three works in which he described his findings - De Lingua, dealing with the tongue and the origin of taste, De Externus Tactus about the sensory sensations produced by touch, something that finally led him into the brain and nervous system, which he described in De Cerebro, About the Brain. Especially the latter work was devoured by Swedenborg, who just like Malpighi was searching for the seat of the soul in the body.

Swedenborg sensed that the personal, spiritual life was dependent on the brain. Consistent with his mechanical mind-set, he believed that the soul works in harmony with the space that surrounds us and that life is brought about by a perpetual movement of extremely fine particles in the surrounding air. Influenced by Leibnitz, he introduced the possibility that through careful study, a collection of all the observations he and other researchers had made, he would finally find the seat of the soul inside the human body. A rigorously applied experimental science and mathematical probabilities would determine the exact position of the soul, its importance for maintenance of life, and the contact it has with a cosmic creator god.

When he microscopically examined tongue tissue, Malpighi had found small “taste buds”, which he called papillae. He discovered that they were connected to nerves leading into the brain. Malpighi had previously found that the body’s nerves were connected to various secretion-producing glands. While studying the brain, he mapped its grey and white tissues and concluded that the brain was also a secretion-producing gland that by means of nerve fibres through the spinal cord spread its signal fluids and thus gave and received information from all parts of the body.

Swedenborg was inspired by Malpighi's opinion that the small oval bodies he had found, surrounded by capillaries, were a kind of glandular structures with the task of separating and mixing different chemical, signal fluids. Swedenborg called them spherulae or cerebellula. He believed that all the nerve fibres of the brain were connected to different cerebellula, which were mainly concentrated in the pituitary gland and the grey cerebral cortex. According to him, impulses between organs and muscles were conveyed by tremulations, vibrations in the body fluids, a life-providing spiritus animalis, which was constantly pumped through the body. It was the myriads of cerebellum of the cerebral cortex that coordinated and linked all these tremulations into attention, memory, thinking and language, while the pituitary gland sent out and received information carrying nerve fluids.

_

According to Swedenborg, every form of life was linked to constantly vibrating tremulations that filled the entire Universe. The inner impulses/movements of brain and body were triggered by the breathing, which kept the entire Cosmos alive. When a person died, tremulations were still in nerve fibres and cerebellula. Angels compressed and collected all this stored life energy and brought it to another, spiritual existence.

Swedenborg's cosmological perspective was all-encompassing. According to him, the Universe originated from various centres, or points of energy, from which suns and planets arose. Different spheres of animal, plant and mineral originated from similar elemental energy particles. Everything in the material world had its counterpart in a spiritual realm, everything served a purpose and followed certain cosmic rules. Contacts between spiritual and bodily realms occurred within  the cerebral cortex. The lungs drew the spirit pulse of the Universe into blood vessels, which, in conjunction with the cerebellula, carried it to the cerebral cortex and pituitary gland, which converted this spiritual influx into body fluids, activated through the tremulations . This spiritual influx from a divine sphere enabled an individual to live and follow God's commandments. The human soul, which is the main component of the body, was actually made of the same substance as the cosmic life force.

When he in 1743 travelled to Holland and England to gather additional material for his attempt to explain the soul from an anatomical point of view, Swedenborg was already on the verge of leaving the scientific path. During a transitional phase he experienced sharp and vivid dreams, some with a strong erotic undertone. Dreams that he wrote down in Swedish in a private diary. In Amsterdam, he had a revelation of inner light: “My head was cleaned and cleared of what was supposed to obstruct its thoughts.” He felt “how my desire for women abruptly came to an end. It has always been my main passion.”

In April 1745, Swedenborg sat alone in a secluded room at an inn in London. His vision darkened while the room changed character. A man sitting in a corner said to him: “Don't eat too much”. Shaken, Swedenborg hurried home to his lodgings, During the night the same person appeared in his dreams. The man revealed to him that he was God himself and that he now appointed Swedenborg to reveal the true meaning of the Bible. Swedenborg’s entire being became subjected to a thorough change. He noticed how all his previous enthusiasm for  scientific endeavours vanished and from then on he sometimes stayed in the Spirit World, sometimes here on earth.

Swedenborg’s brain research had no major impact on contemporary scientists, who soon became excited by Galvani’s and Volta’s  discoveries. However, a motley crew of conjurers, alchemists and spiritualists, however, adopted Swedenborg's theories, in particular his spiritual teachings about the correspondences between all living things and a spiritual realm.

The Swedish poet Johan Henrik Kjellgren was nineteen when Swedenborg died and it is doubtful whether he read any of his writings, but Kjellgren resented all those “dimwits” who took Swedenborg’s teachings seriously. According to Kjellgren, Swedenborg had once been a wise and completely sane person, but he had gone nuts and it was not possible to take his former genius as a pretext for Swedenborg's later eccentricities. In his poem Man does not possess genius just because he’s mad, Kjellgren lumps Swedenborg together with all kinds of charlatans.

Even if Newton  one day was beaten down by spiritual fever,
Swedenborg is plain and simple — a douchbag.
Alas, you Swedenborgians! Alas, Rosencreutzians!
Alas, you dream interpreters! You treasure hunters!
Number Punctuators, Magnetizers,
Physionomists, Alchemists, Cabalists and Harmonists!
Your conclusion is twisted — a wise man can become mad;
A genius in one field, can be lost in another.

It was a time that by the Finland-Swedish author Zachris Topelius (1818-1898) was described as:

Just as the new light broke in, darkness appeared for another moment, more sinister than ever. It was a time when people bowed to Cagliostro more than to God. Never has alchemy had more ardent followers as when its better daughter Chemistry was carried to her baptism by Scheele and Bergman; and never had so many been chasing after an elixir of life than when Voltaire and Holbach taught that the soul is nothing else but matter, doomed to perish with the body.

A time that Ingmar Bergman depicted in his film The Face and Per Olov Enquist in his novel The Magnetist’s Fifth Winter. The latter spins a story around a certain Friedrich Meisner, a charlatan just like Albert Emanuel Vogler in Bergman's film. One cannot avoid connecting Enquist’s  Dr. Meisner with Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), who despite his obvious quackery, cannot be denied a prominent place in the history of medicine and psychology.

Mesmer, was a German physician who assumed that there was a natural energy transferable between all forms of living things, something he called Magnetisme animal. An energy which, according to Mesmer, could become a cure for a variety of disease-like conditions. The treatment consisted of Mesmer sitting in front of a patient while touching his/her knees with his legs, pressing the patient's thumbs and staring into his client’s eyes. He then moved his hands to the patient's shoulders and with utmost ease and care moved his hands all over the body, until his fingers reached a place just below the perineum. He was then kept his hands there for more than an hour. Like Swedenborg, Mesmer assumed that there was a life force hidden in humans and animals and that through his method he would be able to bring this force’s beneficent abilities to life. Mesmer was well paid for his activities and invented several alternative methods of “power transfer”.

To investigate Mesmer’s claims  and practices,  Louis XIV appointed in 1784 a scientific commission. It included such scientific greats as the chemist Lavoisier, the astronomer Bailly, the botanist de Jussieau, the physician Guillotin and Benjamin Franklin. The Commission's conclusion was that participants’ expectations and imagination, combined with the ambience produced feelings of being “cured” and/or enlivened:

having demonstrated by decisive experiments, that the imagination without the magnetism produces convulsions, and that the magnetism, without the imagination produces nothing; [the Commissioners] concluded with an unanimous voice respecting the existence and the utility of the magnetism, that the existence of the fluid is absolutely destitute of proof, that the fluid having no existence can consequently have no use, that the violent symptoms observed in the public process are to be ascribed to the compression, to the imagination called into action, and to that propensity to mechanical imitation, which leads us in spite of ourselves to the repetition of what strikes our senses.

Mesmer's credibility suffered a major blow, but he was nevertheless able to continue his activities until his death.

The connection between electricity, spiritual life, faith and science did not cease to fascinate a large part of Europe's intelligentsia. When the precocious Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) published his poem Queen Mab in 1813 it was printed in 250 copies, of which Shelley personally distributed 70 copies to close friends and like-minded acquaintances, the rest were stored at a bookseller. The long poem is characterized by scientific language and theorizing within a fairy tale frame in which the fairy queen Mab descends in a dream to the sleeping Ianthe and takes her soul to her enchanted palace by the outermost limit of the Universe.

Mab interprets, analyses and explains Ianthe's dreams, as she transforms several of them into visions of the past, present and future. The present is characterized by oppression, injustice and misery caused by religion, commerce and monarchies.

All seems unlink'd contingency and chance,
No atom of this turbulence fulfils
A vague and unnecessitated task,
Or acts but as it must and ought to act.
Even the minutest molecule of light,
That in an April sunbeam's fleeting glow
Fulfils its destin'd, though invisible work,
The universal Spirit guides.

Shelley believed that the soul was not at all an individual entity, a free-acting will, but a universal, all-embracing force, a constant movement constituted by a vast, unbroken chain of cause and effect. To that extent, he makes me think of Buddhism’s anattā, the doctrine of the non-self/soul.

Buddhist philosophy declares that there is no unchanging, permanent “I”. We are all nothing but a shifting composition of sense impressions and emotions. That which generally is called soul –Ātman is an reality the ultimate, indescribable force that permeates and includes the entire Universe. Ātman operates in the Universe through movement — karma, a Sanskrit term meaning “action” or “doing”. In Buddhist scriptural tradition, karma refers to actions driven by intention, cetanā, and will inevitably have future consequences.

Because the anattā doctrine denies the existence of an I, i.e. a personal soul, Ātman thus becomes the driving force of the entire Cosmos. The word ātma finds its origin in the Indo-European *ēt-men, breath. Thus, according to Buddhist philosophy, all life is produced by atman, which manifests itself  through movement caused by karma. Within modern Buddhism, it is therefore not uncommon for karma to be compared with Newton's three laws of motion:

• A body will either stay in its original, or when it moves maintain a constant speed – if no external force affects it.
• Acceleration is needed to make a body move. It is as large in size and direction as the force it is made of and it is calculated as speed per unit of time.
• If a body A exerts force on a body B, then B exerts an equal but opposite force on A. This third law is often called the law of action and reaction. 

Leonardo da Vinci was an ever-curious, searching universal genius who saw movement everywhere. Like Buddhists he proclaimed that “movement is the cause of all life.” His fascination with movement is clearly demonstrated  in his many descriptive studies of movement in nature: water, birds, canon ball tracks, people, etc.

In his Last Supper, Leonardo presents a great variety of human emotions, where each character reflects emotions through bodily expressions. He wrote:

A skilled artist must be able to paint two things: people and people's thoughts.

Leonardo assumed that emotions and natural forces are governed by similar laws to those that govern psychological and physical movements and thus, unlike most contemporary thinkers, he did not draw a sharp dividing line between the material and the spiritual.

Shelley devoured a wealth of writings on the origin and maintenance  of life. In his poetry, as in Queen Mab, he tried to reflect his thoughts, well aware that they could give him a lot of trouble. The bookseller to whom Shelley entrusted his undistributed copies of Queen Mab began, without Shelley's knowledge and consent, to sell them a year before the poet in 1822 drowned in  the Italian Gulf of La Spezia. When another edition was printed, the disaster became a fact. The Society for the Suppression of Vice pounced on Queen Mab, condemning it in harsh terms. This association which, with royal consent, promoted “public moral" and thereby censored obscene and heretical writings, as well as it  occasionally  brought their authors to justice. The moral Society  saw to it that the bookseller was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. Shelley had left England four years before the incident, to escape from its “civil and religious oppression”,  but also due to his tangled private affairs, both financial and amorous. His wife Harriet had killed herself while he was living openly with his mistress Mary, whose sister Fanny at the same time also committed suicide.

Because he had attacked the Church and denied the existence of a personal, omnipresent deity, Shelley was accused of subversive atheism. He believed that science had proven that there is no God who created man in his own image. Instead he divulged his belief in an impersonal cosmic energy that governs and pervades everything. An insight he based on his studies of, among other things, galvanism, which at the time had become fashionable throughout Europe. Galvani was searching for the strange and apparently universal energies which, according to him, constituted the Soul of the universe. During the 1780s, Galvani had with an assistant crisscrossed the European continent, demonstrating how electric shocks made carcasses of various domestic animals to twitch and move, just as if they were alive. Phenomena that Galvani even demonstrated by connecting the corpses of executed murderers to electricity-generating devices and acids.

A combination of mysticism with physics made many believe that galvanic electricity proved the presence of God’s Holy Spirit within His creation. An Italian physicist, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834), followed in the footsteps of his uncle Luigi Galvani. He seemed to be intent on reviving dead people by means of electricity. For such a purpose he used Volta’s electricity piles. Aldini performed his experiments on bodies of executed criminals. One problem, however, was that in Italy, Germany and France, people sentenced to death were generally beheaded. Aldini wanted access to fresh, completely intact corpses and accordingly he  travelled to England, where criminals were hanged.

The Newgate Calender, which with a “moralizing intention” reported on heinous crimes and spectacular executions, did in 1803 describe how shortly after the execution of George Foster (accused of drowning his wife and one of his daughters) Aldini performed a public experiment on the body. Aldini connected two metal rods to a large voltaic pile containing 100 zinc and 100 copper discs. When he touched the cadaver’s mouth and one ear with metal rods attached to the battery, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to tremble, adjacent muscles became terribly contorted, and one eye opened. In the subsequent part of  the process the corpse's right hand was raised and clenched, while legs and thighs were set in motion. By moving one of the rods to the corpse’s rectum, the movements were accentuated to such an extent that the corpse appeared to be reanimated and the deceased man seemed to breathe again.

The Newgate Calender’s account is reminds of Mary Shelley's description of how Frankenstein gave life to his monster:

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

The similarities are by all accounts no coincidence. Mary's husband certainly harboured a kind of idealism based on electrochemistry. During his time at Eton College, Shelley came under the influence of the paternal freethinker Dr. James Lind, who early on had noticed the outspoken, very  intelligent, but sadly bullied and original Percy Bysshe Shelley, who in his despair occasionally was seized with violent rage and thus came to be known as Mad Shelley.

Dr. Lind assumed that galvanic/animal magnetism/electricity proved that all the forces/energies of nature were united in a “cosmic soul”. Dr. Lind was well acquainted with the theories and activities of Galvani and Aldini. Shelley attended and became fascinated by Dr. Lind's experiments with “animal magnetism”, how he by using various power sources made dead frogs jump, or the muscles of various reptiles contract and move in an almost uncanny way. Dr. Lind, who was an enthusiastic Freemason,  encouraged Shelley's occult interests and inspired by his mentor Shelley interweaved of bold metaphysical speculations with new scientific findings and subversive political views.

Shelley developed his radical way of thinking in a direction he perceived as “poetry of life”, which according to him meant that thought, language and imagination developed through interaction with the combined forces of nature and man, expressed through social relations based on free love, compassion and power. By “power” Shelley meant a dominant force based on social, intellectual and scientific freedom. According to him, scientists were more or less unconsciously searching for the answer to one single question – How can intellect and civilization be reconciled with pleasure and amusement? Is it possible for us humans, without a belief in an inhibiting God, to indulge ourselves in the limitless freedom of life? Unite with the Great Power of Universe? Thoughts similar to the cosmic expansion/joy that later found its expression in Edith Södergran’s Triumph to Exist.

In 1820, Shelley published his reading drama Prometheus Unbound. It was not written for the stage, but to stimulate the reader's imagination. His aim was for the drama to interact with the reader's own imagination. Shelley’s role models were Satan in Milton’s (1608 -1674) Paradise Lost and Prometheus in Aeschylus’ (525-456 BC) trilogy Prometheia.

By Milton, Satan, like Prometheus, fights against God’s Creation, i.e. the entire Universe. However, Satan loses his heroic aspect through his insane vengefulness against an all-powerful and punishing God. Satan ends up as an enemy of all mankind, which was created in the image of God. Satan and Prometheus share a hate for all-powerful gods, who rely on terror and censorship to maintain their dominion over us all.

In Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Jupiter represents the unyielding Fate, a force opposed to individual free will, which the revolutionary Prometheus, who does everything to support human independence from a tyrannical God. Shelley's Prometheus urges us humans to nurture compassion with all living creatures. His Prometheus shapes himself into an image of  highest perfection, a moral and intellectual giant. Driven by pure and honest purposes, he tries, with the help of science and love, to lead humanity towards a future Utopia, based on just laws promoting free will, while prohibiting all harmful egoism. Thoughts Shelley exchanged and shared with his similarly liberated, young wife.

Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797 and was then named Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She was the first child of the political philosopher, writer and journalist William Godwin and the second child of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. The mother died ten days after Mary's birth. Godwin was left alone with the responsibility of raising Mary and her older half-sister Fanny. Mary loved her father, but hated the woman he married four years after his first wife’s demise.

Mary and Percy Shelley, who was a good friend of her father, fell in love and met secretly by Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave. Mary was seventeen and the already notorious Percy twenty-two. In April 1814, the couple travelled secretly to France, Germany and Switzerland. They took Mary's stepsister Claire with them, but Percy’s pregnant wife was left alone in England. There was for the time being  peace in Europe, while an imprisoned Napoleon sat on Elba and brooded on revenge and another war. The runaways’ money soon ran out and after six months the pregnant Mary and an impoverished Percy were forced to return to England. There, Mary's father and Percy’s relatives did not want to hear from them.

During her stay abroad, eighteen-year-old Mary had begun to write a novel that over time would turn into a strange and very persistent legend. At a very young age, Mary had already experienced great and subversive love, motherhood, death and misery, all combined with a rebellious young woman’s feelings of alienation and bewilderment. Through all this, she managed to create her multi-layered novel about Dr. Frankenstein’s nameless monster.

Mary and Percy had for a time lived with the self-proclaimed demonic Lord George Gordon Byron, lover of Mary’s sister Claire. Even before their departure, or rather flight, from England, Shelley had suffered from strange delusions. Shelley was a great admirer of Byron's poetry and had sent him Queen Mab and several other of his poems. Byron, who lived in Villa Diodati by the shores of Lake Geneva, had become impressed and enthusiastically welcomed the young couple. They were evening after evening, night after night, engaged in discussions about literature, science and “various philosophical doctrines”.

One night, while Byron was reciting his and Coleridge’s poems, Shelley suffered a severe panic attack with terrifying hallucinations. The previous night, Mary had had a nightmare that became the seed for her novel about the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein. Throughout the summer the weather had been cold and rainy. On the night when Mary suffered from her terrible nightmare and Shelley wandered around their room, they had earlier together with Byron and his friend and doctor, John William Polidori, been sitting together in front of a fireplace, while reading aloud from a German anthology of horror stories. That same night, Polidori had been inspired to write a draft of what would become a novel about the first vampire of the modern genre - Lord Ruthven, a demonic aristocrat who lays waste to all and everything around himself.

When they well after midnight returned to their nearby villa, Shelley was agitated and Mary had difficulties in falling asleep. Between sleep and wakefulness she was seized by such a dizzying and detailed experience that she did not know whether it was a dream or a hallucination:

I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

The dream exposed Mary’s feelings of loss, guilt, and the consequences of defying God, something her husband, with her consent had done through thought, speech, and action. There was also the loss of her mother, the complicated relationship with the father, the loss of her first child and worries about the child she carried in her womb. Later, Mary described her Swiss summer as the time when she “first stepped out of my childhood” and in the depths of her soul she felt alienated from the world around her. During their nocturnal discussions, Lord Byron and Shelley had frightened her by their lofty and almost fanatically romantic ideas. Mary wondered if such fanaticism, in conjunction with an increasingly advanced science and abused power, might not pose a threat to all human existence.

In Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, or the modern Promethues, we find reflections of  her husband’s perceptions and wild speculations. Like Victor Frankenstein, Percy Shelley harboured an overriding desire to understand the conditions of the world, something which, in addition to science, it made him interested in the occult and alchemy. However, he soon came to realize that such superstitions were based on hopelessly out-dated theories. Like Shelly, the fictional Victor Frankenstein immersed himself in chemistry, physics and anatomy, but unlike Shelley, Frankenstein put his theories in practice and succeeded in creating a thinking and feeling individual – a kind of  humanoid.

Mary deliberately makes the nature of the creative process ambiguous. Is it animal magnetism generated by electrically conducting electrolyte, a solution of bases, acids and salts, a voltaic pile, or possibly energy conveyed by lightning discharges that give life to the hideous creature? Frankenstein spends two years by painstakingly constructing the creature's body – from raw materials taken from the “dissection room and the slaughterhouse”, he carefully  creates one anatomical feature after another..

Due to difficulties in replicating small parts of the human body, the result is not as Frankenstein had intended – a human Apollo. Instead, he creates a grotesque freak, with veins and muscles insufficiently covered by skin, a hugely disproportionate creature, nearly 2.5 meters tall. When the hideous creature opens its dull, watery eyes, Frankenstein flees in horror at what he has fashioned.

Mary Shelley’s multifaceted novel has become the epitome of scientific endeavours with dire results. Frankenstein's monster turned into an image/symbol of such things as atomic bombs and genetically engineered monsters. Such inventions might even killed their inventors. Like the Soviet scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov who, when he participated in the development of the nasty and now regularly used nerve agent Novichok 3,  was himself poisoned while exclaiming “It got me!”. No antidote was available and six years after the incident Zheleznyakov died of a stroke, having previously suffered from cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.

Mary’s suffering monster was sorely tormented by his loneliness and alienation. A victim of the loathing he aroused in humans. A condition that worsened after he patiently and single-handedly acquired a large storage of learning. In Mary's novel, as in Whale's classic film, Frankenstein's monster becomes a deeply tragic figure.

The science behind Mary's creation is apparently galvanism. A man-made creature is provided with fluids and channels that becomes activated  through the supply of electric charges. It is doubtful whether the process includes the huge electricity shock that in James Whale’s 1931 film in a powerful scene is generated by magnificent lightning strikes.

Rather it is in Mary’s novel chemical-electrical processes that awaken the Monster, more in line with Bernard Albert Wrightson’s illustrations, which have inspired horror authors like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and which Guillermo del Toro has decided will be the visual basis for his upcoming film about Frankenstein.

If you want to become more familiar with the creation process behind the creation of the Monster, Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Viktor Frankenstein is recommended. The postmodern Ackroyd uses a pastiche of the romantic narrative style, making a very real Victor Frankenstein move among a host of known and unknown acquaintances of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who plays an important role in an impeccably depicted, contemporary London.

As illustrations for Ackroyd, one might use the Frankenstein journals created by Gris Grimly, which are clearly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical sketches,

or Timothy Basil Ering’s realistically torn and stained copies of a similar journal:

In his novel, Ackroyd highlights an important aspect  of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece - the terrible loneliness of the outcast. How such a crucial detail as a person's appearance is enough to make him/her a feared pariah. This seems to us to be an important character trait, implanted in our reptilian brain. We are incurable herd animals. We need community. In Ackroyd's novel, the Monster expresses his anguish before his creator – Victor Frankenstein:

“Who can I speak to? There is no one. I am alone in the world. Do you know this affliction? I think not. You have not experienced the feeling of being utterly cast away, of being adrift on the margin of life, unseen and unheard. If I cry out, there is no one to care for me. If I am in agony of spirit, there is no one to console me.”

In his short story The Monster, the American author Stephen Crane (1871-1900) tells about how the appearance of a man, in his case a good-hearted hero, transforms him, as well as the man who tries help him, into victims of an entire society’s fears and hatred.

The story takes place in a fictional city near New York. A black coachman named Henry Johnson is employed by the town’s respected medical doctor, Trescott. After saving Dr. Trescott's son from a fire, Johnson is horribly disfigured. When the townspeople label Johnson as a monster, Dr. Trescott shelters and cares for him, resulting in Trescott and his entire family being ostracized from society. The short story points to the social divides, ethnic tensions and delusions that still prevail within American society.

Shelley’s Frankenstein indicates this strange aspect of human thinking. We seem to judge people based on their appearance. A judgment significantly more based on visual perception than on inner qualities. If we are confronted with a terrifying face it apparently does not matter if our fellow human beings’ brain is generating  compassion, love and good will. Such misconceptions and narrow-mindedness have occasionally been allowed to contaminate brain research and we find it among eugenicists, race researchers and scientists such as Cesare Lambroso who based his “criminology” on the facial features of men and women, Ernst Kretschmer who assessed the psyche of humans based on their body constitution, or Richard Hernstein whose theories were based on a dubious interpretation of “intelligence tests” and thus came to link intelligence with racism.

I have wondered about the scientific basis of Frankenstein’s creation. Given galvanism, as well as the brain's apparent dependence on fluids and electrical energy, Mary Shelley’s creation appears to be entirely possible, at least given the limited knowledge of her contemporaries. But, how could a human, previously dead brain, function in the same way as the monster’s? Namely, that from having been like an inarticulate child, he gradually gains knowledge through reading and experiences. Either the transplanted brain should have been completely useless, or it would have preserved previous functions, thoughts and experiences.

James Wahley’s film version, which is not based on Shelley's novel but on Peggy Webling’s 1927 play, which was indeed inspired by Mary Shelley’s work though with a number of essential changes, which are repeated in the film. For example, Webling solved the question of the origin of the monster’s brain by letting Frankenstein's assistant Henry (sic) while he is stealing the brain of a genius, happens to drop its glass container and the brain is spoiled. Instead Henry steals an “abnormal” brain and brings it to his employer.

In his Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein  from  1974 there is a witty dialogue between Frankenstein and his assistant, whose name here is Igor:

Dr Frankenstein: “The brain you brought me? Was it Hans Delbrūck’s brain?”
Igor: (pause, then) ”No”
– Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?
– Then you will not be angry?
– I will NOT be angry.
– Abby, someone.
– (pause, then) Abby, someone. Abby, who?
– Abby ... Normal?
– (pause, then) Abby Normal?
– I’m almost  sure that was the name.
– (chuckles, then) Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?
(grabs Igor and starts throttling him)
– Is that what you’re telling me?

In fact, the mind of the monster is in Mary Shelley's novel completely in line with modern brain research. Like a computer’s hard drive, a brain’s memory is wiped out if it is not supplied with a constant flow of blood and oxygen during a transplant process. So it could in principle be true that the monster did not remember who he had been and that he accordingly behaved like a child, with a brain that was still in development. The monster’s uncoordinated movements, portrayed in countless films, and the deficient motoric control are also consistent with the conditions that prevails after an extensive brain damage.

Although it is unclear how Mary Shelley envisioned the monster's creation process, it is clear in both film and novel that in order to bring the creature  to life, it had to be supplied with electricity. In the film, Frankenstein explains that he had ”beyond the ultraviolet spectrum” come across an energy-carrying radiation. This “energy-saturated force” was actually the secret behind the origin of life on earth – “a magnificent ray that first brought life into the world.”

When, after a sufficient supply of energy has been generated by violent lightning strikes, Frankenstein sees how the monster’s hand first trembles and then slowly lifts from bier, he whispers again and again: “It's alive”, until his whispers turn into a triumphant howl of joy: “It's alive! It's alive!” Soon after, Frankenstein loudly and triumphantly proclaims: “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”, a statement that created major problems for James Whale when Christian pressure groups demanded that the film company cut it out, or simply banned the blasphemous film altogether.

This was before the so-called Production Code was introduced. After 1934, a rule was applied in Hollywood that films had to be “certified” in order to be distributed and according to that code Frankenstein’s speech would certainly have been cut, but it remained and the film became a great success all over the world. In Sweden, however, it was shortened to 51 minutes after the Statens Biografbyrå, the Governmental Cinema Agency, had completely banned screening of the original,  which was 71 minutes long. Frankenstein comparing himself to God had disappeared, among other upsetting scenes.

Electromagnetism was certainly the most revolutionary discovery of the first half of the 19th century. Galvani and Volta had initiated an intensive search for the sources of electricity. The Dane Hans Christain Ørsted discovered in 1820 that a compass needle moved when he closed a current circuit and thus electromagnetism became a fact.

Thirteen years later, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) succeeded in establishing the laws of electrolysis and introduced the concept of ions for such micro-units that transport electricity. It was the Swede Svante Arrhenius (18t59-1927) who in 1890 understood that Faraday’s ions were atoms, or groups of atoms, with a positive or a negative charge. William Thomson, aka Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), formulated the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

Such discoveries in chemical science contributed to the fact that questions surrounding the origin of life could now be liberated from religious speculation and analysed through so-called inorganic sciences. The increasingly rapid development in chemistry and physics had been made possible by application of mathematical formulas, such as the functions of complex variables (Gauss, Cauchy, Abel and Jacobi), the theory of equations and group theory (Cauchy and Galois), as well as the efforts of Lobachevsky and Bolyai, who overturned accepted concepts derived from Euclid’s geometry. Through the mathematicians’ abstract calculations  a completely new way of thinking was opened up and several physicists realised that there was a connection between thought activity and energy and that certain parts of the brain controlled different senses and body movements.

However, the functioning of the brain remained largely a mystery and the only guidance available was largely how head injuries affected certain body functions, as well as the senses and thoughts. War invalids and accident victims who had survived severe head traumas, patients in mental institutions and what could be found through dissections and microscopic examinations of brain tissues, constituted the main clues to how the human brain functioned. Examinations of trauma survivors’ damaged brains came to be called Lesion Studies.

In 1848, Phineas Gage worked as a foreman on a railroad construction site in Vermont, USA. He was known to be a reliable and solid man. A hole filled with gunpowder exploded prematurely and sent an iron spike right through Phineas’ head, destroying his left frontal lobe. Phineas was in a coma for a week, but after waking up he quickly recovered, but by then he had turned into an impulsive, vulgar and generally unpleasant person. Gage lived for another fifteen years, but then as a tragic figure who made a living by allowing himself to be exhibited, with the fatal skewer in hand, at that time very popular Freak Shows.

Gage’s injury caused an ever-increasing interest in how different parts of the brain were essential to certain character traits and how they were connected to other functions, something that led to a revival of the central ideas of 18th -century phrenology.

The term phrenology comes from Greek words for “mind/soul” and “the doctrine of”. It is the German doctor Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) who has come to be regarded as founder of phrenology. Gall was an experienced anatomist who argued that the human psyche resides in the brain and does not take the form of a kind of fleeting, non-material soul. Through this finding, he came to the conclusion that different parts of the brain have different functions and that a certain brain centre can vary in size and development in different individuals. His big mistake was the assumption that the brain presses on the inside of the skull and thus affects its shape. According to Gall, a person's personal characteristics could thus be measured by examining the shape of his/her skull.

Inspired by Gall, the Frenchman Jean Pierre Flourens (1794-1867) began in 1815 to cut into the brains of living rabbits and pigeons and carefully investigate whether his interventions affected the animals’ movement patterns, sensitivity and behaviour. He did this to disprove Gall’s opinion that the shape of the skull could reveal which parts of the brain that influenced a certain behaviour. Fluorens was convinced that in order to find behavioural changes, one had to make direct interventions in the brain of living beings. He found, for example, that the removal of the cerebellum affected the animals' sense of balance.

In 1861, the Frenchman Paul Broca (1824-1880) examined a patient in whom a head injury had caused such a severe language disorder that he could only say “tan”. When the man died shortly afterwards, Broca dissected his brain he found that an area in the back part of the left frontal lobe had been badly damaged. This specific location turned out to be a language centre, something Broca managed to prove through surgical interventions on macaque monkeys, which, if they survived, no longer could express themselves through the formation of sounds.

Since then, monkeys have often been victims of nauseating experiments. For example, the American Roger Wolcott Serry (1913-1994) managed to prove that the two different halves of the brain have different functions, partly by studying patients who, in order to alleviate their epilepsy, had had their cerebral cortex (the connection between brain halves) cut open and partly by observing monkeys that deliberately underwent various surgical procedures in the brain.

Experimentation with macaque monkeys is still on-going and makes me think of a scene in Roy Andersson's film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. In a cold, clinically clean laboratory a live macaque, with a removed braincase, is painfully mounted upon a stand and with electronic equipment connected to its exposed brain, this while a laboratory assistant in the background looks out the window, speaking into her mobile phone while repeating  the same phrase over and over again: “So nice to hear that you are doing so well.”

Broca’s experiments was completed by contributions  from the German Carl Wernicke (1848-1905). Her worked in a mental hospital where he investigated various forms of aphasia. Aphasia is a disorder affecting speech abilities and language comprehension. Expressive aphasia affects a patient’s speech, making it impossible to find the right words. Impressive aphasia makes it difficult to understand what others are saying. Transfer aphasia involves a loss of motoric control of speech-creating organs.

Broca discovered the the brain’s centre for controlling the mechanics of speech, while Wernicke through autopsies and animal experiments discovered another area of speech and language control. Damage to Wernicke’s area led to fluent but disordered speech, impaired speech comprehension, and messed up silent reading. The area where a damage had occurred determined what form of aphasia the patient developed.

The Italian anatomist Cesare Ezechia Marco Lombroso (1835-1909) was inspired by Gall's theories and conducted comprehensive studies of various skull injuries, which as in survivors like Phineas Gage had caused dramatic personality changes. Lombroso performed and documented a large amount of dissections of deceased criminals and concluded that they were “born criminals” and that that a predisposition for immoral and/or offensive behaviour could be “anatomically defined” through careful documentation of certain characteristics; such as a sloping forehead, unusually large ears, asymmetrical facial features, or pronatism, i.e. that a part of the face, for example the lower jaw, sticks out more than normal, elongated arms, strange skull shapes and a variety of other physical features. During his lifetime, Lombroso was generally hailed as a revolutionary scientist and his vast literary output influenced a host of novelists, such as Zola, Conrad, Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy and Bram Stoker.

Like the fictional Frankenstein and the very real Zheleznyakov, as well as Oppenheimer with the atomic bomb, Lombroso's “research” had terrible consequences. He was a full-fledged misogynist and racist who based his prejudices on dubious “research results” and his huge collection of bones and other human remains. Lombroso's theories, which in fact were quite unsubstantiated, formed the basis for much of the “racial research” that came to form the basis for the Nazi skull measurements and the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally disturbed people who had been hospitalized  in asylums, and a host of other people who all had been labelled as "beings with ein Lebensunwertes Leben, a worthless life.”

Unscrupulous scientific charlatans such as Alfred Ploetz, Eugen Fischer, Olmar von Verschuer, Hans Günther, Ernst Rüdin, Robert Ritter, Rudolf Hippius and Josef Mengele contributed through their "research" to the terrible mass murders. In this context might it be recalled that eugenics with a very obvious racist emphasis was a popular research field  in many countries with essential contributions from the Englishman Sir Francis Galton and Americans like Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, Charles Davenport, Henri Goddard and Samuel Morton, the French Paul Broca, and not the least Swedes like Magnus Retzius and Herman Lundborg.

A more commendable contribution to brain research was the fact that for eight years Lombroso had Camillo Golgi (1843-1921) as his assistant. After leaving Lombroso, Golgi concentrated on the microscopic study of nerve cells. An invaluable method in the continued exploration of the nervous system was his invented technique of staining nerve tissue with silver nitrate. Thereby he discovered a form of nerve cell which was named Golgi Cell. He was also able to identify the soma/neuron, i.e. the nerve cell body. Through his microscopic investigations, Golgi also found axons and dendrites. Like several other researchers who devoted themselves to microscopic studies, Golgi was a skilled draftsman. As in this drawing showing pituitary neurons:

Broca's and Wernicke's discoveries had made it obvious that different parts of the brain work together to create sensations, behaviour, and thoughts, while Golgi's discoveries proved that it was electrochemical connections which enabled cooperation between different parts of the brain and thus the functioning of the entire organ, something that opened the way for investigations of how energy travels through the brain.

Energy is created in the centre of a neuron. Just outside its nucleus we find the mitochondria, small DNA-carrying structures that contribute to energy production, while the cell nucleus is the neuron's control centre. Electrical nerve impulses travel between neurons at a maximum speed of 400 km/h. Electrical impulses pass from neuron to neuron through nerve fibres, axons, often encased in myelin, an insulating fatty substance.

To continue its journey from a sending axon to a receiving dendrite, the nerve impulses must pass a synapse, where the electrical impulse is stimulated to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that transmit the electrical current to dendrites that branches out from the cell body of a receiving neuron. In this manner, electrical signals travel from neuron to neuron until they reach their destination.

The researcher who clarified this process was the Spaniard Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934). Ramón y Cajal had a poetic way of expressing himself. For example, he called neurons “the enigmatic butterflies of the soul whose flapping wings will one day reveal their secrets to us.”

In his memoirs, Ramón y Cajal recounted how, during his somewhat mischievous youth, he witnessed a ghastly accident that, according to him, became a watershed for him, setting him on a path that resulted in significant scientific achievements and a Nobel Prize, namely the discovery of the functions of neurons, their crucial role in the transmission of life-giving electricity throughout the body.

A priest, startled by a violent storm, had rushed up the bell tower of the village church and, in a futile attempt to appease God’s wrath, he had begun tolling the bell. However, lightning struck the tower and the young Ramón y Cajal witnessed how

under the bell, enveloped in dense smoke, with his head hanging lifelessly over the wall, lay the poor priest, who thought he could avert the impending danger by a careless ringing of the church bell. Several men climbed up to help him and found him with his clothes on fire and with a terrible wound on his neck, from which he died a few days later. The lightning had gone straight through him and maimed him in a terrible way.

Ramón y Cajal's aesthetic/poetic streak appears in his drawings and writings. He was for most of his life an agnostic who lamented that he was not a devout Catholic, but as he grew older he began to perceive God’s presence in His creation, though he maintained  his experimental/empirical sense .

Aesthetics was something Ramón y Cajal shared with another eminent neurophysiologist – the Englishman Charles Scott Sherrington (1857-1952) who fine-tuned Ramón y Cajal’s discoveries about the brain’s energy transfer and coined the term synapse. In his book Man On His Nature, Sherrington writes about the miracle of everyday life, how the brain’s energy is connected to the vastness of the universe:

The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance . Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns. Now as the waking body rouses, subpatterns of this great harmony of activity stretch down into the unlit tracks of the stalk-piece of the scheme. Strings of flashing and travelling sparks engage the lengths of it. This means that the body is up and rises to meet its waking day.

Sherrington writes about the researcher’s joy and excitement while confronting  the mysteries of the Universe and the body. He fears that this childish wonder before the beauty and mystery of existence will eventually disappear:

We dismiss wonder commonly with childhood. Much later, when life’s pace has slackened, wonder may return. The mind then may find so much inviting wonder the whole world becomes wonderful. Then one thing is scarcely more wonderful than is another. But, greatest wonder, our wonder soon lapses. A rainbow every morning who would pause to look at? The wonderful which comes often or is plentifully about us is soon taken for granted. That is practical enough. It allows us to get on with life. But it may stultify if it cannot on occasion be thrown off. To recapture now and then childhood’s wonder, is to secure a driving force for occasional grown-up thoughts.

Ramón y Cajal's search for the mechanical structures and energy behind our thinking seems to have a similar physical basis for  assumptions and research as the German Hermann von Helmholtz. (1821-1894), a brilliant scientist and inventor with a surprising breadth of research. A versatile medical doctor, physicist, inventor and philosopher who tried to find explanations for how our minds work and how energy can be stored and forwarded.

To explore the function of the eye and the emergence of the sense of colour, he invented the ophthalmoscope, which made it possible to look into the interior of the eye, diagnose eye diseases and prevent blindness, and the keratometer, which measured the refractive power of the cornea.

To study the psychology of acoustics and our perception of sound, he constructed a sound synthesizer: ten electromagnetically charged tuning forks, each paired with a brass resonator tuned to the same frequency. This he did to demonstrate and analyse the effect of harmonics in complex sounds. One of his goals was to better understand the nature of speech and the production of vocal sounds, produced by resonant harmonics and mechanically created by muscles of the vocal tract. von Helmholtz also constructed several simpler and  elegant resonators, which he used to identify different frequencies.

In physics, von Heimholtz is known for his theories concerning energy conservation, electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics and the mechanical basis of thermodynamics. As a philosopher, he wrote about the relationship between perception and natural laws, about science as aesthetics and civilizing force. His writings deal with  the indestructibility of energy/force, about the unity of forces and force transformation. They range from the age of the Earth to the origin and fate of the solar system.

According to von Helmholtz, the brain is a kind of "probability machine", which, through data carried by energy, use complex feedback mechanisms to control, adjust and minimize various inaccuracies, misconceptions and incomplete information conveyed through our senses.

von Helmholtz described himself as an “experimental philosopher”. He believed that our perception of objects and phenomena that surround us is the product of how our sense organs perceive them and how our consciousness processes that information. Our conceptions do not depict things as they actually exist outside of us, they are merely signs or symbols of them. However, we are able to form an idea of the true nature and existence of things by examining the laws and physical functions that govern our thoughts and sensations.

Below is a drawing by Ramón y Cajal showing neurons in the grey matter of the cerebral cortex (though in a living brain it is most likely dark pink. It is when the cerebral cortex is stored in a laboratory that it turns grey).

The cerebral cortex brings us back to Swedenborg’s speculations  about the seat of the soul, mainly his opinion that all nerve fibres of the brain were connected to the cerebral cortex’s myriads of cerebellula, the small glands that Swedenborg assumed were concentrated in the pituitary gland and the grey cerebral cortex. Gland structures which task it was to separate and mix different chemical signal fluids.

In fact, the grey matter of the cerebral cortex consists of neuron cells which root-like excrescences,  axons and dendrins, form the white brain matter that handles communication between the body's nerve cells. Swedenborg was not entirely lost when he assumed that the cerebral cortex was the seat of the soul. The 3–5 mm thick, folded cerebral cortex is more developed in humans than in any other mammal. Elephants have larger brains than humans, birds have larger brains relative to their body weight ratio, and whales have more folds in their cerebral cortex, but the human cerebral cortex has the most neurons and more functions than any animal brain. Swedenborg was absolutely right when he assumed that the cerebral cortex is involved in several of the brain's complex functions; such as memory, attention, thinking and language.

Like Hermann von Helmholtz, the American neurology professor David Linden appears to assume that the human brain is a “probability machine” that weaves together sophisticated, nut nevertheless  flawed, information from sensory impressions into coherent interpretations and “stories”. This cognitive function is mainly located to the left, frontal cerebral cortex and it is this part of the human brain that creates our self-consciousness , which distinguishes us from other animals. It is this part of the brain that forms the basis for dreams, as well as the creation and sharing  of all kinds of uniquely human thoughts and behaviour, not least in the religious sphere.

Religion is a form of personal belief that is influenced by sociocultural factors, our common human evolutionary heritage as reflected in the structure and function of our brains, which predisposes us to religious thinking in much the same way that it predisposes us to other cultural universals, such as long-standing pair bonding, language and music.

In his book The Accidental Mind, Professor Linden described the human brain as a

A chaotic patchwork. Admittedly impressive through its various functions, but with an odd, inefficient and bizarre design. A strange concoction accumulated over millions of years through ad hoc solutions,

Linden compares the human brain to an ice cream cone, in which scoops of different flavours have been stacked on top of each other. Evolution has added brain functions, which like scoops of ice cream have ended up on top of lower strata that largely have remained unchanged.

A human's brainstem, cerebellum and midbrain are not that different from a frog’s. However, evolution added the hypothalamus, thalamus and the limbic system, brain parts that are also found in a rat. What makes humans unique is their well-developed cortex, the cerebral cortex, the size of which means that it has shrunk and becoming increasingly folded to fit in under the shell of the skull.

The human frontal cortex is particularly sophisticated. This part, which is crucial to human uniqueness, constitutes the associative centre of the brain; it fills in information gaps and creates context and logic, even when there is none of it. In this frontal cortex we find the origin of fantasy, creativity, storytelling and gossiping, all of them exclusive human traits.

Thoughts and behaviour arise within different brain centres and it is a multitude of nerve connections and electrochemical currents that travel through them that convey and create sensory impressions, while it is primarily the task of the cerebral cortex to monitor and interpret this swarm of information.

Most functions and processes can be found in both sides of the brain. However, there are certain functions that are mainly localized to one of the two brain hemispheres. The left hemisphere contains language functions, such as speech and writing, several of them connected to the previously mentioned Broca and Wernicke areas. Information from the cerebral hemispheres are connected and coordinated via the Corpus Callosum.

 

In popular literature, the exclusive functions of each of the cerebral hemispheres are often exaggerated. Studies of people who have had the connection between them severed, for example by a surgical separating of the halves (generally to mitigate or cure epilepsy), have indicated that the left hemisphere of the brain coordinates abstract thinking; such as the meaning and context of words, as well as sequential mathematical calculation. The right cerebral cortex is more concentrated on spatial concepts and relationships. It contributes to detection of the emotional tone of words, relates to music and interprets subtle facial expressions.

In 1996, American neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a massive brain haemorrhage that filled her left brain hemisphere with blood,  knocking out a variety of functions. She lost the ability to walk, speak, write and read, suffered from large memory gaps and problems with the coordination of her body movements. After a surgical procedure and eight years of intensive training, Bolte Taylor managed to reconstruct what she had lost through her impaired brain functions.

In her book My Stroke of Insight, she described in great detail the entire process of tribulation and recovery, from the morning she woke up, confused and disabled by a violent brain haemorrhage, caused by a ruptured blood vessel. Free-flowing blood poses a deadly danger to the brain’s neurons, and the emergency becomes even more fatal when the blood coagulates and creates massive clots.

The strange thing was that Bolte Taylor, despite her inability to speak intelligibly and countless other difficulties, she experienced what in other times could have been considered mystical ecstasy: "in the absence of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and fear, I felt how my spirit left its attachment to my body and I was freed from the pain.”

Instead of panicking at her helpless state, Bolte Taylor felt calm and peaceful, as if she had "united with the universe." She writes that "I believe that the experience of Nirvana rests in the consciousness of our right hemisphere", by Nirvana Bolte Taylor meant "the absence of experiences".

She explained that before her stroke, her disciplinary and logical left hemisphere created in her a sense of permanent nervousness, yes – she had often been both mean and unkind to herself and others. During her impotent submission to the right hemisphere, she empathized with all beings. Without understanding the meaning of words, she noticed the emotions that shaped them and the facial expressions accompanying them. Without structure, discipline and censorship, her thoughts moved freely and unfettered, effortless but also without comprehensibility. When she was restored and with the help of the left hemisphere gradually had become able to organize her thoughts, rediscover her place in the world and shape her experiences into a “story”. Bolte Taylor eventually realized the value of the right hemisphere’s contribution to the human psyche. Her book shaped itself into a hymn to the right hemisphere of the brain:

My right mind character is adventurous, celebrative of abundance and socially adept. It is sensitive to nonverbal communication, emphatic and accurately decodes emotion. My right mind is open to the eternal flux whereby I exist with the universe. […] It is my intuition and higher consciousness. My right mind is ever present and gets lost in time. [...] Not bogged down by my past or fearful of what the future may or may not bring.[…] My right mind understand that I am the life force power of the fifty trillion molecular geniuses creating my form!

Here we find, although not as impressive as it is with them, a reflection of Whitman’s celebration of the unity of body and soul and Södergran’s triumph of existence. Like Swedenborg, who was also an educated and skilled explorer of the mysteries of the brain, Bolte Taylor, through her painful and upsetting brain haemorrhage, appeared to have opened her mind to a mystical vision of the vastness and innermost essence of existence. Nevertheless, I could not help nurturing a suspicion that Bolte Taylor’s praise of her right brain hemisphere was moving in direction towards a quite banal New Age philosophy.

My fears about where Bolte Tylor was heading appeared to be confirmed by her next book, Whole Brain Living. In it she presents, in Jungian succession, four “characters”  based on different locations in the brain. If Jung moved among myths, Bolte Taylor moves within ”science”, meaning her own personal perception of it.

 Bolte Taylor’s version of Cosmic Consciousness and our place within it appears to be, at least for me, blatantly naïve and oversimplified. Her four characters seem to reflect a personality analysis flavoured with a horoscope’s description of the zodiac’s predisposition to human traits. According to Bolte Taylor, the Persona (or hero) has its seat in the front left part of the brain. The Shadow lurks in the back left part. Anima/Animus is found in the back right part of the brain and God, or the manifestation of the Self, is found in the brain’s frontal right part.

Especially Bolte Taylor's definition of her “fourth character” appears to be exceedingly shallow and almost embarrassingly horoscope-esoteric:

 Our character 4 is the omniscient intelligence in which we find our origin and it is through it that we incarnate the consciousness of the universe.

Bolte Taylor advocates a seemingly “dogmatic” pantheistically tinged, religious worldview while urging his reader “to use whatever language is convenient for your belief system.”  Bolte Taylor also recommends what she refers to as a her “brain cure”. A tool that brings together the four characters of the brain in a conversation that enables us to use their respective strengths in order to be able to choose which character should be embodied in a particular situation.

Bolte Taylor’s mix of science and religion made me think of one of Chesterton’s Father Brown Stories in which the religious detective identifies the culprit as a fake priest. Then the revealed thief asks the real priest how was able to do it, Father Brown states that his ideas exposed him as a fake:

“What?”” the dumbfounded thief asks.
“You attacked reason,” Father Brown replies. “It’s bad theology.”

It is a human trait to seek simple solutions to complicated issues. Not least the complicated questions of – Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? How will my life turn out? Life is in fact, with Thomas Bernhard’s ingenious phrase, “simply complicated”. To avoid difficulties, one can therefore take refuge in a horoscope’s personality characteristics and predictions, or why not Thomas Eriksson’s best-selling book Surrounded by Idiots. It was published in 2014 and it has since then been used in recruitment processes and life skills courses. In Sweden alone it was purchased by more than half a million. An interesting title, but unfortunately a bad book.

Thomas Eriksson divides people in accordance with four categories – “dominant, inspiring, stable and analytical.” Each category is designated by a colour; red, yellow, green and blue.

The approach is well known, this so-called “DISC-method” has for several decades been successfully used by various consulting firms. It finds its origin in the book Emotions of Normal People, which was written in 1928 by the psychologist William Moulton Marston (1893-1947).

Marston was a multi-tasker who, in addition to books on self-help and psychiatry, together with Leonard Keeler participated in the development of the polygraph, somewhat incorrectly called a lie detector. A device that measures and records physiological indicators such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and skin conductivity, while a person is asked and answers a series of questions. Marston's contribution was the measurement of the systolic blood pressure. Systolic pressure indicates the force vessel walls are subjected to as the heart contracts and pushes a volume of blood into the body. Marston had observed his wife Elizabeth and ascertained that “when she became angry or excited, her blood pressure seemed to rise alarmingly.”

The belief underlying the use of a polygraph is that misleading/false answers produce specific physiological responses. However, most psychologists agree that there is little evidence that polygraph tests might conclusively detect lies. However, lie detectors in the form of so-called e-meters have a decisive function within the Scientology religion, which was founded by the charlatan and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Polygraphs are still used fairly widely in the United States, but in a majority of European jurisdictions consider them to be unreliable and there they are rarely used by law enforcement. In addition to DISC therapy and polygraphs, Marston is known to have been “poly-amorous”.  He lived in an open relationship with two women and had two children with each of them. A third woman occasionally joined Marston’s Rainbow Family. This has among advocates of so-called “rainbow marriages” made Marston something of a cult figure and in a film from 2017, Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman, Marston and his two wives are the heroes. The film also celebrates how Marston created the comic book character Wonder Woman.

Let us now leave the pseudo-sciences and confront the remarkable phenomena that the use of magneto-encephalography (MEG) apparatus has given rise to. A new world is opening; incomprehensible, wondrous and maybe even terrifying.

Neurons use oxygen that is transported through the bloodstream by haemoglobin molecules. Haemoglobin contains iron. The magnets in an MEG device track iron in the brain and magnetic impulses can thereby signal when different parts of the brain have become active. This happens by sending additional oxygen-carrying blood into them, thereby creating visible contrasts between active and inactive states.

In 2009, brain researchers in Liège discovered that a patient, who, after a brain injury, was in a vegetative state, unable to communicate with the environment, actually had several active thought functions. After being brought into an MEG machine, the patient was asked if he could imagine himself walking around in a house. The question made a certain area of the brain light up. When he was asked to imagine that he was playing tennis, a completely different part of the brain was activated. The researchers then asked him to use the thought “play tennis” as a signal for “yes” and asked him if his name was “Alexander” – the “tennis area” was lit up. They then asked him to imagine “wandering around in a house” would signify a “no”. He was then asked if he had any sisters, the “house area” was lit up, and so on until a conversation could be built around yes and no answers. Sometimes a question did not get a clear answer, for example when the researchers asked Alexander if he wanted to die. Through this method, the Belgian researcher team came to estimate that twenty per cent of patients assumed to be in a “vegetative” state, actually were conscious.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and brain scanning are rapidly changing researchers’ ability to read neural data. Through mathematical thinking based on algorithms, i.e. those finite sets of data are by means of unambiguous instructions run through computer programs; several researchers now believe that they are approaching the origins of human thoughts and mind. The amount of possible thoughts that people can think is large - but it is not infinite, and with the help of scanners and AI, researchers are now searching among brain neurons to identify specific patterns and “activation codes”. What so far has been found are so-called voxels – “activation areas” that are approximately one cubic millimetre in size. The breakthrough came when researchers figured out how to use MEG and computers to track tens of thousands of voxels at a time and then manage to activate them as if they were keys on a piano and as thoughts were chords. With the help of computer technology, a visual and semantic space can be created, probably a path towards the understanding of how our brains reflect the world.

Researchers’ are attempting to capture the constant flow of voxel patterns and then process it through colour and sound interpretations similar to those the brain applies to sensory impressions and thoughts. By analysing brain scans, a computer system can edit reconstructions of film clips that a subject has seen and afterwards stored among their brain windings. A research group has used similar techniques to visually reconstruct/mirror the dreams of sleeping subjects.

It sounds farfetched, or completely impossible, but we might consider how in 1953 Watson and Crick finally found the Double Helix they had been looking for during several years and thus proved that genes actually had a physical form. Already by the end of the 20th century, The Human Genome Project was able to present the complete DNA sequence of Homo Sapiens. Today, they can even edit it.

Bold thinking, fantastic plans and yet in a cosmic perspective I is like little Calvin playing in his sandbox.

To me it appears as if the Universe and thus also human brains are animated by a cosmic force. Maybe several. What do I know?

The Greek energeia meant “activity”, from energos, “active”, where en stands for “in” and ergon for “work”, so energy can actually be translated as “in work”. For many scientists, the search for a cosmic energy has turned to be an enormous and exhausting task. Frankenstein dreamed of finding the origin of life and thereby becoming like a creative god – but he created a monster. Lombroso believed that by measuring an enormous amount of skulls and in detail observes a person’s appearance, he could determine who had criminal tendencies, or even who was simply a genius. The result of his “research” became one of the reasons for the Nazis' insane mass extermination of “useless” and/or “harmful” people. The driving force behind all this? Is it the electricity that flows through our brains? How did Hitler’s brain function? Which brain centres would his Jew-hatred light up if he had been put into an MEG scanner? How does Putin’s brain function?

A milestone in neuroscience was Oskar Voigt's careful study of Lenin's brain, which in 1924, and at the request of the Soviet government, was carried out at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. Vogt’s detailed and well-documented research has been praised for highlighting the role of neuroscience in understanding human behaviour and the complex interplay between biology and environment. However, over time it has turned out that Voigt’s conclusions in reality was almost without any scientific proof. Professor Vogt’s assumption that Lenin was a “brain athlete and an associative giant” is quite doubtful. It was a dead brain Voigt dissected and microscopically examined and it was thus impossible for Vogt to establish which different brain centres that had been activated by electrochemical processes triggered by Lenin’s thoughts.

Statements about Lenin's “intelligence” should furthermore take into account his aptitude for generalization and a willingness to use violence and terror, paired with an obvious, cold lack of empathy. Something that often came up when different people described their meetings with him. For example, Bertrand Russell who in 1920 had a more than hour-long, private conversation with the Soviet leader:

He laughs a lot; at first his laugh seemed merely friendly and cheerful, but by and by I came to find it rather harsh and grim. He is dictatorial, calm, fearless, completely lacking in self-awareness, a theory embodied. He perceives the materialistic conception of history as his lifeblood. In his desire to have his theories understood, he resembles a professor, and so also in his fury towards those who misunderstand or disagree with him, as well as his propensity to explain. I got the impression that he despises a great many people, that he is an intellectual aristocrat.

Lenin's orders and letters often indicate a brutal ruthlessness, for example when he in 1921 in a letter to one group of his 200 000 chekists, henchmen enforcing his branch of Communism, wrote:

It is necessary – secretly and urgently to prepare the terror.  […] make sure that the hangings takes place in full view of the people, [hang] no fewer than one hundred known landlords, rich men, and bloodsuckers. ... Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around, the people might see, tremble, know, and shout: “They are strangling, and will strangle to death, the bloodsucking kulaks.

We have among as contemporary Frankensteins who do not hesitate to perform the most fantastic experiments on living people. Sergio Canavero (born 1964) worked for 22 years as a neurosurgeon in Turin until his contract was terminated in February 2015, due to increased opposition to his research. After his dismissal, Canavero was named honorary professor at Harbin Medical University, where he now collaborates with Xiaoping Ren. In January 2016, Canavero and his team published a press release announcing a “successful head transplant” on a monkey, which survived the procedure and was kept alive for 20 hours. The press release mentioned that Canavero and his Chinese colleagues are now experimenting on human cadavers and that they are confident that within a few years they will be able to perform successful human head transplants.

Are we humans transgressing the limits set by the cosmic energy/balance? There is no doubt that each and every one of us is connected with everything. When cosmic radiation was discovered a hundred years ago, a new field of research was opened, particle physics, and with it, studies of the origin of matter and its innermost structure. Modern physics thus got its start and brain research became part of it. Everything in the universe shares the same microscopic building blocks – molecules, atoms, quarks and bosons and the same force/s set everything in motion.

The discovery of so-called cosmic radiation began at 6:00 a.m. on August 7, 1912. Then a 1,700 cubic meter balloon, filled with hydrogen gas, took off from Aussig, a town between Prague and Dresden. In the gondola were the 29-year-old Austrian Victor Hess as well as two colleagues and several instruments with which they intended to measure the production of electric charge, the ionization, in the higher air spaces.

The balloon reached an altitude of 5,000 meters and on the way there Hess measured how the ionization of the air varied with altitude. To his great surprise, he found that it was almost three times higher than on the ground. It was the opposite of what he and other researchers had expected. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the penetrating radiation had been a mystery. It was assumed that the air was charged by the radioactive radiation of the earth's crust, and therefore the ionization should decrease with height above the ground. That was not at all the case.

To the surprise of many, it turned out that the vast vacuum of space between planets, suns and galaxies was far from empty. The earth is continuously bombarded by various forms of energy/cosmic radiation and contrary to what was believed before Hess's discovery, cosmic radiation consists for the most part of positively charged particles. Today we know that nearly nine out of ten of incoming cosmic particles are protons.

Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that move through space at close to the speed of light. They originate from the sun and also come from our own galaxy, as well as from more distant galaxies. Galactic, cosmic rays arise from supernova remnants. They are the result of the powerful explosions taking place during the final stages of massive stars’ final demise, or collapse into black holes. The energy released by such explosions accelerates in the form of charged particles. Supernovae are like huge, natural particle accelerators.

Using quantum field theory, the so-called standard model of particle physics describes the smallest particles and how their interaction creates the four elementary forces that govern the Universe. Gravity which controls the orbits of the planets around the sun and binds stars together into galaxies. Electromagnetism connects the electrons to the atoms and is the force that, through chemical connections, gathers molecules into DNA chains. The Weak Interaction produces radioactive decay, while the Strong Interaction forces protons and neutrons to form atomic nuclei.

In school I learned that an atom resembles a planetary system. Its nucleus is like a sun in the middle and negatively charged electrons revolve around the positively charged atomic nucleus.

It is a model that Niels Bohr introduced in 1913. However, according to him, it was more complicated than that. Unlike how planets move, the electrons are thought to be able to jump between orbits. If they jump from an outer orbit to an inner one, a flash of electromagnetic radiation is emitted from the atom. If the atom is struck by such lightning, it may occur that an electron is lifted from an inner to an outer orbit.

Because of its clarity, Bohr’s atomic model continues to be the one that many physicists and chemists have in mind when they do their mathematical calculations. But it is supplemented and complicated by quantum mechanics, where one imagines that the positively charged atomic nucleus is surrounded by a cloud of negative charge. The cloud can change its shape by sending out or receiving electromagnetic radiation.

Electrons constitute a kind of force field. The protons and neutrons of the atomic nucleus, as well as the circling electrons, have been proven to consist of even smaller parts and they are now assumed to together form a group of particles called hadrons. A hadron contains elementary particles that aggregate into something called quarks and leptons

There are two forms of hadronsbaryons which are constituted by three quarks and mesons, which are made up of one quark and one antiquark. According to the Standard Model, it is force-carrying elementary particles within the quarks that mediate the four fundamental forces of nature. These particles have been identified as photons, gluons, bosons and so far hypothetical gravitons. It is their interaction that creates energy, mass and electrochemical charge.

Physicists hope that there will be a “theory of everything” that includes the four elementary forces and thus will be the solution to the Standard Model's many unanswered questions. Perhaps the newly identified Higgs Boson could be a decisive step in that direction.

Several particle designations are named after their discoverers, their function, or are simply made up. For example, Murray Gell-Mann searched for a name for the particle bonds he discovered. In his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventure in the Simple and the Complex, Gell-Mann describes how in 1964 he repeatedly heard the word kwork within himself. He had read it somewhere and finally found it in a poem in James Joyce’s quite incomprehensible Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure hasn't got much of bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

Apparently, this piece of incomprehensibility refers to the drunken chatter in a pub where someone orders three pints of beer for someone called Mark. A quarter is two pints of beer. Gell-Mann was very pleased with his word discovery because “the recipe for making a neutron or proton from quarks is, roughly speaking, 'take three quarks'.”

Bosons are named after the Indian mathematician and physicist Satyendra Nayh Bose (1894-1974). He was a universal genius, spoke Bengali, English, French and German, and read Sanskrit fluently. The latter made Bose read Hindu religious scriptures with great interest. Like many mathematicians and physicists, Bose was musically gifted and known as an accomplished esrai musician, the esrai is a Punjabi stringed instrument likened to a violin.

Among other things, Bose worked with extremely complicated mathematical analyses of the connection between supposed elementary particles and came to the conclusion that what came to be called bosons are separate from the infinite number of particles that can simultaneously have the same state, which means that at the lowest energy level they can be clumped together, This seemed to support a notion of a kind of cosmic symmetry based on “fields” that pervade the entire Universe. These particles can at different points in time and space assume different values, depending on the average number of particles that can be observed within the field. Particles can be created and destroyed by adding or removing energy from the field. Every known particle, from electrons to photons, is associated with a space-time saturated vibrating field.

I'm neither a physicist, nor a mathematician and can certainly have misapprehended everything. Nevertheless, I suppose that Bose’s discoveries and theories suggested that conditions for“electroweak¨” symmetry could be changed by the presence of a different “field”. The building blocks of such a field could be the particles which existence Bose suspected.

We can assume that a particle named fermion (after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi) is the prerequisite for the origin of the constituents of our existence. Yes, the entire Universe – electrons, quarks, protons, neutrons, etc., this while the bosons are forces that make them vibrate together. According to the Standard Model, the weak force and the electromagnetic force are combined into a single force, called the Electroweak Force. At high energies the Weak Force and the Electromagnetic Force are different aspects of the same force, but at lower energies they separate into different force fields. This happens through a so-called Spontaneous Symmetry Break caused by a specific boson. A connection assumed by Satyendra Bose.

In an article Bose published in 1924, he presented a summary of his research findings. He sent it to Einstein, who was impressed and found Bose's theories completely consistent with his own hunches. He translated the article into German and saw to it that it was published in the respected Zeitschrift für Physik.

Several years later, independently of each other, Peter Higgs and François Englert/Robert Brout presented in 1964 a theory that assumed that the W-, Z+- and Z bosons, which make up the Electroweak Force, obtain their masses through a Spontaneous Symmetry Break caused by what is now called the Higgs Mechanism, in which a boson – the Higgs Boson – plays a crucial role.

 

At high temperatures, four bosons jointly mediate the Electroweak Force. However, at low temperatures, three bosons combine themselves with each other, while the fourth, which is now called the Higgs Boson, is left entirely alone. It was the particle that Higgs, Englert and Brout were looking for.

The three researchers had arrived at their conclusion through mathematical analysis. Now it was a matter of proving that the Higgs Boson really existed, as was the case with the Double Helix. It took fifty years before their hypothesis could be proven. In order to do that, it was necessary to use the world's most advanced machine – the giant particle accelerator Large Hadron Collider at CERN outside Geneva. It is a 27 kilometre long circular construction. With the help of 1,200 magnets cooled to -271 degrees Celsius, protons are accelerated to 99.99998 per cent of the speed of light. When the protons collide, the situation just after the Big Bang is to some extent recreated. However, finding the Higgs Boson is extremely rare. Out of a billion proton collisions, possibly 10 Higgs Bosons can be observed. Not only that – the Higgs Boson decays almost immediately. At a seminar at Cern on July 4th, 2012, it was announced that the sought-after boson had been found.

Within the mist of my compact ignorance it seems to me that nuclear scientists are actually approaching something that could be a proof of the presence of a single, all-unifying, cosmic force that permeates the entire universe including us humans. A force that obviously cannot disappear as long as Cosmos exists. And in the midst of this cosmic vastness are you and I, with our big problems, our limitations, our mood swings, evil and goodness, our intractable traumas and crazy ideas. Our puny existence, our small egos and limited consciousness, which after all are made up of the same atoms and forces as the incomprehensibly vast Universe we are all a part of, with its swirling planets, suns and galaxies, all of which are so unimaginably far away from us and our everyday existence.

When I read about these breath-taking perspectives where electrically charged particles contribute to the creation of the human brain and the constant flow of information that gives rise to our thoughts and our special personality, it is easy to forget the battle between sociology and medical materialism, i.e. environment and heritage. In my opinion, these concepts are not at all in opposition to each other. I assume that a large part of the evolutionary ice cream that David Linden writes about contains a large dose of ever-changing experiences, of what we learned from parents, friends, enemies, acquaintances and social media. What we call nature is a prerequisite for what we call culture.

In his book The Selfish Gene, the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (1941-) introduced the concept of meme. A meme is generally described as

an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation, or other non-genetic means.a

As examples of memes, Dawkins gave melodies, slogans, beliefs, fashion, special production techniques, art, etc. According to him, the body and brain act as carriers of both genes and memes. It is genes and memes that make up the biologically and culturally based units that control every part of the human body and thus also the brain. Genes are transmitted through DNA, while memes are spread through transmission from individual to individual; through our senses, our sight and our speech, social media and all other forms of communication that we humans use. According to Dawkins, we humans are herd animals and thus we pay attention to and adapt to cultural and social codes. It is our brains that are attracted to and imitate various forms of information, which then are relayed to our body and consciousness in the form of electrochemical impulses.

Already existing knowledge and skills, behaviour and ideas, are taken over from other individuals and used with the same obviousness as when I in a supermarket put goods in my shopping cart. It is our more or less conscious choices that govern us and it is therefore important to realize that what we call our knowledge and intelligence has emerged from certain specific contexts – family, school, work, interests. In order to realize who we are and how we react, we should probably understand and accept how much of what we believe to be our personality, our consciousness, has been created through collective actions and public information.

Can forces like the transforming Higgs Boson, as many amateurs have done, be likened to God’s presence in His Universe? What do I know? I can possibly refer to what the bishop Jacob, played by Max von Sydow, declares in Enskilda samtal, Private Conversations, a TV series in two parts directed by Liv Ullman and based on a script by Ingmar Bergman that was presented by Swedish Television in 1996

Anna: Do you, Uncle Jacob, believe in God, a father in Heaven, a, ... a loving God? A God with hands and heart and watchful eyes.
Jacob: Don't say the word God. Say the Holy, in every man there is the Holy, the holiness of man, all else is attribute ... manifestations, measures. You can never figure out or capture the holiness of man. At the same time, there is something to cling to, something very concrete unto death, what happens afterwards, it is hidden, it is only the poets and musicians and saints who have handed us mirrors where we can discern the unimaginable. They have seen and known and understood, not completely but in pieces. For me, it is comforting to think about the sanctity of man.

Visionaries like Swedenborg and the strangely brilliant William Blake, mystic, artist, and writer, have each in his manner tackled man’s relationship to his own existence and the immensity of the Universe. In my opinion, Blake did it best in a few short lines:

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Ackroyd, Peter (2008) The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. London: Chatto & Windus. Barbone, Julia (ed) (2019) Leonardo da Vinci: A mind in motion. London: British Library. Bolte Taylor, Jill (2009) My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Chesterton, C.K. (2012) The Complete Father Brown Stories. London: Penguin Classics. Crane, Stephen (2005) The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics. Darnton, Robert (1968) Mesmerism and the End of Enkightenment in France. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Dawkins, Richard (1978) The Selfish Gene. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin. Ehrlich, Benjamin (2022) The Brain in Search of Itself: Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Story of the Neuron. New York: Farrrar, Straus and Giroux. Enquist, Per Olov (1989) The Magnetist’s Fifth Winter. London: Quartet Books. Eriksson, Thomas (2019) Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behavior and How to Effectively Communicate with Each in Business (and in Life). New York: St Martins Essentials. Ering, Thomas Basil (1997) Diary of Victor Frankenstein. London: Dorling Kindersley. Ginsberg, Allen (1999) Meditation Rock (CD). Lund:  Bakhåll. Gordh, Torsten E., William G.P. Mair och Patrick Sourander (2007) “Swedenborg, Linnaeus and Brain Research – and the Roles of Gustaf Retzius and Alfred Stroh in the Rediscovery of Swedenborg’s Manuscripts,” in Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, No. 112.  Gould, Stephen Jay (1996) The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W. Norton.Grayling, Anthony Clifford (2022) The Frontiers of Knowledge: What We Know about Science, History and the Mind. London: Penguin Books. Gregory, Paul R. (2007) Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. Helmholtz, Hermann von (1995) Science and Culture: Popular and Philosophical Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  Kipperman, Mark (1998) “Coleridge, Shelley, Davy and Science’s Millennium”, in Criticism, Vol. 40, No. 3. Lamm, Martin (2000) Emanuel Swedenborg: The Development of his Thought. Dillwyn, VA: Swedenborg Foundation Press. Linden, David J. (2007) The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution has given us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.  Otto, Rudolf (1958) The Idea of the Holy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Proctor, Robert N. (1988) Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (2019) Recuerdos de mi vida. Alexandria: Library of Alexandria. Shelley, Mary (2006) Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin Classics. Shelley, Percy (2017) Selected Poems and Prose. London: Penguin Classics. Sherrington, Charles Scott (1955) Man On His Nature. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican Books. Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont (1999) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Philosophers' Abuse of Science. London: Picador. Sutter, Paul M. (2018) Your Place in the Universe: Understanding Our Big, Messy Existence. Amherst NY: Prometheus. Södergran, Edith (2004) Complete Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodax Books. Somers, James (2021) “Head Space: Researchers are pursuing an age-old question: What is a thought?, in The New Yorker, December 6. Svevo, Italo (1958) Confessions of Zeno. New York: Vintage. Topelius, Zacharias (2008) The Surgeon’s Stories: Times of Alchemy. Charleston, SC: BiblioLife. Vidal, Fernando (2016) ‘Frankenstein’s Brain: “The Final Touch”’, in SubStance, Vol. 45, No. 2. Whitman, Walt (1961) Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Classics. Winston, Robert and Wilson, Don E. (2005) L’Uomo. Milano: Mondadori.

 

 

 

04/12/2023 08:43

Allt går ju mä' elektricitet
Elektriskt dä' ä' nå't
konstigt med det.
Elektriskt dä' strömmar ju
som ni vet
härs å' tvärs igenom tråden.

Så sjöng Theodor Lorentz Larsson, alias Skånska Lasse, på tjugotalet och visst är det något konstigt med elektricitet. Klokare blir jag inte hur mycket jag än läser om det. Alla levande organismer tar ständigt in och frigör energi och elektriciteten manifesterar sig i en mängd olika former som blixtar, statisk elektricitet, elkromagnetiska fält och elektromagnetisk induktion. Vårt tänkande – vår hjärna drivs till största delen av elektricitet.

 

Efersom ett par vänner under den senaste tiden har drabbats av olika förändringar i hjärnan har jag alltmer kommit att fundera över elektricitet, personlighet, själ och medvetande. Det är väl min egen ålder som spökar – ju äldre jag blir kommer ålderskrämpor att dyka upp, kanske demrens.

Det är först under senare år jag börjat tänka på kropp och hälsa. Förutom att det roat mig att springa och promenera kunde jag tidigare identifiera mig med den kedjerökande hypokondrikern Zeno Cosinis beskrivning av sin far i Italo Svevos roman Zenos bekànnelser:

Min strävan efter hälsa hade fått mig att studera människokroppen. Han däremot hade lyckats förvisa alla tankar på den där fruktansvärda maskinen ur minnet. För honom slog inte hjärtat. Han behövde inte påminna sig själv om klaffar och vener och ämnesomsättning för att förklara varför han levde. [...] För honom var jorden orörligt och betryggande placerad mellan sina poler.

Jag har skjutits in i magnetoencefalografi(MEG)apparater som uppmätt och avfotograferat min hjärnas elektriska strömmar och på en skärm sett mitt tåliga hjärta slå, något det gjort i snart sjuttio år – minst sextio slag i minuten, natt som dag. Obegripligt. Vad är det som får det att slå? Var finns kraften bakom allt detta? Vad är liv? Elektricitetsbaserat?

Vardagens mirakler, exempelvis den ständigt pågående verksamheten hos den geléartade, veckade  klump av fett och proteiner som dols av kraniets skal. Ett och ett halvt kilo späckat med 86 miljarder neuroner, som genom elektriska impulser och kemiska signaler  styr och samordnar tankar, känslor, beteenden, rörelser och sinnesintryck. Från detta organ utgår nervtrådar spridda över hela kroppen, varifrån de tar emot och förmedlar signaler till den grå fettklumpen,  som bearbetar och tolkar dem, under vaka såväl som sömn.

Med ny insikt läser jag Walt Whitmans  I Sing the Body Electric i hans Leaves of Grass från 1855. I den långa dikten beskriver Whitman människans kropp som ett mirakel. Hur den ger var och en av oss vår särprägel, samtidigt som den kopplar oss samman med såväl andra individer, som hela mänskligheten, ja – med Universum. Att äga en kropp betyder enligt Whitman att du är en integrerad del av ett vackert, välordnat, fantastiskt och glädjefyllt Kosmos.

Som flera av Whitmans dikter utgörs I Sing the Body Electric delvis av en lista, som mäktigt, lyriskt och entusiatiskt presenterar en katalog över mänskliga, kroppsliga aktiviteter; våra tankar och hur de kopplats till våra kroppar. Whitman beskriver en mängd yttre och inre kroppsdelar på ett sätt som får mig att tänka på James Weldon Johnsons gospelsång Dem Bones:

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the leg bone
Leg bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Hear the word of the Lord!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

I Johnsons sång framgår med all tydlighet att det är Guds kraft som ger liv åt våra kroppar. Poeten och politikern James Weldon Johnson skrev till olika Broadway musikaler fler än 200 sånger. Inspiration till Dem bones fann han i en vision av Hesekiel:

Herrens hand kom över mig, och genom Herrens Ande fördes jag bort och sattes ner mitt i en dal, som var full med ben. Han förde mig fram bland dem, och se, de låg där i stora mängder utöver dalen, och se, de var alldeles förtorkade. Han sade till mig: ”Du människobarn, kan de här benen få liv igen?” Jag svarade: ”Herre, Herre, du vet det.” Då sade han till mig: ”Profetera över dessa ben och säg till dem: Ni förtorkade ben, hör Herrens ord:  Så säger Herren, Herren till dessa ben: Se, jag skall låta ande komma in i er, så att ni får liv. Jag skall fästa senor vid er och låta kött växa ut på er och övertäcka er med hud och ge er ande, så att ni får liv. Och ni skall inse att jag är Herren.”

Bibeln förkunnar Guds Stora Kraft, ofta hur den  i form av Den Helige Ande genomsyrar Universum. För flera år sedan skrev jag om hur bönder på den dominkanska landsbygden dyrkade en gudomlig kraft som manifesterar sig i källor, grottor, grödorna och inte minst i människor. Jag kallade boken jag skrev Guds stora makt i San Juan Dalen.

Enligt kristen lära bor Guds ande i alla troende. Den ger kunskap om Gud och förenar hans skapelee med honom. Den Helige Ande ger en försmak om och en  garanti för upprättandet av Guds Rike på jorden. Anden är evig, liksom Gud och Kristus är den allsmäktig, allvetande och allestädes närvarande. Den skapar och upprätthäller världen, ger den liv.

Att det existerar en livuppehållande kraft som står över människan och genomsyrar hela skapelsen är långt ifrån en föreställning som är unik för kristendomen. En sådan tanke tycks finnas inom de flesta religioner. 1917 gav den tyske religionshistorikern Rudolf Otto ut sin inflytelserika bok Det Heliga i vilken han hävdade att varje människa i djupet av sitt intre hyser en känsla av närvaron av en överodnad kraft, eller ”verklighet”.  Han beskrev denna närvaro som numinös, ett ord härlett från latinets Numen, en ande, eller kraft, som är närvarande i naturen. En kraft som är ”helig” i meningen avskild/annorlunda och därmed är den också ett Mysterium tremendum, ett  storslaget och skräckinjagande mysterium, samtidigt som den är ett Mysterium fascinans, något som fascinerar och attraherar.

Den brittiske etnologen Robert Ranulph Marett (1866-1943) gav tron på en allenarådande kraft det polynesiska namnet mana, ett begrepp som betecknar en slags andlig energi som inte enbart är befintlig i individer . Hela folkgrupper, regeringar, platser och livlösa föremål kan också ha mana. Mana skyddar i allmänhet det /den som den omfattar, men den kan också visa sig vara alltför stark och därmed skadlig. Enligt Marett var kraftbegreppet ursprunget till all religion.

Krafttanken är också närvarande inom vetenskapen. Termodynamikens tre huvudsatser deklarerar kraftens  närvaro i Universum.:

  • Energi transporteras av värme och kan varken skapas eller förstöras.
  • Oordning,  entropi, ökar ständigt i Universum och fär alla naturliga processer röra sig i en riktning.
  • Den Absoluta Nollpunkten är den temperatur då atomers och molekyler vibrationer helt avstannar. Kvantmekanikens osäkerhetsrelation förbjuder dock en sådan situation.

Den andra tesen innebär att allt åldras och dör. Det grekiska prefixet en- betyder ”inom” och ordet  troproten ”förändring”, ordet entropi kan alltså motsvaras av ”förändring inom (ett slutet system)”. Inom vetenskapen kan entropi sägas vara en oordning som skapas genom att energi/värmekällor som solen över tiden förlorar mer värme än den får tillbaka. Så tycks fallet vara i hela Universium,. Allt åldras och dör, precis som vi och våra hjärnceller. Men, säger inte terrmodynamikens första huvudsats att energi kan varken skapas eller förstöras, hur kan då allt åldras och ?

Osäkerhetsprincipen innebär att en partikel egentligen är en vågfunktion och inte ett punktliknande objekt och kan därför inte ha både en väldefinierad position och en rörelsemängd Begriper jag det där? Inte alls. En flyktig bekant från min hemstad, en före detta skolkamrat som är matematiker och atomfysiker, sa då jag bad honom förklara något  kring kvantfysiken: ”Jag är ledsen, Jan, men om du inte kan räkna är det så gott som omöjligt.” Jag har alltid varit usel när det gäller matematik och det är en klen tröst att den kanske störste atomfysikern av dem alla, dansken Niels Bohr (1885-1962) skrev:

De som inte blir chockade när de först stöter på kvantteorin kan omöjligt ha förstått den. [...] Det àr ett faktum att när det kommer till atomer så är poesi egentligen det enda användbara språket. En poet är inte så mån om att beskriva fakta, som att skapa bilder och aktivera mentala kopplingar.

Men det är en klen tröst. Bohr var en mästermatematiker och hans förstånd var dessvärre avsevärt större än mitt.

Då jag i det följande spekulerar kring liv, energi och hjärna gör jag det väl medveten om mitt eget dillanteri och minns därigenom hur fysikprofessorn Alan Sokal 1996 i ett vetenskapligt magasin publicerade en artikel han kallade för Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermaneutics  of Quantum Gravity,  Att överskrida gränserna: Mot en transformativ hermeneutik av kvantgravitation. Artikeln förepråkade en extrem relativism, men var i själva verket rena rappakaljan, ett galet hopkok av en mängd postmoderna flosker. Trots detta uppfattades Sokals essä som en seriös redovisning av kopplingen mellan fysik och filosofi. Kort därefter avslöjade Sokal att det hela varit ett ”skämt” riktat mot ”det pretentiösa och amatörmässiga missbruket av den senaste tidens fysik av ledande franska teoretiker, som Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard och Kristeva.” Några av dessa franska filosofer fascinerar mig faktiskt, speciellt Derrida och Baudrillard. Jag är övertygad att om Sokal mot förmodan sett vad jag skrivit så skulle han säkerligen ha uppfattat mig som ännu en postmodern dillettant, mer förvirrad än de franska professorer han räknade upp. 

Tillbaka till dikt och poesi. Whitmans  I Sing the Body Electric är långt mer än en uppräkning av kroppsdelar, aktiviteter, åsikter, minnen och anslående bilder. Enligt honom utgör allt han nämner grundmaterialet för drömmar och poesi. Dikten handlar inte enbart om kroppen, utan om dess symbios med själen och hur den tar emot Universums allomfattande kraft.För Whitman är kroppen helig, den är inte enbart själens följeslagare, utan även dess medhjärpare/medbrottsling. Därigenom är vår kropp förenad med Universum, själens boning, den möjliggör inte enbart andlighet, utan även närvaro och poesi. Kropp och själ är heliga.

Jag besjunger den elektriska kroppen.
Mina älskades arméer omsluter mig och jag omsluter dem.
De befrias inte förrän jag följer dem, besvarar dem.
och frigör dem, laddar dem med själens energi.
[…]
och om kroppen inte vore själ, vad är då själen?

Whitmanbeundraren Allen Ginsberg reflekterar i sin Footnote to Howl  liknande tankegångar:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy.

Ett särdrag hos Whitman är hans förening av en demokratisk känsla, med ett ofta ytterst påtagligt uttryck för kraft och förändring, sammanlänkat med en panteistisk universialitet. Allt är besjälat. Sällan har Whitmans entusiastiska panteism speglats så vackert som hos Edith Södergran:

Vad fruktar jag? Jag är en del av oändligheten. Jag är en del av alltets stora kraft, en ensam värld inom miljoner världar, en första gradens stjärna lik som slocknar sist. Triumf är att leva, triumf att andas, triumf att finnas till! Triumf att känna tiden iskall rinna genom sina ådror och höra nattens tysta flod och stå på berget under solen. Jag går på sol, jag står på sol, jag vet av inget annat än  sol.

Det var först i slutet av 1800-talet som elektricitet förvandlades från att vara en vetenskaplig märkvärdighet, eller mystisk gudskraft,  till att bli en av förutsättningarna för vår moderna tillvaro. Då Whitman skildrade den “elektrifierade kroppen” befann sig avancerad elteknik fortfarande i sina lindor och det var först senare som ”elektriska” genier som Bell, Bláthy, Edison, Kelvin, Siemens, Tesla, m.fl. dök upp.

Vad Whitman uppfattat rätt var kopplingen mellan kropp, tanke och elektricitet. Han befann sig i galvanismens tidålder, dvs. elektrisk ström producerad genom kemiska processer, inte minst inom den mänskliga kroppen.

Under 1600-talet bòrjade vissa filosofer  betrakta kroppen som materia underkastad mekaniska regler. Själsbegreppet blev samma sak som människans sinne/medvetande/förnuft. Hjärnan blev själens säte och nerverna förmedlare mellan själ och kropp.

Det var enbart ett fåtal filosofer/naturforskare som antog att själ och kropp i själva verket kunde vara samma sak, dvs. utgöra delar av en enda gemensam substans. Förkristna greker föreställde sig ett sådant ämne som en ytterst subtil och raffinerad vätska – pneuma. I princip var därigenom såväl själ som materia påtagliga femom. En tankegång som drevs till sin spets av den franske läkaren Julian Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) som i sin L’Homme Machine, Maskinen människan, hävdade att moraliskt omdöme, fri vilja, ja – all tankeverksamhet och därmed även vad de kristna kallar ”själ” inte var annat än kroppsliga funktioner baserade på hur en mänsklig lekamen är sammansatt. La Mettrie förnekade en gudomlig närvaro i tillvaron. Den avgörande frågan var dock  vad var den  kraft som vidmakthöll och gav liv och rörelse åt hela universum?

De kroppsliga funktionerna blev enligt La Mettrie aktiverade genom det som filosofen och matematikern Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) betecknat som Vis viva, Levande kraft. Ett begrepp baserat på det som inom fysiken kallades för energiprincipen, dvs. att energi varken kan skapas eller förstöras, enbart omvandlas. Så förvandlas exempelvis potentiell energi till kinetisk energi (från grekiskans ord för rörelse och arbete). Poteniell energi vilar i en pilbåge. Då bågen spänns, det vill säga sätts i rörelse/arbete, skapas energi som då strängen släpps omvandlas den från slumrande (potentiell) energi till rörelse/kinetisk energi. Det är sådana samspel mellan vila och rörelse, orsak och verkan, som enligt La Mettrie ochb Leibnitz håller kroppen igång.

1752 hade Benjamin Franklin närmat sitt finger till en nyckel som han under ett åskväder medelst en metallina hade kopplat samman med en drake. Han såg och kände en gnista och förstod därigenom att nyckelns ”positiva” spänning hade aktiverats genom den ”negativa” spänningen i hans hand, därigenom kunde Franlkin inom vetenskapen införa begreppen positiv och negativ laddning. 

Luigi Alosio Galvani (1737-1798) var sedan 1776 professor vid Bolognas universitet där han undervisade i anatomi, något som gjorde honom väl förtrogen med obduktioner, en specialitet som Bolognas och Paduas universitet var kända för. År 1780 fäste Galvani, uppenbarligen inspirerad av Franklin, medelst krokar flera grodlår vid en metallstång, som kopplats till en åskledare. Galvani upptäckte då vad han kallade för animalisk elektricitet. När blixten blixten slog ner  ryckte grodlåren till i spasmiska rörelser, men Galvani fann snart att fenomenet kunde  upprepas även då han med fingrarna tryckte på de mässingskrokar som han fäst vid döda grodors ryggmärg. Uppenbarligen hyste även den mänskliga kroppen elektriska spänningar.

Galvanis samtide Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) var professor i ”experimentell fysik” vid Paduas Universitet. Då han kontrollerade Galvanis experiment fann han att ryckningarna i grodornas ben inte enbart alstrats genom blixtnedslag, eller Galvanis beröring av krokarna. I själva verket uppstod fenomenet genom de metallkablar som Galvani använt för att ansluta nerver och muskler. Volta antog därför att elektricitet fortplantades genom den döda grodans kropp genom elektrokemiska celler och att en sådan energialstring kunde äga rum även utanför en djurkropp.

Volta konstruerade en så kallad Voltastapel, det första elektrokemiska batteriet. Omväxlande staplade han koppar- och zinkskivor ovanpå varandra, åtskilda genom tygstycken indränkta i saltlake. Då de övre och undre metallagren förenades medelst en metalltråd flödade elektrisk ström genom hela tråden och voltastapeln.

Det var inte enbart Galvanis upptäckter som inspirerat Volta, utan även den svenske fysikern Johan Carl Wilckes (1732-1796) uppfinningar. Wilcke var född i Wismar, som på den tiden var en del av det svenska väldet. Fem år gammal hade han följt sin far till Stockholm där denne blivit pastor vid den Tyska Kyrkan. Wilcke blev sedermera doktor efter att vid universitetet i Rostock ha presenterat sin avhandling De electricitatibus contrariis, Den motsatta elektriciteten. I Sverige erhöll han en  professur i Uppsala och invaldes i den Svenska Kungliga Vetenskapakademin, efter att ha lämnat in två avhandlingar –  Rön om elektriska laddningens åstadkommande med flera kroppar än glas och porcellän samt Historia af de naturkunnigas mening om orsakerna till åskedundret. År  1762 uppfann Wilcke en friktionsmaskin som han kallade elektrofor.

Elektroforen består av en ”dielektrisk” platta av beck eller vax och en metallplatta med ett isolerande handtag.Den dielektriska plattan laddas statiskt genom att den gnids mot päls. Observera den döda katten på bilden. En metallplatta placeras sedan på den dielektriska plattan och blir därigenom jordad med en positiv laddning. Den positivt laddade metallplattan avlägsnas sedan från den dielektriska plattan. Metallplattans positiva laddning försvinner inte direkt och kan därför användas för olika elektriska experiment. Spänningen i metallplattan kan bli mycket hög.

En fresk framställer hur Volta demonsterar sin voltastapel för Napoleon, den visar också hur han använder sig av en elktrofor.

Åtta år efter Wilcke blev Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), genom Linnés rekommendation, invald i den Kungliga Vetenskapsakademin. Han var då en internationellt erkänd författare, naturfilosof, gruvingenjör, uppfinnare och vetenskapsman. Fyra år senare, 1744, inleddes i Swedenborgs liv en andlig fas då han genom drömmar om och visioner av en andlig värld kunde tala med änglar, andar och avlidna. Swedenborg ansåg sig vara utsedd av Gud att sprida en himmelsk lära. Han hävdade att Gud öppnat hans ögon och möjliggjort hans besök  i Himmel och Helvete. Under de kommande 28 åren av sitt liv skrev Swedenborg på latin och publicerade arton, digra teologiska verk.

Den främsta orsaken till att Swedenborg valdes in i Akademin och uppskattades av män som Linné och Wilcke var hans avhanling Oeconomica regni animalis i vilken han beskrev och analyserade den strukturella och funktionella organisationen av hjärnbarken, nervsystemets uppbyggnad och det cerebrospinala flöde och sekret som utgick från hypofysen.

Vid sitt inträde i Vetenskapsakademin presenterade Swedenborg sitt verk De cerebri motu et cortice et de animo humano: anatomice, physice et philosphice perlustrata som han 1740 hade publicerat i Amsterdam. I denna sin Hjärnan och hjänbarkens rörelser samt det mänskliga sinnet: anatomiskt, fysiskt och filosofiskt undersökta beskriver Swedenborg hur hjärnans olika processer orsakas av andningen.

Swedenborg hade under 18 månader vistats i Paris och då blivit bekant med den världsberömde franska vetenskapsademiledamoten och anatomisten Jaques-Bénigne Winslow (1669-1760) som utförde offentliga dissektioner i sin Amphithéâtre Winslow. En pampig anatomisal som fortfaramde kan besäkas vid  Rue de la Bûcherie.

Den berömde anatomisten hette egentligen Jacob Benignus Winsløw. Det märkliga efternamnet kom sig av att han var dansk och att hans far fötts i den skånska byn Vinslöv, inte långt från Hässleholm. Swedenborg ägde Winslows omfångsrika Exposition anatomique de la structure du corps humain och det var främst genom sådana anatomiska skrifter som Swedenborg grundade sina insiktsfulla iakttagelser och spekulationer. Han var tidigt medveten om att hjärnverksamheten var beroende av kemiska processer och något som kunde liknas vid elektriska impulser.

Efter sin tid i Paris tillbringade Swedenborg mer än ett år i Venedig och det var antagligen där som han blev närmre bekant med Marcello Malpighis teorier. Det var mikroskopet som öppnade en ny värld för Malpighi (1628-1694). Som så många före honom sökte han efter en förklaring till livets gåta. Vad är det som gör att vi lever? Bland annat måste det vara lungorna som håller oss vid liv. Det är inte enbart människor som andas, även djur gör det. Insekter måste också andas för att leva, men har de lungor? Malpighi to mikroskopet till hjälp. Han fann att insekter inte använder lungor som sina andningsorgan utan små hål i sin hud som han gav namnet tracheae.

Från insekter gick Malpighi vidare och undersökte mikroskopiskt luftvägarna i dissekerade människolungor. Han fann hur luftvägarna förgrenade sig i form av tunna membranförsedda och sfäriska ihåligheter som han liknade vid binas vaxkakor. Han gav dem namnet alveole, små hålrum. Den kontinuerliga in- och utandningen fyller och tömmer aleveolerna med luft. Malphigi skrev i sin De pulmonibus observationes anatomicae att alveolerna fungerade som ”imperfekta svampar” och förde luften in i blodet, som sedan distribuerade blodets livgivande kraften genom hela kroppen. Som flera andra anatomer var Malphigi en skicklig tecknare som noggrant kopierade vad han såg i sitt mikroskop.

På jakt efter andra mikroskopiska strukturer som skulle kunna förklara livets hemligheter och luftens väg genom kroppen fortsatte Malpighi sitt sökande även i andra delar av kroppen, inte minst hjärnan.1665 publicerade han tre verk i vilka han beskrev sina fynd – De Lingua, om tungan och smakens ursprung, De Externus Tactus om de sinnesförnimmelser som uppkommit genom beröring, något som slutligen  förde  honom in i hjärnan och nervsystemet, som han skildrade i De Cerebro. Speciellt det senste verket slukades av Swedenborg, som även han var på jakt efter sjärlens säte i kroppen.  

Swedenborg anade att det personliga, andliga livet var beroende av hjärnan. I överensstämmelse med sitt mekaniska tänkesätt ansåg han att själen fungerar i harmoni med den  rymd som omger oss och att liv åstadkoms genom den konstanta rörelsen hos extremt fina partiklar i den omgivande luften. Influerad av Liebnitz introducerade han möjligheten av att genom noggrant studium, ett insamlande av alla de iakttagelser som han och andra forskare hade gjort,slutligen skulle finna sjärlens säte i människokroppen. En strikt tillämpad experimentell vetenskap och matematiska sannolikhetsberäkningar skulle fastställa själens exakta position i kroppen, dess betydelse för livets upprätthållande och kontakten med en kosmisk skapargud.

Då han mikroskopiskt undersökte tungvävnad hade Malphigi funnit små ”smaklökar”, som han kallade papiller. Han upptäckte att de var kopplade till nerver som förde in i hjärnan. Malpighi hade tidigare funnit att kroppens nerver var kopplade till olika sekretproducerande körtlar. Medan han studerade hjärnan kartlade han dess grå och vita vävnader och kom fram till att även hjärnan var en sekretproducerande körtel som medelst nervtrådar genom ryggmärgen spred sina signalvätskor och på så sätt gav och erhöll information från kroppens alla delar

Swedenborg inspirerades av Malpighis åsikt att de små ovala kroppar han funnit, omgivna av  kapillärerl, var en slags körtelstruktutrer med uppgift att separera och blanda olika, kemiska signalvätskor. Swedenborg kallade dem för spherulae eller cerebellula. Han ansåg att hjärnans samtliga nervtrådar var kopplade till olika cerebellula, vilka främst var koncentrerade till hypofysen och den grå hjärnbarken. Enligt honom befordades impulser mellan organ och muskler genom tremulationer, vibrationer  i kroppsväskorna, en livgivande spiritus animalis, som ständigt pumpades genom kroppen. Det var hjärnbarkens myriader av cerebellula som samordnade och kopplade samman alla dessa tremulationer till uppmärksamhet, minne, tänkande och språk, alltmedan hypofysen sände ut och tog emot betydelsebärande nervvätskor.

Enligt Swedenborg var varje form av liv kopplad kring till beständiga termulationer som fyllde hela Universum. Hjärnans och kroppens inre impulser/rörelser skapades av den andning som höll hela Kosmos vid liv. Då en människa dog fanns livets termulationer fortfarande kvar i hennes nervtrådar och cerebellula. Änglar pressade samman och samlade ihop all denna livsenergi och förde därefter själen till en annan, andlig existens.

Swedenborgs kosmologiska perspektiv var allomfattande. Enligt honom härrörde Universum  från olika centra, eller energipunkter, ur vilka solar och planeter uppstod. Olika sfärer av djur-, växter - och mineraler härrörde från liknande elementära energipartiklar.  Allt i den materiella världen hade sin motsvarighet  i en andlig sfär, allt tjänade ett syfte och följde ett bestämt kosmiskt regelverk.  Kontakten mellan den andliga och den kroppsliga sfären skedde i hjärnbarken. Lungorna drog in universums andepuls i blodkärlen som i samverkan med cerebellula förde den till hjärnbarken och hypofysen, som omvandlade det andliga inflödet till kroppsvätskor som aktiverades genom tremulsiomer.  Detta andliga inflöde från det gudomliga gjorde det möjligt för en individ att leva och följa Guds befallningar. Den mänskliga själen, som är huvudkomponenten i kroppen, var av samma substans som den kosmiska livskraften.

Då han 1743 reste till Holland och England för att samla ytterligare material för sina försök att förklara själen från en anatomisk synvinkel, var Swedenborg redan på väg att lämna den vetenskapliga banan. Under en övergångsfas upplevde han starka, konsturskarpa drömmar, några med en stark erotisk underton. Drömmar som han skrev ned på svenska i en privat dagbok.. I Amsterdam fick han en uppenbarelse av ett inre ljus: ”Mitt huvud städades och rensades från det som skolat hindra dess tankar,” och han kände "hurusom hågen för fruntimmer så hastigt ändades, som varit min huvudpassion."

I april 1745 satt Swedenborg ensam i ett avskilt rum på ett värdshus i London. Det svartnade för ögonen och rummet ändrade karaktär. En man sittande i ett  hörn sa: ”Ät inte för mycket”. Uppskakad skyndade Swedenborg hem till sitt logi och under natten dök samma person upp i hans drömmar. Mannen avslöjade att han var Gud och att han utsett Swedenborg för avslöja Bibelns sanna innebörd. Hela Swedenborgs  väsen utsattes för en genomgripande förändring. Han märkte hur all hans tidigare självbelåtenhet över sina insatser försvann och sedan dess vistades han ömsom i Andevärlden, ömsom här på jorden.

Swedenborgs hjärnforskning fick inget större genomslag bland samtidens vetenskapsmän, som snart begeistrades av Galvanis och Voltas upptäckter. Allsköns svärmare, alkemister och spiritister anammade dock Swedenborgs teorier och främst hans andelära om korrespondenserna mellan allt levande.

Skalden Johan Henrik Kjellgren var nitton år då Swedenborg dog. Det är tveksamt om hans läst hans skrifter, men Kjellgren retade sig på de ”dumbommar” som tog Swedenborgs  läror på allvar. Enligt Kjellgren hade Swedenborg en gång varit en klok och sansad person  men han hade blivit bindgalen och det gick inte att ta hans tidigare snillrikhet som intäkt för Swedenbors senare snurrigheter. I sin dikt Man äger ej snille för det att man är galen klumpar han ihop Swedenborg med allsköns charlataner.

Fast Newton själv en dag i andefeber låg,
blir Swedenborg ändå helt rätt och slätt — en fåne.

... I, narrar utan vett i vetenskaperne:
O Swedenborgare! O Rosencreutzare!
O Drömmars tydare! O Skatters sökare!
Nummerpunkterare, Magnetiserare,
Fysionom-, Alkem-, Kabbal- och Harmonister!
Er slutsats är förvänd. — En klok kan galen bli;
den snille är i ett, kan vurma i ett annat:

Det var en tid som av Zachris Topelius beskrevs som:

Just när det nya ljuset bröt in, trädde mörkret ett ögonblick svartare fram än någonsin.  Det var den tiden, när människorna knäböjde för Cagliostro mer än för Gud. Aldrig har alkemin haft ivrigare anhängare, än just när dess bättre dotter kemin blev buren till dopet av Scheele och Bergman; och aldrig ha människorna mera jäktat efter ett livsexlir, än när Voltaire och Holbach lärde att själen är en materie, som måste förgås med kroppen.

En tid som Ingmar Bergman skildrat i sin film Ansiktet och Per Olov Enquist i sin roman Magnetisörens femte vinter. Den senare spinner en historia kring en viss Friedrich Meisner, en charlatan precis som Albert Emanuel Vogler i Bergmans film. Man kan inte undgå att koppla samman Enquists Dr. Meisner med Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), som trots sitt uppenbara charlataneri inte kan frånkännas en framträdande plats i medicinens och psykologiens historia.

Mesmer, var en tysk läkare som antog att det fanns en naturlig energiöverföring mellan alla former av levande varelser, något han kallade Magnetisme animal. En energi som enligt enligt Mesmer kunde bli botemedel för en mängd sjukdomsliknande tillstånd. Behandlingen gick ut på att Mesmer satte sig framför en patient och med sina ben vidrörde hans/hennes knän, tryckte på patientens tummar och stirrade stint in i ögonen. Han flyttade sedan sina händer  till patientens axlar och förde med yttersta lätthet och försktighet sina händer över kroppen, tills hans fingrar nådde en plats strax under mellangärdet. Han kunde sedan under mer än en timmes tid  hålla sina händer där. Liksom Swedenborg  antog Mesmer att det fanns en livskraft förborgad  hos människor och djur och att han genom sin metod lyckats väcka denna krafts välgörande förmåga till liv. Mesmer tog ordentligt betalt för sin verksamhet och uppfann flera alternativa metoder för ”kraftöverföring”.

Ludvig XIV tillsatte 1784 en vetenskaplig kommission, inom vilken vetenskapliga storheter som kemisten Lavoisier, astronomen Bailly, botanisten de Jussieau, läkaren Guillotin och Benjamin Franklin ingick. Kommissionens slutsats var att

om alla dessa manipulationer, procedurer och ceremonier försiggår utan patientens medgivande eller tro ger de inte alls någon effekt. Det är alltså fantasin och inte den animala magnetismen i sig som åstadkommer olika fenomen.

Mesmers trovärdighet led stort avbräck, men han kunde likväl fortsatta sin verksamhet fram till sin död.

Kopplingen mellan elektricitet, själsliv, tro och vetenskap upphörde inte att fascinera en stor del av av Europas intelligentsia. Då den brådmogne Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) 1813 publicerade sitt diktverk Queen Mab trycktes det i 250  exemplar, av vilka Shelley personligen distribuerade 70 exemplar till nära vänner och likatänkande bekanta, resten magasinerades hos en bokhandlare. Den långa dikten präglas av ett vetenskapligt språk och teoretiserande inom en sagoram i vilken älvadrottningen Mab i en dröm stiger ned till den sovande Ianthe och för hennes själ till sitt förtrollade palats vid Universums yttersta gräns.

Mab tolkar, analyserar och förklarar Ianthes drömmar, alltmedan hon omformar flera av dem till visioner av de förflutna, nuet och framtiden. Nuet präglas av förtryck, orrätvisa och elände orsakade av religion, kommers och monarkier

Allt verkar förutan slump,
ingen atom i all denna turbulens har
en vag och onödig uppgift,
eller handlar som den inte borde göra.
Även den minsta ljusmolekyl
i en aprilsolstråles flyktiga sken
fullgör sitt avsedda, om än osynliga arbete,
det som den universella Anden vägleder.

Shelley ansåg att sjärlen inte alls var en individuell enhet, en fritt verkande vilja, utan en universell, allomfattande kraft, en ständig rörelse som utgjordes av en enorm, obruten kedja av orsak och verkan. I så måtto får han mig att tänka på buddhismens anattā, läran om icke-jaget/själen.

Buddhistisk filsofi deklarerar att det inte existerar något oföränderligt, permanent ”jag”. Vi är alla ingenting annat än en skiftande  sammansättning av sinnesintryck och känslor. Det som kallas själ – Ātman  är en ultimat, obeskrivlig kraft som genomsyrar och innefattar hela Universum. Ātman verkar i Universum genom rörelse – karma, en sanskrit-term med betydelsen  ”handling” eller ”görande"” I den buddhistiska skriftraditionen syftar karma på handlingar som drivs av en avsikt, cetanā, och kommer ofrånkomligen att få framtida konsekvenser.

Genom att anattāläran förnekar existensen av ett ” jag”, dvs. en personlig själ, blir ātman därmed hela Kosmos drivkraft. Ordet ātma finner sitt ursprung i det indo- eruopeiska  *ēt-men , andning. Enligt buddhsitisk filosofi alstras således allt liv genom att ātman manifesteras genom karmas rörelse. Inom modern buddhism  är det därför  inte ovanligt att karma sammanställs med Newtons tre rörelselagar:

  • En kropp kommer antingen att stanna på sin utgångsposition, eller då den rör sig  hålla en konsrant hastighet om ingen utifrån kommande kraft påverkar den.
  • Accelaration behövs för att få en kropp att röra sig. Den är lika stor i såval storlek som riktning som den kraft den utgörs av och den beräknas som  hastighet per tidsenhet.
  • Om en kropp A utövar en kraft på kropp B, så utövar kropp B en lika stor, men motriktad kraft på A. Denna tredje lag brukar kallas lagen om handling och reaktion.

Leonardo da Vinci var ett ständigt nyfiket, sökande universalgeni som såg rörelse överallt. Likt buddhistenra proklamerade han att ”rörelse är orsak till allt liv. Hans fascination för rörelse uttrycks klart och tydligt i den mängd teckande studier av rörelse i naturen: vatten, fåglar, kulbanor, människor, m.m.

I sin Nattvarden presenterar Leonardo en stor mängd mänskliga känslor, där varje karaktär genom kroppsliga uttryck speglar sina sinnesrörelser. Han skrev:

En skikcklig konstnär skall kunna måla två saker: människor och människors tankar.

Leonardo antog att känslor och naturkrafter styrs av liknande lagar som de som råder för psykologiska och fysiska rörelser och han gjorde därmed, till skillnad från de flesta samtida tänkare, ingen skarp skiljelinje mellan det materiella och det andliga.

Shelley slukade en mängd skrifter om livets uppkomst och understöd. I sin diktning, som i Queen Mab, försökte han spegla sina tankar väl medveten om att de skulle kunna ge honom en hel del besvär. Bokhandlaren som Shelley anförtrott sina odistruberade exemplar av Queen Mab till,  började utan Shelleys vetskap och medgivande, sälja dem ett år innan poeten 1822 drunknade i italienska Golfo della Spezia.  Då även en ny upplaga trycktes blev katastrofen ett faktum. The Society for the Suppression of Vice, Sällskapet för undertryckandet av lastbarhet, kastade sig över Queen Mab och fördömde den i hårda ordalag.  Föreningen som under kungligt medgivande främjade “offentlig moral” och därmed censurerade obscena skrifter och ibland ställde deras författare inför rätta, såg till att bokhandlaren dömdes till fyra månders fängelse. Shelley hade då sedan fyra år tillbaka lämnat England, för att undkomma dess ”civila och religiösa förtryck”, men också på grund av sina trassliga affärer, såväl ekonomiska som amorösa. Hans hustru Harriet hade tagit livet av sig medan han öppet levde med sin älskarinna Mary, vars syster Fanny även hon tog livet av sig vid samma tid.

Eftersom han angripit Kyrkan och förnekat existensen av en personlig, allstädes närvarande gudom anklagades Shelley för samhällsomstörtande ateism. Shelley menade att vetenskapen bevisat att det inte finns någon  Gud som skapat människan till sin avbild. Han predikade istället tron på en opersonlig kosmisk energi som styr och genomsyrar allt. En insikt han grundade på sina studier av bland annat galvanismen, som vid den tiden var på modet i hela Europa. Galvani sökte efter de märkliga och uppenbarligen universella energier som enligt honom utgjorde universums ”själ”. Under 1780-talet hade Galvani och hans assisstent rest kors och tvärs över den europeiska kontinenten och demonstrerat hur elektriska stötar fick slaktkropparna efter olika husdjur att rycka och röra sig, som om de vore levande. Fenomen som Galvani till och med förevisade genom att ansluta avrättade  mördares kadaver till elektricitetsalstrande apparater och syror.

Kombinationen av mystik och fysik fick många att tro att galvanisk elektricitet bevisade Guds Helige Andes närvaro i sin skapelse. En italiensk fysiker, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834), följde i spåren av sin farbror Luigi Galvani och tycktes vara helt inriktad på att medelst elektricitet återuppliva människor och i ett sådant syfte använde han Voltas batterier. Aldini utförde sina experiment på kropparna efter avrättade förbrytare. Ett problem var dock att i Italien, Tyskland och Frankrike halshögg man i allmänhet dödsdömda människor. Aldini önskade få tillgång till färska, helt intakta kadaver och sökte sig därför till England, där man hängde förbrytare.

The Newgate Calender, som  i ”moraliserande syfre"  redogjorde för avskyvärda brott och spektakulära avrättningar, beskrev 1803 hur Aldini strax efter George Fosters (anklagad för att ha dränkt sin hustru och ett av sina bran) avrättning utförde ett offentligt experiment på kroppen. Aldini kopplade två metallstavar till en stor voltastapel innehållande 100 zink - och 100 kopparskivor. Då han med de till batteriet  angjorda metallstavarna vidrörde kadavrets mun och ena öra började den avlidne brottslingens käkar darra, de angränsande musklerna förvrängdes fruktansvärt och ena ögat öppnades. I den efterföljande delen av processen höjdes och knöts likets högra hand, alltmedan benen och låren sattes i rörelse. Genom att flytta en av stavarna till likets ändtarm, accentuerades rörelserna till den grad att kadavret såg ut att återupplivas och den avlidne mannen tycktes åter andas.

Skildringen påminner om Mary Shelleys beskrivning av hur Frankenstein gav liv åt sitt monster:

Klockan var redan ett på natten, regnet smattrade melankoliskt mot rutorna och mitt ljus hade nästan brunnit ner, när jag i den halvt slocknade lågan såg varelsens gula öga öppnas; den andades tungt, och en häftig kamp for genom dess lemmar.

Likhterna  är av allt att döma ingen slump. Marys make hyste förvisso en slags idealism som kan sägas vara baserad på elektrokemi. Under sin tid vid Eton College hamnade Shelley under inflytandet av den faderlige fritänkaren Dr. James Lind, som tidigt uppmärksammade den frispråkige, ytterst vetgirige och intelligente, men sorgligt mobbade och originelle Percy Bysshe Shelley, som  genom att han i sin förtvivlan emellanåt fick våldsamma vredesutbrott kom att kallas för Mad Shelley.

Dr. Lind antog att galvanisk/animalisk magnetism/elektricitet bevisade att samtliga naturens krafter/energier var förenade i en enhet, en ”själ”. Dr Lind var väl förtrogen med Galvanis och Aldinis teorier och aktiviteter. Shelley deltog i och fascinerades av Dr. Linds experiment med “animalisk magnetism”, hur läkaren med hjälp av olika kraftkällor fick döda grodor att hoppa, eller musklerna hos olika reptiler att dra ihop sig och ibland röra sig på ett nästan kusligt vis. Samtidigt uppmuntrade Dr. Lind, som var en entusiastisk frimurare, Shelleys ockulta intressen och sammanlänkandet av djärva metafysiska spekulationer med nya ventenskapliga rön och samhällsomstörtande åsikter.

Shelley utvecklade sina radikala tankegångar i riktning mot vad han uppfattade som ”livets poesi”, något som innebar att tanke, språk och fantasi utvecklades i samspel med naturens krafter och hos människan tog sig uttryck i sociala relationer baserade på fri kärlek, medkänsla och makt. Med ”makt” avsåg Shelley en dominerande kraft baserad på social, intellektuell och vetenskaplig frihet. Enligt honom sökte vetenskapsmän mer eller mindre omedvetet efter svaret på en enda fråga – hur kan intellekt och civilisation förenas med njutning och nöjen? Kan vi som människor, utan tro på en hämmande gud, hänge oss åt livets gränslösa frihet? Förenas med Universums stora kraft? Tankegångar liknade den kosmiska expansion/glädje som senare fann sitt uttryck  i Edith Södergrans Triumf att finnas till.

1820 publicerade Shelley sitt läsdrama Prometheus Unbound,  Den befriade Prometeus. Shelley skrev inte för scenen, utan för en läsares fantasi. Hans syfte var att dramat skulle samverka med läsarens egen föreställningsvärld. Shelleys förebilder var Satan i Miltons (1608 -1674) Det förlorade Paradiset och Prometheus i Aischylos (525-456 f.kr) trilogi Prometheia.

Hos Milton  kämpar Satan, liksom Prometheus, mot Guds Skapelse, det vill säga hela Universum. Satan förlorar dock sin heroiska aspekt genom  sin  galna hämndgirighet gentemot en allsmäktig och straffande Gud och därmed även hans skapelse. Satan blir därigenom fiende till hela mänskligheten. Satan och Prometheus hatar allsmäktiga gudamakter, som för att behålla sina herravälden förlitar sig på skräck och censur.

I Shelleys Prometheus Unbound representerar Jupiter det orubbliga Ödet, en kraft som motsätter sig  individens fria vilja, som revolutionären Prometheus gör allt för att stödja . Shelleys Prometheus yrkar på att vi människor skall hysa medkänsla med alla levande varelser. Hans Prometheus formar sig till en moralisk och intellektuell naturs högsta perfektion. Driven av rena och ärliga syften  försöker han med vetenskapens och kärlekens hjàlp föra mänskligheten mot en framtida Utopi, baserad på rättvisa lagar som befrämjar den fria viljan, alltmedan de förbjuder all skadlig egoism. Tankar Shelley utbytte  och delade med sin likaledes frigjorda, unga hustru.

Mary Shelley föddes i London 1797 och hette då Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Hon var den politiske filosofen, författaren och journalisten William Godwins första och den feministiska filosofen Mary Wollstonecrafts andra barn. Modern dog  tio dagar efter Marys födelse. Godwin lämnades ensam med ansvaret  att uppfostra Mary och hennes äldre halvsyster Fanny. Mary älskade sin far, men hatade kvinnan han gifte sig med fyra år efter sin första hustrus död. 

Mary och Percy Shelley, som var god vän med hennes far, blev förälskade och träffades i hemlighet vid Mary Wollstonecrafts grav. Mary var sjutton år och den väl- och ökände  Percey tjugotvå. I april 1814 begav sig paret i hemlighet till Frankrike, Tyskland Och Schweiz. De tog med sig Marys styvsyster Claire, men Percys gravida hustru lämnades ensam kvar i England. Det var för tillfället fred i Europa, alltmedan Napoleon satt fången på Elba och planerade ett nytt krig. Rymlingarnas pengar tog snart slut och efter ett halvår tvingades den gravida Mary och den utfattige Percy återvända till England. Där ville Marys far och Percys släktingar inte veta av dem.

Under utlandsvistelsen började den blott artonåriga Mary skriva en roman som med tiden förvandlades till en märklig och envetet beständig legend. Mary hade redan vid unga år upplevt den stora kärleken, moderskap, död och elände, allt i förening med en ung upprorisk kvinnas känslor av utanförskap och rådvillhet. Genom allt detta förmådde hon skapa sin mångbottnade roman om Frankensteins namnlösa monster

Mary och Percy hade under en tid bott hos den självdeklarerat demoniske Lord George Gordon Byron, älskare till Marys syster Claire. Redan innan avresan, eller snarare flykten, från England  hade Shelley drabbats av underliga vanföreställningar. Shelley var stor  beundrare av Byrons poesi och hade skickat honom Drottning Mab och flera andra dikter. Byron, som bodde i Villa Diodati vid Genèvesjöns strand, tog entusiastiskt emot det unga paret. De var kväll efter kväll, natt efter natt, engagerade i diskussioner kring litteratur, vetenskap och ”olika filosofiska doktriner”.

En natt, medan Byron reciterade sina och Coleridges dikter drabbades Shelley av en allvarlig panikattack med förskräckande  hallucinationer. Föregående natt hade Mary haft en mardröm som blev upphovet till romanen om Frankenstein. Under hela sommaren hade vädret varit kylslaget och regnigt. Natten då Mary drabbats av sin fruktansvärda mardröm och Shelley vimsat runt i deras rum hade de tidigare  tillsammans med Byron och dennes vän och läkare John William Polidori, suttit kring en brasa och högläst ur en tysk antologi med skräckhistorier. Polidori hade samma kväll inspirerasts att skriva ett utkast till vad som skulle bli en roman om den första vampyren i modern tappning – Lord Ruthven, en demonisk aristokrat som ödelägger hela  sin omgivning.

Då de långt efter midnatt återvänt till sin närbelägna villa var Shelley våldsamt upprörd och Mary hade svårt att somna. Mellan sömn och vaka ansattes hon av en så omtumlande och detaljerad upplevelse att hon inte visste om det rörde sig om en dröm, eller en hallucination:

Jag såg den bleke utforskaren av ogudaktiga konster bredvid en skapelse han tråcklat samman. Jag såg hur den skräckinjagande formen av en utsträckt man som under inverkan av en slags mäktig maskin började visa livstecken och genomfors av en tvekande, halvt animerad rörelse. Skrämmande måste det ha varit, ty ytterst fruktansvärt måste resultatet av varje mänsklig strävan att håna världens Skapare vara.

I drömmen exponerades Marys känslor av förlust, skuld och konsekvensen av att trotsa Gud, något hennes make, med hennes godtycke,  hade gjort genom tanke, tal och handling. Där fanns även förlusten av hennes mor, det komplicerade förhållandet till fadern, förlusten av sitt första barn och oron för det barn hon nu bar på. Senare beskrev Mary sommaren i Schweiz som den tid då hon ”först klev ut ur min barndom” och i djupet av sin själ  kände främlingsskapet i den värld som omgav henne. Under de nattliga diskusionerna hade Lord Byron och Shelley skrämt henne genom sina högt ställda och i det närmaste fanatiskt romantiska ideal. Mary frågade sig om inte en sådan fanatism, i förening med en alltmer avancerad vetenskap och missbrukad makt skulle kunna utgöra ett hot mot hela den mänskliga existensen.

I Mary Shelleys roman Frankenstein, eller den moderne Promethues finner vi speglingar av hennes makes uppfattningar. Likt Victor Frankenstein hyste Percey Shelley ett våldsamt begär efter  att kunna förstå världens förutsättningar, något som förutom accepterad vetenskap gjorde honom intresserad av ockultism och alkemi. Dock kom han snart att inse att det rörde sig om hopplöst föråldrade teorier. Likt Shelly fördjupade sig även Victor  Frankenstein i kemi, fysik och anatomi, men till skillnad från Shelley föverkligade Frankenstein sina teorier och lyckades skapa en tänkande och kännande individ, - en humanoid.

Mary gör  medvetet  skapleseprocessens karaktär tvetydig. Rör det sig om animal magnetism alstrad genom elektriskt ledande elektrolyt, en lösning av baser, syror och salter, en voltastapel, eller möjligen energi förmedlad genom åskurladdningar? Frankenstein ägnar två år åt att mödosamt konstruera varelsens kropp – från råvaror som hämtats från ”dissektionsrummet och slakteriet” utvecklas en anatomisk egenskap i taget.

På grund av svårigheten att replikera människokroppens små delar blir resultatet, inte som Frankenstein avsett – en mänsklig Apollo. Istället åstadkommer han ett groteskt fuskverk, med vener och muskler otillräckligt täckta av hud, en väldig oproportionelig varelse, i det närmaste 2,5 meter lång. Då den avskyvärda Varelsen öppnar sina matta, vattniga ögon, flyr Frankenstein i skräck över vad han åstadkommit.

Mary Shelleys mångbottnade  roman har blivit sinnebilden för vetenskapsliga strävanden som fullföljts och fått fruktansvärda resultat. Frankensteins monster har blivit sinnebilden för sådant som atombomber och genmanipulerade monster. I  värsta fall har sådana uppfinningar rentutav dödat sina skapare. Som den sovjetiske forskaren Andrei Zheleznyakov som när han 1987 deltog i  utvecklandet av det otäcka nervgiftet Novitjok 3 förgiftades och utropade ”Det fick mig!” Sex år senare dog han av ett slaganfall, efter att tidigare ha drabbats av cirros, giftig hepatit, nervskador och epilepsi.

Marys lidande monster plågades svårt av sin ensamhet och sitt utanförskap. Ett offer för  den avsky han väckte hos männsikor. Ett tillstånd som förvärrades efter det att han tålmodigt och på egen hand skaffat sig ett stort förråd av lärdom. I Marys roman, liksom i Whales klassiska film, blir Frankensteins monster en djupt tragisk gestalt.

Vetenskapen bakom Marys skapelse är uppenbarligen galvanism. En männsikoskapad varelse förses med vätskor och kanaler som genom tillförslen av elektricitet blir levande. Det är tveksamt om processen innefattar den väldiga statiska elelktricitetschock som i James Whales film från 1931 i en mäktig scen alstras genom magnifika blixtnedslag.

Snarast rör det sig i Marys romkan nog om kemisk-elektriska processer, mer i enlighet med Bernard Albert Wrightsons illustrationer, som inspirerat skräckförfattare som Stephen King och Neil Gaiman och som Guillermo del Toro beslutat skall utgöra underlaget för hans kommande film om Frankenstein.

Vill man göra sig mer förtrogen med skapelseprocessen bakom Monstrets livgivande  rekommenderas Peter Ackroyds The Casebook of Viktor Frankenstein. Den postmoderne Ackroyd använder sig  av en  pastisch på romantikens berättarstil och låter en högst verklig Victor Frankenstein röra sig bland en mängd kända och okända bekanta till Percy Bysshe Shelley, som spelar i en viktig roll i ett oklanderligt skildrat, samtida London.

Som illustrationer till Ackroyd kan man använda sig av de Frankensteinjournaler som skapats av Gris Grimly, som helt uppenbart är inspirerad av Leonardo da Vincis anatomiska skisser,

eller Timothy Basil Ering realistiskt sönderrivna och fläckade exemplar av en liknande journal:

I sin roman belyser Ackroyd ett viktigt tema hos Mary Shelley – den utstöttes fruktansvärda ensamhet. Hur en så avgörande detalj som en människas utseende är tillräckligt för att göra honom/henne till en fruktad pariah. Detta tycks hos oss vara ett viktigt karaktärsdrag, inplanterat i vår reptilhjärna. Vi är obotliga flockdjur. Vi behöver gemenskap. I Ackroyds roman uttrycker Monstret  sin ångest inför sin skapare – Victor Frankenstein:

“Vem kan jag tala med? Det finns ingen. Jag är ensam i världen. Känner du ett sådant lidande? Jag tror inte det. Du har inte upplevt känslan av att vara helt förkastad, av att vara osynlig och ohörd, förvisad till livets gränstrakter. Om jag gråter finns ingen som bryr sig. Om jag lider av ångest, finns  ingen som tröstar mig.”

I sin novell Monstret, berättar amerkanen Stephen Crane (1871-1900) om hur en människa, i hans fall en godhjärtad hjältes utseende förvandlar såväl honom som den man som hjälper honom till att bli offer för ett helt samhälles rädsla och hat.

Berättelsen utspelar sig i en fiktiv stad i New Yorks närhet. En svart kusk vid namn Henry Johnson är anställd av stadens repekterade läkare, Dr. Trescott. Efter att ha räddat Trescotts son från en brand blir Johnson fruktansvärt vanställd. Då stadens invånare stämplar Johnson som ett monster ger Trescott honom skydd och tar hand om honom, vilket resulterar i att Trescott och hela hans familj utesluts från samhället. Novellen pekar på de  sociala klyftor, etniska spänningar och vanförställningar som fortfarande råder inom det amerikanska samhället.

Monstret visar på en märklig aspekt av  mänskligt tänkande. Vi tycks bedöma människor utifrån detras utseende. Ett omdöme  betydligt mer baserat på visuell uppfattning  än på  inre egenskaper, vad våra medmänniskors hjärnor förmår skapa då det gäller goda egenskaper – exempelvis alstrandet av medlidande, kärlek och god vilja. Sådant tänkande har även trasslat till hjärnforskningen, något vi finner hos eugeniker, rasforskare och vetenskapsmän som Cesare  Lambroso som baserade sin ”kriminologi” pår männskors ansiktsdrag, Ernst Kretschmer som bedömde männskors psyke utfrån deras kroppskonstitution, eller Richard Hernstein  vars  teorier grundade sig på en tvivelaktig tolkning av ”intelligenstester” och därmed  kopplade ihop intelligens med rasism.

Jag har undrat över den vetenskapliga grunden till Frankensteins skapelse. Med tanke på galvanism, samt hjärnans uppenbara beroende av vätskor och elektrisk energi, så framstår Mary Shelleys skapelse som helt möjlig, i varje fall med tanke på hennes samtids begränsade kunskaper. Men, hur kunde en mänsklig, tidigare död hjärna, fungera på samma sätt som monstrets? Nämligen att han från att ha varit som ett oartikulerat barn, successivt vinner kunskap genom läsning och erfarenheter. Antingen borde den intransplanterade hjärnan ha varit helt obrukbar, eller så hade den bevarat tidigare funktioner, tankar och erfarenheter.

James Wahleys filmversion, som inte grundar sig på Shelleys roman utan på Peggy Weblings pjäs från 1927, som visserligen inpirerats av Mary Shelleys verk men med en mängd ändringar, som upprepas i filmen. Exempelvis så löste Webling frågan om ursprunget till monstrets hjärna genom att låta Henry (sic) Frankensteins assistent då han stjäler ett genis hjärna råka tappa den och tar istället till sin arbetsgivare med sig en ”abnorm” hjärna.

I sin film Det våras för Frankenstein från 1974 har Mel Broks satt in en dialog mellan Frankenstein och hans assistent, som här heter Igor:

Dr Frankenstein: “Den där hjärnan som du gav mig. Var det Hans Delbrucks hjärna?”
Igor: ”Nej”
– Aha! Mycket bra. Skulle du då kunna tala om för mig vems hjärna jag satte in?
– Du kommer inte att bli arg?
– Jag kommer INTE att bli arg.
– Det var någon vars namn började på A.
– Någon vars namn börjar med ett A? Vadå A?
– A någonting, men i efternamn hette han Normal.
– A. Normal?
– Jag är nästan säker på efternamnet.
–Så du menar att jag satte in en anormal hjärna i en två och en halv meter lång och en och en halv meter bred GORILLA? Är det vad du säger!!!

I själva verket är monstrets tankeförmåga i Mary Shelleys roman helt i linje med modern hjärnforskning. Likt en dators hårddisk utplånas en hjärnas minne om den under en transplantationsprocess inte tillförs ett konstant blod- och syreflöde. Det kan alltså i princip stämma att monstret inte kom ihåg vem han varit och att han därmed betedde sig som ett barn, med en hjärna som fortfarande var stadd i utveckling. Monstrets okoordinerade rörelser, framställda i otaliga filmer, och den bristfälliga motoriska kontrollern stämmer också överens med de förhållanden som råder efter en omfattande hjärnskada.

Även om det är oklart hur Mary Shelley tänkte sig monstrets skapelseprocess så framgår det klart i såväl film som roman att för att kunna väckas till liv måste den döda varelsen tillföras elektricitet. I filmen förklarar Frankenstein att  han "bortom det ultravioletta spektrat" har funnit en energibärande bestrålning, och att denna energimättade kraft är hemligheten bakom livets uppkomst – ”en storslagen stråle som först förde liv in i världen”.

Då han efter tillförslen av energi alstrad genom våldsamma blixtnedlslag Frankenstein får se hur monstrets hand först skälver och sedan sakta lyfter sig, viskar han gång på gång: ”Den är levande”, tills viskningarna övergår till ett triumferande glädjetjut: It’s alive! It’s alive! Strax därefter förkunnar Frankernstein högljutt: ”Nu vet jag hur det känns att vara Gud!”, ett yttrande som skapade stora problem för James Whale när kristna påtryckningsgrupper krävde att filmbolaget skulle klippa bort det, eller helt enkelt totalföbjuda den hädiska filmen.

Detta var innan den så kallade Produktionskoden infördes. Efter 1934 tillämpades i Hollywood  en regel att filmer måste bli ”certifierade” för att få distribueras och i enlighet den koden skulle Frankensteins yttrande säkert ha klippts bort, nu fick det dock vara kvar och filmen blev en stor succé över hela världen. I Sverige blev den dock nedkortad till 51 minuter efter det att Statens Biografbyrå  totalförbjudit visning, originalet var 71 minuter långt.

Ekektro-magnetism var säkerligen den mest revolutionerande upptäckten under 1800-talets första hälft. Galvani och Volta inledde ett intensivt sökande efter elketrictetens källor. Dansken Hans Christain Ørsted upptäckte 1820 att en kompass nål rörde sig då han slöt en strömkrets och därmed var elektromagnetismen ett faktum.

Tretton år senare lyckades  Michael Faraday uppställa lagarna för elektrolys och införde  begreppet joner för sådana mikroenheter som transporterar elektricitet. Det var svensken Svante Arrhenius som 1890 förstod att Faradays joner var atomer eller atomgrupper med positiv, eller negativ laddning. William Thomson, aka Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), formulerade de första och andra termodynamiska lagarna.

Sådana upptäckter inom den kemiska vetenskapen bidrog till att frågor kring livets uppkomst nu kunde befrias från religiösa spekulationer och analyseras utfrån så kallade inorganiska vetenskaper. Den allt snabbare utvecklingen inom kemi och fysik hade möjliggjorts genom tillämpandet av matematiska formler, som funktionerna hos komplexa variabler (Gauss, Cauchy, Abel och Jacobi), ekvationsläran och gruppteorin (Cauchy och Galois), samt insatser från Lobachevsky och Bolyai, som kullkastade vedertagna begrepp som kunde  härledas till Euklides geometri. Genom matematikernas abstrakta beräkningar öppnades ett helt nytt tankesätt och flera fysiker insåg att det fanns ett samband mellan tankeverksamhet och energi, samt att vissa delar av hjärnan styrde olika sinnen och kroppsrörelser.

Hjärnverksamheten förblev dock i stort sett en gåta och de enda vägledningarna som stod till buds var i stort sett hur skallskador påverkade vissa funktioner hos såväl hos kropp, som sinnen och tankar. Man unndersökte  krigsinvalider och olycksoffer som överlevt svåra skalltrauman, patienter på mentalsjukhus och vad man kunde finna genom dissektioner och mikroskopiskt undersökande av hjärnvävnader. Undersökningar av överlevandes skadade hjärnor kom att benämnas Lesion studies, organskadeundersökningar.

1848 arbetade Phineas Gage som förman på ett järnvägsbygge i Vermont, USA. Han var känd som en pålitlig och rejäl karl. Ett hål fyllt med krut exploderade i förtid och fick ett  järnspett att fara rätt igenom Phineas huvud och förstörde hans vänstra pannlob.  Phineas  befann sig under en vecka i coma, men efter att ha vaknat upp återhämtade han sig snabbt, men hade då förvandlats till en impulsiv, vulgär och allmänt otrevlig person. Gage levde i ytterligare femton år, men då som en tragisk gestalt som försörjde sig genom att med sitt spett i handen  låta sig visas upp på den tidens populära Freak Shows, förevisningar av ”missfoster”.

Gages skada ledde till ett alltmer ökande intresse för hur olika delar av hjärnan var väsentliga för vissa karaktärsdrag och hur de kopplades samman med andra funktioner, något som ledde till att 1700-talsfrenologins centrala idéer åter blev aktuella.

Termen frenologi kommer från grekiskans ord för ”sinne/själsförmögenhet” och  ”läran om”. Det är den tyske läkaren Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) som kommit att anses som frenologins grundare.  Gall var en erfaren anatomist  som hävdade att människans psyke sitter i hjärnan och inte  har formen av  en  slags, flyktig, icke-materiell själ.  Genom detta konstaterande kom han fram till att olika delar av hjärnan har olika funktioner och att ett visst hjärncentrum kan vara olika stort och välutvecklat hos skilda individer.  Hans stora misstag var dock åsikten att hjärnan pressar på kraniet och därmed  påverkar skallformen.  Därigenom kunde man enligt Gall mäta en människas personliga egenskaper genom att undersöka formen på dennes skalle.

Inspirerad av Gall började fransmannen Jean Pierre Flourens (1794 – 1867) 1815 skära i levande kaniners och duvors hjärnor och noggrant undersöka om hans ingrepp påverkade djurens rörelsemönster, känslighet och uppträdande. Han gjorde detta för att motbevisa Galls åsikt att man genom kraniets form skulle kunna avgöra vilka delar av hjärnan som påverkade vissa beteenden. Fluorens var övertygad om att för att finna beteendeförändringar måste man göra direkta ingrepp i hjärnan på levande varelser. Han fann exempelvis att avlägsnandet av Cerebellum, Lillhjärnan, påverkade djurens balanssinne.

Fransmannen Paul Broca (1824-1880) undersökte 1861 en patient hos vilken en huvudskada orsakat en så svår språkstörning att han enbart kunde säga  ”tan”. Då mannen kort därefter avled fann Broca  under obduktionen att ett område i den bakre delen av vänstra pannloben var skadat. Platsen visade sig vara ett språkcentrum, något som Broca lyckades bevias genom kirurgiska ingrepp på macaqueapor, som då de överlevde inte längre kunde uttrycka sig genom formandet av ljud. 

Apor har sedan dess ofta blivit offer för tämligen otäcka experiment. Exempelvis lyckades amerikanen Roger Wolcott Serry (1913-1994) bevisa att hjärnans två olika halvor har olika funktioner, dels genom att studera patienter som för att mildra sin epilepsi hade fått sin hjärnbalk (förbindelsen mellan halvorna) uppskuren och dels genom iakttagelser av apor som avsiktligt genomled olika hjärningrepp.

Experimenterande med macaqueapor pågår fortfarande och får mig att tänka på en scen i Roy Anderssons film En duva satt på en gren och funderade över tillvaron. I ett kyligt, kliniskt rent laboratorium sitter en levande macaque med avskuren hjärnskå,l plågsamt uppmonterad på en ställning med elektronisk utrustning kopplad till sin blottade hjärna, alltmeden en laboratorieassistent i bakgrunden blickar ut genom fönstret,  talar i sin mobiltelefon och upprepar frasen:Vad roligt att höra att ni har det bra.”

Brocas experiment kompletterades av tysken Carl Wernicke (1848-1905) som arbetade på ett mentalsjukhus och där undersökte olika former av afasi. Afasi är en störning av talförmåga och språkförståelse. Expressiv afasi påverkar det egna talet och gör det omöjligt att finna de rätta orden. Impressiv afasi gör det svårt att förstå vad andra säger. Överföringsafasi innebär en förlust av den motoriska kontrollen över talet.

Broca hade upptäckt hjärnans centrum för kontroll av talmekaniken. Wernike upptäckte genom obduktioner och djurexperiment ett annat område för kontroll av tal och språk. Skador på detta område ledde till ett flytande men oordnat tal, försämrad talförståelse och försämrad tyst läsning. Var skadan uppstått  avgjorde vilken form av afasi en patient utvecklade.

Den italienske anatomisten Cesare Ezechia Marco Lombroso  (1835-1909) inspirerades även han av Galls teorier och av skallskador som hos överlevande, likt Phineas Gage, hade lett till dramatiska personlighetsförändringar. Lombroso utförde och dokumenterade en stor mängd dissektioner på avlidna förbrytare och kom fram till att de var ”födda som kriminella” och därmed kunde bli ”anatomiskt definierade”  genom noggrann dokumentation av vissa särtecken; som sluttande panna, ovanligt stora öron, assymetriska ansiktsdrag, eller pronatism, dvs. att en ansiktdel, exempelvis underkäken, sticker ut mer än normalt, förlängda armar, märklig skallform och en mängd andra fysiska särdrag. Lombroso blev under sin livstid i allmänhet hyllad som en revolutionerande vetenskapsman och hans stora litterära produktion påverkade en mängd romanförfattare, som Zoila, Conrad, Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy och Bram Stoker. 

Likt den fiktive Frankenstein och de högst verkliga Zheleznyakov, med sitt nervgift och Oppenheimer med atombomben, fick Lombrosos ”forskning” fruktansvärda följder. Han var en fullfjädrad misogynist och rasist som baserade sina fördomar på tveksamma ”forskningsresultat” och sin enorma samling av ben och andra människorester. Lombrosos i själva verket ogrundade teorier utgjorde basen för mycket av den ”rasforskning” kom att utgöra basen för nazisternas skallmätningar och utrotandet av  judar, zigenare, homosexuella och en mängd andra människor som stämplats som ”varelser med Lebensunwertes Leben, livsvärdelöst liv“.

Skrupellösa forskarcharlataner som Alfred Ploetz, Eugen Fischer, Olmar von Verschuer, Hans Günther, Ernst Rüdin, Robert Ritter, Rudolf Hippius och Josef Mengele bidrog genom sin ”forskning” till de fruktansvärda massmorden. I sammanhanget kan även nämnas bidrag från svenska rasbiologer som Magnus Gustaf Retzius och Herman Lundborg.   

Ett mer berömvärt bidrag till hjärnforskningen var det faktum att Lombroso under åtta  år hade Camillo Golgi  (1843-1921) som sin assisstent. Efter att ha lämnat Lombroso koncenterade sig Golgi på det mikroskopiska studiet av nerveceller. En ovärderlig metod i den fortsatta utforskningen av nervsystemet var hans uppfunna teknik att färga nervvävnad med silvernitrat. Därigenom upptäckte han en form av nervcell som fick namnet golgicell. Han kunde också identifiera soma/neuronen, dvs. nervcellskroppen. Genom sina mikroskopiska undersökningar fann Golgi även axoner och dendriter.Likt flera andra forskare som ägnade sig åt mikroskopiska studier var Golgi en skicklig tecknare. Som i denna teckning som visar hypofysens nervceller:

Brocas och Wernickes upptäckter klargjorde att  olika delar av hjärnan samarbetar för att skapa sinnesförnimmelser, beteenden, och tankar, alltmedan Golgis upptäckter bevisade att det var elektrokemiska kontakter som möjliggjorde samarbetet mellan hjärnans olika delar och därmed hela hjärnans verksamhet, något som öppnade vägen för undersökningar av hur energi färdas genom hjärnan. 

Det är i neuronens centrum som energin skapas. Strax utanför dess kärna finns mitokondrierna, små DNAbärande strukturer som bidrar till energiproduktionen, alltmedan cellkärnan utgör neuronens kontrollcenter. Elektriska nervimpulser färdas längs neuronerna med en maximal hastighet av 400 km/tim. Från neuron till  neuron passerar impulserna genom nervtrådar, axoner, ofta inkapslade i myelin, ett isolerande fettämne. 

För att kunna fortsätta sin färd från en avsändande axon till en mottagande dendrit måste de elektrifierade nervimpulserna passera en synaps, som stimulerar den elektriska impulsen att frigöra signalsubstanser, kemiska budbärare som överför den elektriska stömmen till dendriten som förgrenar sig från en mottagande neurons cellkropp. På så sätt färdas elektriska signaler från neuron till neuron tills de nått sitt mål.

Den som klargjorde denna process var spanjoren Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934). Ramón y Cajal hade ett poetiskt uttryckssätt. Exempelvis kallade han neuronerna för ”själens gåtfulla fjärilar vars vingslag en dag kommer att avslöja sina hemligheter för oss”.

I sina memoarer berättar Ramón y Cajal hur han under sin något okynniga ungdom bevittnade en otäck olycka som enligt honom blev en vattendelare i hans tillvaro och fick honom att slå in på en väg som sedermera resulterade i betydande vetenskapliga landvinningar och ett nobelpris, nämligen upptäckten av neuronernas funktioner, deras avgörande roll för överförandet av livgivande elektricitet genom kroppen.

En präst hade uppskrämd genom en våldsam storm rusat upp i bykyrkans klocktorn och i ett fåfängt försök att lugna Guds vrede börjat ringa i klockan. Men, blixten slog ner i tornet och den unge Ramón y Cajal blev vittne till hur

under klockan, insvept i tät rök, med huvudet livlöst hängande över muren, låg den stackars prästen, som trott att han kunnat avvärja den hotande faran genom ett oförsiktigt ringandet i kyrkklockan. Flera män klättrade upp för att hjälpa honom och fann honom med kläderna i brand och med ett fruktansvärt sår på halsen, genom vilket han avled några dagar senare. Blixten hade gått rakt igenom honom och stympat honom på ett fruktansvärt vis.

Ramón y Cajals estetisk/poetiska känsla framträder i hans teckningar och skrifter. Han var under större delen av sig liv en agnostiker som beklagade att han inte var en troende katolik, men då han blev äldre började han se Guds hand i skapelsen, även om han höll fast vid sin experimentella klarsyn.

Estetiken var något som Ramón y Cajal delade med en annan eminent neurofysiolog –engelsmannen Charles Scott Sherrington (1857-1952) som finkalibrerade Ramón y Cajals upptäckter kring hjärnans energiöverföring och myntade begreppet synaps. I sin bok Man On His Nature skriver Sherrington om vardagens mirakel, hur hjärnans energi är kopplad till universums väldighet:

Hjärnan vaknar och med den medvetandet. Det är som om Vintergatan träder in i en kosmisk dans. Utan dröjsmål förvandlas hjärnan till en förtrollad vävstol där miljontals glimmande skyttlar väver ett ständigt skiftande mönster, ett meningsfullt men flyktigt  verk, en omväxlande harmoni av samverkande delmotiv. Nu när den uppaknade kroppen stiger upp och sträcker på sig rusar beståndsdelarna i förbluffande samstämmighet in i de obelysta vindlingarna av nervsystemets centrala stjälk [ryggraden]. Strängar av blinkande och blixtrande gnistor far  genom hela dess  längd. Kroppen har vaknat och rest sig för att möta en framskridande dag.

Sherrington skriver om forskarens glädje och betagenhet inför Universums och kroppens mysterier. Han fruktar att denna barnsliga förundran inför tillvarons skönhet och mysterium med tiden skall förgås:

Vi avfärdar ofta förundran inför vår existens som något barnsligt. Långt senare, när livets tempo har mattats av, kan dock betagenheten inför livet återvända. Sinnet kan då återfinna så många häpnadsväckande underverk att hela universum åter blir hänförande. Då blir varje ting förunderligt.  Men, märkligast av allt är att vår nyfikna förundran svinner bort så snabbt och flyktigt. Om regnbågen fanns på plats varje morgon, vem skulle då stanna upp och beundra den? Det tilldragande och märkliga är så vardagligt att vi tar det för givet. Det är nog bra som det är. Det gör att vi kan fortsätta med våra liv. Men om vi inte emellanåt kastar av oss rutinerna kan livet hämmas och förstenas. Försök då återskapa barnets förundran inför tillvaron, sålunda säkras drivkraften för en och annan vuxen tanke.

Ramón y Cajals sökande efter de mekaniska strukturerna och energin bakom vårt tänkande tycks ha en liknande fysikalisk grund som tysken Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) tänkande och undersökningar. Han var en genial vetenskapsman och uppfinnare med en förvånansvärd bredd i sin forskning. En mångsyslande läkare, fysiker, uppfinnare och filosof  som sökte förklaringar till hur våra sinnen fungerar och hur energi kan lagras och vidarfebefordras.

För att utforska ögats funktion och färgsinnets uppkomst uppfann han oftalmoskopet  som gjorde det möjligt att blicka in i ögats inre, diagnostisera ögonsjukdomar och förhindra blindhet, samt keratometern som mätte hornhinnans brytningförmåga. 

För att studera akustikens psykologi och vår ljuduppfattning konstruerade han en ljudsynthesizer: tio elektromagnetiskt laddade stämgafflar, var och en parad med en mässingsresonator avstämd till samma frekvens. Detta för att  demonstrera och analysera effekten av övertoner i komplexa ljud. Ett av hans mål var att bättre förstå talets natur och produktionen av vokalljud, som produceras av resonanta övertoner och mekaniskt skapas av musklerna i röstkanalen. Han konstruerade även flera enklare, eleganta  resonatorer som han använde för att identifiera olika frekvenser.

Inom fysiken är von Heimholtz  känd för sina teorier kring  energibevarande, elektrodynamik, kemisk termodynamik och termodynamikens mekaniska grund. Som filosof  skrev han om förhållandet mellan perceptions- och naturlagar, om vetenskap som estetik och en  civiliserande kraft.  Hans skrifter handlar om energins/kraftens oförstörbarhet, om krafternas enhet och om kraftförvandling. De sträcker sig från jordens ålder till solsystemets ursprung och öde.

Enligt von Helmholtz var hjärnan en slags ”sannolikhetsmaskin”, som genom data buren av energi använde  komplexa återkopplingsmekanismer för att kontrollera, justera och minimera olika felaktigheter, missuppfattningar och ofullständig information som förmedlats genom våra sinnesintryck. 

von Helmholtz betecknade sig själv som en ”experimentell filosof” . Han menade att vår föreställning om de ting och fenomen som omger oss är en produkt av hur våra sinnesorgan uppfattar dem och hur vårt medvetande bearbetar informationen.  Våra föreställningar avbildar inte tingen som de verkligen existerar utanför oss, de är enbart tecken eller symboler för dem. Vi kan dock bilda oss en uppfattning om tingens sanna natur och existens genom att undersöka de lagar och fysiska funktioner som styr våra tankar och sinnesförnimmelser.

Nedan en teckning av Ramón y Cajal som visar neuroner i hjärnbarkens grå substans (fast  i en levande hjärna är den snarast mörkt rosa, det är då hjärnbarken lagrats i ett laboratorium som den blir grå).

Hjärnbarken för oss tillbaka till Swedenborgs funderingar kring själens säte, främst hans åsikt att hjärnans samtliga nervtrådar var kopplade till hjärnbarkens myiader av cerebellula, de små körtlar som Swedenborg antog var koncenterarde till hypofysen och den grå hjärnbarken. Körtelstruktutrer  vars uppgift var att separera och blanda olika, kemiska signalvätskor.

I själva verket består hjärnbarkens grå substans av neuronceller vars utskott, axonerna och dendrinerna, utgör den vita hjärnsubstans som sköter kommunikationen mellan kroppens nervceller. Swedenborg var inte helt vilsen då han antog att hjärnbarken var själens säte. Den 3–5 mm tjocka, veckade hjärnbarken är mer utvecklad hos människan än hos något annat däggdjur. Elefanter har större hjärnor än människor, fåglar större hjärna i förhållande till sin  kroppsviktförhållande och valar har fler vindlingar i sin hjärnbark, men människans hjärnbark har flest neuroner och fler funktioner. Swedenborg hade alldeles rätt då han antog att hjärnbarken är involverad i flera av hjärnans komplexa funktioner; som minne, uppmärksamhet, tänkande och språk. 

Likt Hermann von Helmholtz tycks den amerikaske neurologiprofessorn David Linden anse att den mänskliga hjärnan är en sannolikhetsmaskin som flätar samman sofistikerad, men likväl bristfällig, information från sinnesintryck till sammanhängande tolkningar och "berättelser". Denna kognitiva funktion har främst sitt säte i den vänstra, frontala hjärnbarken och det är den som hos oss skapar ett medvetande som skiljer oss från andra djur.  Det är denna del av hjärnan som utgör grunden för såväl drömmar som skapandet och spridningen av allsköns, unikt mänskliga tankar och beteenden, inte minst inom den religiösa sfären.

Religion är en form av personliga föreställningar som påverkas av sociokulturella faktorer, vårt gemensamma mänskliga evolutionära arv som det återspeglas i strukturen och funktionen hos våra hjärnor och som predisponerar oss för  religiöst tänkande på ungefär samma sätt som det predisponerar oss för andra kulturella universaler, som långvarig parbindning, språk och musik.

I sin bok The Accidental Mind beskriver Professor Linden den mänskliga hjärnan som:

Ett kaotiskt lappverk. Visserligen imponerande genom sina olika funktioner,  men med en udda, ineffektiv och bisarr design.  Ett märkligt hopkok som under miljontals år ackumulerats genom ad hoc-lösningar,

Linden jämför den mänskliga hjärnan med en  glassstrut, i vilken glasskulor med olika smaker har lavats ovanpå varandrar. Evolutionen har gjort så att när högre funktioner har lagts till hjärnan så har de likt en skopa glass hamnat ovanpå lägre delar, som i stort sett har lämnats oförändrade.

En människas hjärnstam, lillhjärna och mellanhjärna skiljer sig inte så mycket från en grodas. Emellertid lade evolutionen till hypotalamus, thalamus och det limbiska systemet, hjärndelar som också återfinns hos exempelvis en råtta. Det som gör människan unik – den bästa glasssmaken – är hennes välutvecklade cortex,  hjärnbarken, vars storlek gör att den har skrynklats till ordentligt för kunna rymmas under  kraniets skal.

Människans frontala cortex är särskilt sofistikerad och skiljer sig ordentligt från andra däggdjurs hjärnor. Denna del, som är avgörande för människans särart, utgör hjärnans associativa centrum, den fyller i informationsluckor och skapar genom fabulerande och fantasi sammanhang och logik, även när det inte finns något sådant.

Tankar och beteenden  uppkommer inom olika hjärncentra och det är en mängd nervkonnektioner och den elektrokemiska ström som färdas genom dem som förmedlar och skapar sinnesintryck, alltmedan det främst är hjärnbarkens uppgift att övervaka och tolka denna mängd av information.

De flesta funktioner och processer finns representerade på båda sidor av hjärnan, dock finns det vissa funktioner som främst är lokaliserade till den ena av de två hjärnhalvorna. Vänster hjärnhalva innehåller exempelvis  språkfunktioner som tal och skrift, flera av dem kopplade till de tidigare nämnda Brocas och Wernickes områden. Hjärnhemisfärerna samordnas via Hjärnbarken – Corpus Callosum.

Inom populär litteratur överdrivs ofta hjärnhalvornas funktioner. Studier av människor som fått kontakten mellan dem avbruten, expempelvis genom att halvorna skiljts åt medelst kirurgiska ingrepp (i allmänhet för att lindra epilepsi), har generellt sett visat att den vänstra hjärnhemisfären samordnar abstrakt tänkande; som ordens mening och sammanhang, samt sekventiell matematisk beräkning. Den högra hjärnbarken är mer koncentrerad till rumsliga begrepp och förhållanden, den bidrar  till upptäckandet av ordens emotionella tonfall, relaterar till musik och avläser subtila ansiktsuttryck.

1996 drabbades den amerikanska hjärnforskaren Jill Bolte Taylor av en massiv hjärnblödning som blodfyllde och slog ut en mängd funktioner i hennes vänstra hjärnhemisfär. Hon förlorade förmågan att gå, tala, skriva och läsa, drabbades av stora minnesluckor och problem med att koordinera sina kroppsrörelser. Efter ett kirurgiskt ingrepp och åtta års intensiv träning lyckades Bolte Taylor rekonstruera vad hon förlorat genom sin nedsatta hjärnfunktion.

I sin bok My Stroke of Insight skildrar Bolte Taylor detaljerat och insiktsfullt hela förloppet, från den morgon hon vaknade upp, förvirrad och invalidiserad genom en våldsam hjärnblödning, orsakad av en brusten blodåder. Fritt framrusande blod utgör en dödlig fara för hjärnans neuroner och situationen förvärras då blodet koagular och skapar massiva proppar.

Det märkliga var att Bolte Taylor  trots sin oförmåga att tala begripligt och ett otal andra svårigheter så upplevde hon vad man under andra tisperioder möjligen skulle ha uppfattat som mystisk extas: ”i avsaknad av syn, ljud, känsel, lukt, smak och rädsla, kände jag hur min ande lämnade fästet vid min kropp och jag befriades från smärtan.”

Istället för att drabbas av panik över sitt hjälplösa tillstånd kände sig Bolte Taylor lugn, fridfull, som om hon ”förenats med universum”. Hon skriver att ”jag tror att erfarenheten av Nirvana vilar i medvetandet hos vår högra hjärnhalva”, med Nirvana menade Bolte Taylor ”frånvaron av upplevelser”.

Hon förklarar att hennes disciplinära och logiska vänstra hjärnhemisfär före hennes stroke hos henne skapade en känsla av permanent nervositet, ja – hon hade ofta varit elak och ogin mot sig själv och andra. Under sin vanmäktiga underkastelse till den högra hjärnhalvan kände hon däremot empati med alla varlser. Utan att förstå ordens innebörd varseblev hon de känslor som formade dem och de ansiktsuttryck de ledsagades av. Utan struktur, disciplin och censur rörde sig hennes tankar fritt och obundet, utan ansträngning, utan begriplighet. Då hon blivit återställd och med den vänstra hjärnhalvas hjälp kunnat organisera sina tankar, återfinna sin plats i världen och forma sina upplevelser till en ”berättelse”, insåg Bolte Taylor värdet av den högra hjärnhalvans bidrag till människans psyke. Hennes bok formade sig till en lovsång av den högra hjärnhemisfären.

Mitt högra förstånd är äventyrligt, uppskattar överflöd och är socialt kompetent. Det uppmärksammar icke-verbal kommunikation, känner empati och tolkar skickligt mina känslor. Mitt högra sinne är öppet för det eviga flöde som gör mig till en del av universum. […] Den högra hjärnhalvan är säte för min intuition och högre medvetande. Mitt högra sinnelag är alltid närvarande och går aldrig vilse i tiden. [...] Det gör så att jag inte sitter fast i det förflutna eller fruktar vad framtiden kan, eller inte kan, bära i sitt sköte.[...] Mitt högra förstånd får mig att inse att jag är summan av livskraften hos de femtio biljoner molekylära mirakler som skapar min gestalt!

Här finner vi, om än inte lika imponerande som hos dem, en spegling av Whitmans hyllning av kroppens och själens enhet och Södergrans triumf att finnas till. Likt Swedenborg, som även han var en bildad och skicklig utforskare av hjärnans mysterier, tycks Bolte Taylor genom sin smärtsamma och fullkomligt omvälvande hjärnblödning ha öppnat sitt sinne för en mystisk vision av tillvarons väldighjet och innersta väsen.

Dock kan jag inte undgå att i Bolte Taylors lovsånger till den högra hjärnhalvan förnimma en dragning mot banal New Age filosofi. Mina farhågor om vart Bolte Tylor var på väg besannades av hennes följande bok Whole Brain  Living. I den presenterar hon i jungiansk efterföljd fyra ”karaktärer” med säte på olika platsers i hjärnan. Om Jung rörde sig bland myter rör sig Bolte Taylor inom ”vetenskapen”, det vill säga hennes personliga uppfattning av den.

Bolte Taylors version av Kosmiskt Medvetande och vår plats inom det, är enligt min uppfattning hopplöst naiv och hennes fyra karaktärer tycks spegla en personanalys med smak av horsoskopens  beskrivning av zodiakens predisposition av mänskliga egenskaper. Enligt Bolte Taylor har  Personan (eller hjälten) sitt säte i hjärnans främre vänstra del. Skuggan finns i den bakre vänstra delen.  Anima/Animus finner vi i hjärnans bakre högra del och Guden, eller jagets manifestation, finns i den främre  högra delen. Speciellt Bolte Taylors definition av ”den fjärde karaktären”  framstår som alltför grund och i det närmaste pinsamt horoskopesoterisk:

 Vår karaktär 4 är den allvetande intelligensen i vilken vi finner vårt ursprung och det är genom den vi inkarnerar universums medvetande.

Bolte Taylor förespråkar en “odogmatisk” panteistiskt färgad,  religiös världsuppfattning och uppmanar sin läsare ”att använda det språk som är bekvämt för ditt trossystem”. Bolte Taylor  rekommenderar även vad hon betecknar som en hjärnkur. Ett  verktyg som sammanför hjärnans fyra karaktärer i en konversation som möjliggör vårt nyttjande av deras respektive styrkor för att därigenom kunna välja vilken karaktär som bör förkroppsligas i en speciell situation.

Det är ett mänskligt drag att söka enkla lösningar på komplicerade frågor. Inte minst – vem är jag? Var kommer jag ifrån? Vart är jag på väg? Hur kommer mitt liv att te sig? Men livet är i själva verket med Thomas Bernhards geniala fras ”helt enkelt komplicerat”. För att undvika svårigheter kan man därför ta sin tillflykt till horoskopens personkaraktäristik och förutsägelser, eller varför  inte Thomas Erikssons succébok Omgiven av idioter. Den kom 2014 och har sedan dess använts i rekryteringsprocesser och levnadskonstkurser. Den har införskaffats av mer än en halv miljon svenskar. En intressant titel, men dessvärre en dålig bok.

Thomas Eriksson indelar människor i enlighet med  fyra kategorier – ”dominant, inspirerande, stabil och analytisk”. Varje kategori beteckas genom en färg; röd, gul, grön och blå.

Tillvägångssättet är välkänt och denna så kallade DISCmetod har framgångsrikt använts av olika konsultfirmor och företag. Den finner sitt ursprung i boken Emotions of Normal People som 1928 publicerades av psykologen William Moulton Marston (1893-1947).

Marston var en mångsysslare som förutom böcker om självhjälp och psykatri tillsammans med Leonard Keeler  deltog i utarbetandet  av polygrafen, något felaktigt även kallad för lögndetektor. En apparat som mäter och registrerar fysiologiska indikatorer som blodtryck, puls, andning och hudledningsförmåga, alltmedan en person tillfrågas och svarar på en rad frågor. Marstons bidrag var mätandet av det systoliska blodtrycket. Systoliskt tryck visar hur hård belastning kärlväggarna utsätts för är hjärtat kramar ihop sig och skjutsar ut en volym blod i kroppen. Marston hade observerat sin hustru Elizabeth som ”"är hon blev arg eller upphetsad så tycktes hennes blodtryck stiga oroväckande."

Den tro som ligger till grund för användningen av en polygraf är att vilseledande/lögnaktiga  svar åstadkommer specifika fysiologiska reaktioner. De flesta psykologer är dock överens om att det finns få bevis för att polygraftester på ett avgörande sätt kan upptäcka lögner. Lögndetektorer har dock i form av så kallade e-mätare en mycket viktig funktion inom scientologireligionen som grundades av vetenskapscharlatanen och science fictionförfattaren  L. Ron Hubbard.

Polygrafer används fortfarande tämligen flitigt I USA, men i en majoritet av europeiska jurisdiktioner anses de vara opålitliga och används sällan av  brottsbekämpande myndigheter. Förutom DISCterapi och polygrafer är Marston  känd för att ha varit ”polyamrös”. Han levde i ett öppet förhållande med två kvinnor och hade två barn med var och en av dem. Emellanåt levde medlemmarna i Marstons regnbågsfamilj även tillsammans med en tredje kvinna. Detta har gjort Marston till något av en kultfigur bland förespråkare fr så kallade regnbågsäktenskap och i en film från  2017 är Marston och hans två hustrur hjältarna i en film kallad Pofessor Marston and the Wonder Woman, som även handlar om hur Marston skapade seriefiguren Wonder Woman.

Låt oss nu lämna pseudovetenskaperna och konfronteras med de märkvärdigheter som användandet av magnetoencefalografi(MEG)apparter gett upphov till. En ny värld håller på att öppnas; svårbegriplig och möjligen skrämmande.

Neuroner använder syre som genom blodomloppet transporteras av hemoglobinmolekyler. Hemoglobin innehåller järn. Magneterna i en MEGapparat spårar järn i hjärnan och magnetiska impulser kan därigenom signalera när olika delar av hjärnan blivit aktiva. Det sker genom att  ytterligare syrebärande blod skickas in i dem och därgenom  skapas synliga kontraster mellan aktiva och inaktiva tillstånd.

Forskare i Liège upptäckte 2009 att en patient som efter en hjärnskada befann sig i ett vegetativt tillstånd, utan förmåga att kommunicera sig med omgivningen, i själva verket hade flera aktiva tankefunktioner vid liv.  Efter att ha förts in i en  MEGapparat blev patienten tillfrågad om han kunde  föreställa sig att han gick runt i ett hus. Frågan fick ett visst område i hjärnan att lysa upp. Då man bad honom att föreställa sig att han spelade tennis, aktiverades en helt annan del av hjärnan. Forskarna bad honom då att använda  orden”spela tennis” som en signal för ”ja” och frågade honom om han hette "Alexander” – tennisområdet lystes upp. De bad honom sedan föreställa sig att ”vandra kring i ett hus” betecknade ”nej”. Man frågade honom sedan  om han hade några systrar, ”husområdet” lystes upp, och så vidare tills en konversation kunde byggas upp kring ja- och nej-svar. Ibland fick en fråga inte ett tydligt svar, till exempel när forskarna frågade Alexander om han ville dö.  Genom denna metod uppskattade de belgiska forskarna att tjugo procent av de patienter som antagits vara "vegetativa" faktiskt var vid medvetande.

Artificiell intelligens (AI) och hjänskanning förändrar snabbt forskares förmåga att läser neurala data. Genom matematiskt tänkande baserat på mängdlära och algorytmer, dvs.  ändliga uppsättningar som medelst otvetydiga instruktioner körs genom datorprogram, tror sig flera forskare ha kommit mänskligt tänkande på spåren. Mängden av de möjliga tankar som människor kan tänka är stort – men det är inte oändligt och med hjälp av skanners och AI söker man nu bland hjärnans neuroner efter  mönster och ”aktiveringskoder” . Vad man då funnit är så kallade voxels  –  ”aktiveringsområden” som är ungefär en kubikmillimeter stora. Genombrottet kom när forskare kom på hur man med hjälp av MEG och datorer kunde spåra tiotusentals voxlar åt gången och därefter lyckas aktivera dem som om de vore tangenter på ett piano och tankarna ackord. Med hjälp av datateknik  kan en visuell och semantiskt rymd skapas, en väg mot förståelsen av hur våra hjärnor speglar världen.

Forskarna försöker fånga ett konstant flöde av voxelmönster och sedan bearbeta dem med färg-  och ljudtolkningar liknande dem som hjärnan tillämpar på sinnesintryck och tankar.  Genom att analysera hjärnscans kan ett datorsystem redigera rekonstruktioner av filmklipp som en försöksperson har sett och lagrat bland sina hjärnvindlingar. En forskargrupp har använt liknande tekniker för att visuellt rekonstruera/spegla sovande försökspersoners drömmar.

Det låter fantastiskt, eller fullkomligt omöjligt, men vi kan då  betänka hur Watson och Crick 1953 slutligen fann den dubbelhelix de sökt under flera år och därmed bevisade att gener faktiskt hade en fysisk gestalt.  Redan i slutet av 1900-talet kunde The Human Genome Project  presentera homo sapiens fullständiga DNA-sekvens. Idag kan de till och med redigera den.

Djärvt tänkande, fantastiska planer och likväl i ett kosmiskt perspektiv är det  som om när  Calvin leker i sin sandlåda.

För mig framstår det som om Universum och därmed även människan och hennes hjärna animeras av en kosmisk kraft. Kanske flera. Vad vet jag?

Det grekiska energeia betydde aktivitet, från energos, ”aktiv”, där en står för ”i” och ergon för ”arbete”, alltså kan ordet översättas som  ”i arbete”.  För flera forskare var sökandet efter en kosmisk energi ett stort och ansträngande arbete. Frankenstein drömde om att finna livets ursprung och därmed bli lik en  skapande gud – men han skapade ett monster. Lombroso trodde att han genom att mäta skallar och betrakta en människas yttre skulle kunna  faställa vem som hade kriminella anlag, eller rentutav var ettt geni.  Resultateten  av hans ”forskning” blev  en av orsakerna till nazisternas vansinniga massutrotning av ”värdelösa”, eller ”skadliga” mäniskor. Drivkraften bakom allt detta? Är det elektriciteten som genomströmmar våra hjärnor? Hur fungerade Hitlers hjärna? Vilka hjärncentra skulle hans judehat lysa upp om han fördes in i en MEGskanner? Hur fungerar Putins hjärna?

En milstople inom neurovetenskapern var Oskar Voigts noggranna studium av Lenins hjärna som på begäran av den sovjetiska regeringen 1924 utfördes på Kaiser Wilhem Institutet i Berlin. Vogts ytterst detaljerade och väldokomunterade undersökning har hyllats för att den lyfte fram nerurovetenskapens roll i förståelsen av mänskligt beteende och det komplexa samspelet mellan bilogi och miljö. I själva verket var resultatet dock helt utan vetenskaplig grund. Professor Vogt slutsats att Lenin var en ”en hjärnatlet och en associativ gigant” är ytterst tveksamt. Det  var en död hjärna han dissekerat och mikroskopiskt undersökt och därigenom hade det varit omöjligt för Vogt att finna vilka olika centra som  aktiverats genom elektrokemiska processer och vilka hjärndelar som bidrog till Lenins tänkande.

Uttalanden om Lenins ”intelligens” borde dessutom ha i åtanke hans fallenhet för att generalisera och en beredvillighet använda våld och terror, parad med en uppenbar, kylig brist på empati. Något som  ofta framkommit då olika personer beskrivit sina möten med honom. Exempelvis Bertrand Russell som 1920  hade ett mer än timslångt, enskilt samtal med den sovjetiske ledaren:

Han skrattar mycket; till en början tycktes hans skratt enbart vara vänligt och glatt, men så småningom kom jag att finna det tämligen hårt och bistert. Han är diktatorisk, lugn, orädd, helt i avsaknad av självinsikt, en förkroppsligad teori. Den materialistiska historieuppfattningen, uppfattar han som sitt livsblod-. Genom sin önskan att få sina teorier förstådda påminner han om en professor och så även genom  sitt raseri gentemot sådana som missförstår eller är oense med honom, liksom sin  benägenhet att förklara.  Jag fick  intrycket att han föraktar väldigt många människor, att han är en intellektuell aristokrat.

Lenins order och  brev  uppvisar ofta en rå hänsynslöshet, exempelvis:

Det är nödvändigt att i hemlighet och i all hast förbereda terrorn. [...] Se till att de hängs offentligt, minst hundra stora jordägare, rika män, blodsugare. ... Gör det på ett sådant sätt att folket inom hundratals kilometers omkrets kan se, darra, veta, och ropa: "de kväver dem, de kommer att till döds strypa de blodsugande kulakerna.”

Det finns samtida Frankensteinar som inte tvekar att utföra de mest fantastiska experiment på levande människor. Sergio Canavero (född 1964) arbetade i 22 år som neurokirurg i Turin tills hans kontrakt sades upp i februari 2015, detta på grund av ett ökat motstånd mot hans forskning. Efter sin uppsägning blev Canavero utnämnd till hedersprofessor vid Harbins Medicinska Universitet där han nu samarbetar med Xiaoping Ren. I januari 2016 publicerade Canavero och hans team ett pressmeddelande vilket offentliggjorde en ”framgångsrik huvudtransplantation” på en apa, som  överlevde proceduren och hölls vid liv i 20 timmar. Pressmeddelandet nämnde att Canavero och hans kinesiska kollegor nu experimenterade på mänskliga kadaver och att de var övertygade om att de inom några år skall vara i stånd att utföra framgånsrika huvudtransplantatioiner på människor.

Överskrider vi människor de gränser som fastställts av den kosmiska energin/jämvikten? Det råder ingen tvekan om att vi är ett med alltet. När den kosmiska strålningen upptäcktes för hundra år sedan öppnades ett nytt forskningsfält, partikelfysiken och med den studier av materiens ursprung och dess innersta uppbyggnad. Den moderna fysiken fick därmed sin början och hjärnforskningen var en del av den. Allting i universum delar samma mikroskopiska byggstenar – molekyler, atomer, kvarker och busoner och samma kraft/er sätter allt i rörelse.

Upptäckten av så kallad kosmisk strålning tog sin början klockan 6.00 på morgonen den 7 augusti 1912. Då lyfte en 1 700 kubikmeter stor ballong, fylld med vätgas, från Aussig, en stad mellan Prag och Dresden. I gondolen befann sig den 29-årige österrikaren Victor Hess – och flera instrument med vilka han avsåg att mäta produktionen av elektrisk laddning, jonisationen, i de högre luftrummen.

Ballongen nådde 5 000 meters höjd och på väg dit mätte Hess hur luftens jonisation varierade med höjden. Till sin stora förvåning fann han att denna var nästan tre gånger högre än på marken. Det var tvärt­emot vad han och andra forskare hade förväntat sig. Den genomträngande strålningen hade sedan början på 1900-talet varit ett mysterium. Man förmodade att luften laddades av jordskorpans radioaktiva strålning, och därför borde jonisationen avta med höjden över marken. Så var inte alls fallet.

Till fleras förvåning visade det sig att rymdens väldiga vakuum mellan planeter, solar och galaxer långt ifrån var  tomt. Jorden bombarderas oavbrutet av olika former av energi/kosmisk strålning och i motsats till vad man ansett innan Hess upptäckt  består den  kosmiska strålningen till största delen av positivt laddade partiklar. Idag vet vi att nästan nio av tio infallande kosmiska partiklar är protoner

Kosmiska strålar är partiklar med hög energi  som nära  ljusets hastighet rör sig genom rymden.  De härstammar från solen och kommer dessutom  såväl från  vår egen galax, som från mer avlägsna  galaxer. Galaktisk, kosmisk strålning uppkommer ur rester av supernovor. De är resutatet av de  kraftfulla explosioner som äger rum under de sista stadierna av massiva stjärnors slutgiltiga undergång , eller kollaps till svarta hål. Energin som frigörs  genom sådana  explosioner accelererar i form av  laddade partiklar. Supernovorna är  som enorma, naturliga partikelacceleratorer.

Partikelfysikens  så kallade standardmodell beskriver med hjälp av kvantfältteori de minsta partiklarna och hur deras interaktion skapar de fyra elementära krafter som styr Universum. Gravitationen styr planeternas banor kring solen och binder samman stjärnor till galaxer. Elektromagnetismen kopplar elektronerna till atomerna och är den kraft som genom kemiska kopplingar samlar molekyler till DNAkedjor. Svag växelverkan åstadkommer  radioaktivt sönderfall, medan stark växelverkan tvingar protoner och  neutroner att forma atomkärnor.

I skolan lärde jag mig att en atom påminner om ett planetsystem. Dess kärna finns som en sol i mitten och de negativt laddade elektronerna kretsar omkring den postivt laddade atomkärnan.

Det är den modell som Niels Bohr introducerade 1913. Den var dock enligt honom mer komplicerad än så. Till skillnad från hur planeter rör sig tänker man sig att elektronerna kan hoppa mellan banorna. Hoppar de från en yttre bana till en inre så änds en blixt av elektromagnetisk strålning ut från atomen. Träffas atomen av en sådan blixt, kan det hända att en elektron lyfts upp från en inre till en yttre bana.

Genom sin åskådlighet fortsätter Bohrs atommodell att vara den som många fysiker och kemister har i huvudet då de gör sina beräkningar. Men den kompletteras och kompliceras genom kvantmekaniken där man förställer sig att den positivt laddade atomkärnan är omgiven av ett moln av negativ laddning. Molnet kan förändra sin form genom att skicka ut eller ta emot elektromagnetisk strålning.

Elektroner utgör ett slags kraftfält. Atomkärnans protoner och neutroner, samt de kringvirvlande elektronerna har bevisats bestå av ännu mindre delar och de utgör nu tillsammans en grupp partiklar som kallas hadroner. En hadron innehåller elementärpartiklar som samlar sig i något som kallas kvarkar och leptoner.

Det finns två former av hadroner – baryoner som är uppbyggda av av tre kvarkar och mesoner som består av en kvark och en antikvark. I enlighet med standardmodellen är det de kraftbärande elementärpartiklarna inom kvarkarna som fömedlar de fyra fundamentala naturkrafterna. Dessa partiklar har identifierats som fotoner, gluoner, bosoner och de än så länge hypotetiska gravitonerna. Det är deras växelverkan som skapar energi, massa och elektrokemisk laddning. 

Fysiker hoppas att det skall finnas en ”teori om allt” som omfattar de fyra elementärkrafterna och därmed blir lösningen på standardmodellens många obesvarade frågor. Kanske kan den nyligen identiferade higgsbosonen vara ett avgörande steg i den riktningen.

Flera partikelbeteckningar har namn efter sina upptäckare, sin funktion, eller är helt enkelt uppdiktade. Exempelvis så sökte Murray Gell-Mann efter ett namn på de partikelbindningar han upptäckt. I sin bok The Quark anf the Jaguar: Adventure in the Simple and the Complex, Kvarken och jaguaren: Äventyr inom det enkla och komplexa, beskriver Gell-Mann hur han 1964 inom sig gång på gång hörde ordet kwork. Han hade läst det någonstans och fann till slut att det fanns i en dikt i James Joyce tämligen obegripliga Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure hasn’t got much of bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

Uppenbarligen avser obegripligheterna fyllesnacket på en pub där någon beställer tre kvartar öl till någon som heter Mark. En kvart är two pints of beer. Gell-Mann blev mycket nöjd med sin ordupptäckt eftersom ”receptet för att göra en neutron eller proton av kvarkar är, grovt sett, ’ta tre kvarkar’."

Bosoner är uppkallade efter den indiske matematikern och fysikern Satyendra Nayh Bose (1894-1974).  Han vare ett universalgeni , talade bengali, engelska, franska och tyska, samt läste obehindrat sanskrit. Det senare gjorde att Bose med stort intresse läste hinduiska, religiösa skrifter. Som flera matematiker och fysiker var Bose musikalisk och känd som en skicklig esraimusiker, esrai är ett punjabi stränginstrument som liknats vid en violin.

Bland annat arbetade Bose med ytterst komplicerade matematiska analyser av sambandet mellan förmodade elementärpartiklar och kom fram till att det som kom att kallas busoner skljer sig från det oändliga antal partiklar som samtidigt kan ha samma tiilstånd, något som betyder att de på den lägsta energinivån kan klumpa ihop sig, Detta tycktes stödja en uppfattning om en slags kosmisk symmetri baserad på ”fält” som genomsyrar hela universum. Dessa kan vid olika punkter i tid och rum anta olika värden, beroende på det genomsnittlga antalet partiklar som kan observeras inom fältet. Partiklar kan skapas och förstöras  genom att energi tillförs eller avlägsnas från fältet. Varje känd partikel, från elektroner till fotoner, är associerad till ett rum-tidsmättat vibrerande fält.

Jag är varken fysiker eller matematiker och kan säkerligen ha fåt allt om bakfoten. Men, jag antar att Boses upptäckter och teorier antydde att förutsättningarna för den "elektrosvaga” symmetrin kunde förändras genom existensen av ett annorlunda ”fält”. Byggblocken i detta fält är de partiklar vars existens Bose anade.

Vi kan anta att en partikel som fått namnet fermion (efter den italienske fysikern Enrico Fermi) är förutsättningen för uppkomsten av vår existens beståndelar. Ja, hela Universum – elektroner, kvarkar, protoner, neutronor, etc., detta medan busonerna utgör krafter som får dem att samveka. I standardmodellen förenas den svaga och den elektromagnetiska kraften till en enda kraft, kallad den elektrosvaga kraften. Vid höga energier är den svaga och den elektromagnetiska kraften olika aspekter av samma kraft, men vid lägre energier delar de upp sig i olika kraftfält. Detta sker genom ett så kallat spontant symmetribrott orsakat av en speciell buson. Ett samband som anades av Satyendra Bose.

I en artikel som  Bose publicerade 1924 presenterade han ett sammandrag av sina forskningsresultat. Han sände den till Einstein, som imponerades och fann Boses teorier helt i överensstämmelse med hans egna aniingar. Han översatte artikeln till tyska och såg till att den publicerades I den respekterade Zeitschrift für Physik.

Flera år senare presenterade, oberoende av varandra, Peter Higgs och François Englert/Robert Brout 1964 en  teori som gick ut på att W-, Z+- och Z bosonerna, som utgör den elektrosvaga kraften, får sina massor genom ett spontant symmettribrott som orsakats av det som nu kallas Higgsmekanism, i vilken en boson –  Higgsbosonen – spelar en avgörande roll.

Vid höga temperaturer förmedlar fyra bosoner  gemensamt den elektrosvaga kraftent. Me,n vid låga temperaturer förenar sig tre bosoner, medan den fjärde, som nu benämns s Higgsbosonen  lämnas helt. ensam. Det var den  partikeln som Higgs, Englert och Brout var på jakt efter.

De tre forskarna hade kommit fram till sin slutsats genom matematisk analys. Nu gällde det att, liksom fallet varit med dubbelhelixen, att bevisa att higgsbosonen verkligen existerade. Det tog femtio år innan deras hypotes kunde bevisas. För att kunna göra det var det var nödvändigt att använda världens mest avancerade maskin – den jättelika partikelacceleratorn Large Hadron Collider i Cern utanför Geneve. Det är en 27 kilometer lång cirkelrund konstruktion. Med hjälp av 1.200 magneter nedkylda till -271 grader celsius accelereras protoner till 99,99998 procent av ljushastigheten. När protonerna kolliderar återskapas i viss mån situationen precis efter Big Bang. Att finna higgsbosonen är dock synnerligen sällsynt. Av en miljard protonkollisioner kan möjligen 10 higgsbosoner iakttas. Inte nog med det – higgsbosonen sönderfaller nästan omedelbart. Vid ett seminarium vid Cern den 4 juli 2012  tillkännagavs att man funnit eftersökta bosonen.

För mig framstår det som om forskarna är på spåren efter uppkomsten av en kosmisk kraft som genomsyrar  hela universum och därmed också oss människor. En kraft som uppenbarligen inte kan försvinna sä länge som Kosmos existerar. Och mitt i denna kosmiska väldighet finns du och jag, med våra stora problem, våra begränsningar, våra miljösvängningar, ondska och godhet, våra olösliga trauman och knasiga idéer. Vår futtiga existens, våra små egon och begränsade medvetande, som trots allt är uppbyggda av samma atomer och krafter som det obegripligt omfattande Universum vi alla är del av, med  dess kringvirvlande planeter, solar och galaxer, som samtliga befinner sig så ofattbart långt borta från oss och vår vardagliga existens.

Då jag läser om dessa hisnande perspektiv där elektriskt laddade partiklar bidrar till skapandet av den mänskliga hjärnan och det ständiga informationsflöde som ger upphov till våra tankar och vår speciella personlighet, är det lätt att glömma striden mellan sociologi och medicinsk materialism,dvs. miljö och arv. I min mening står dessa begrepp inte alls i något motsatsförhållande till varandra. Jag antar att en stor del av det evolutionära glasslager som David Linden skriver om innehåller en stor dos av ständigt förändrande erfarenheter, av sådant vi lärt oss från föräldrar, vänner, fiender, bekanta och sociala medier, Det vi kallar för natur är en förutsättning för det vi kallar kultur.

 I sin bok Den själviska genen införde den brittiske evolutionsbiologen Richard Dawkins (1941-) begreppet mem. Dawkins definierade  memen som

en ur kulturarvet utbruten enhet, liknande en specifik gen och lydande under samma naturliga urval,  baserat på de fördelar som specifika fysiska och psykiska  egenskaper ger för en arts överlevnad och som sprids inom en viss kulturmiljö.

Som exempel på memer gav Dawkins melodier, slagord, trosföreställningar, klädmoden, speciella produktionstekniker, konst, m.m. Enligt honom fungerar kropp och hjärna som transportörer av gener och memer. Det är gener och memer som utgör de biologiskt och kulturellt baserade enheter som styr varje del av kroppen och därmed även hjärnan. Gener överförs genom DNA, medan memer sprids genom överföring från individ till individ; genom våra sinnen, vår syn och vårt tal, sociala medier och all annan form av kommunikation som vi människor använder oss av. Enligt Dawkins är vi flockdjur och därmed är vi uppmärksamma på och anpassar oss till kulturella och sociala koder. Det är våra hjärnor som attraheras av och imiterar olika former av information, som sedan vidarebefordras till vår kropp och medvetande i form av elektrokemiska impulser.

Redan existerande kunskaper och färdigheter, beteenden och idéer, övertas från andra individer och brukas med samma självklarhet som då jag i en supermaket plockar in varor i min kundvagn. Det är våra mer eller mindre medvetna val som styr oss och det är därför viktigt att inse att det vi kallar vår kunskap och intelligens har vuxit fram ur vissa bestämda sammanhang – familj, skola, arbete, intressen. För att inse vilka vi är och hur vi reagerar bör vi antagligen förstå och acceptera hur mycket av det som vi tror vara vår personlighet, vårtr medvetande, har skapats genom kollektiva handlingar och allmän information.

Kan krafter som den förvandlande higgsbusonen, som många amatörer gjort, liknas vid Guds närvaro i Universum? Vad vet jag? Möjligen kan jag referera till vad biskopen Jacob, spelad av Max von Sydow, deklarerar i Enskilda samtal, en TVserie i två delar i regi av Liv Ullman och med manus av Ingmar Bergman som 1996 visades av Sverige Television:

Anna: Tror farbror Jakob på Gud, en fader i himmelen, en, ... en kärlekens gud? En gud med händer och hjärta och vakande ögon.
Jacob: Säg inte ordet Gud. Säg det heliga, i varje människa finns det heliga, människans helighet, allt annat är attribut … manifestationer, tilltag. Du kan aldrig räkna ut eller fånga människans helighet. Samtidigt så är det någonting att hålla sig till, någonting alldeles konkret in i döden, det som därefter sker, det är fördolt, det är bara diktarna och musikerna och helgonen som har räckt oss speglar där vi kan skönja det ofattbara. Dom har sett och vetat och förstått, inte helt men i skärvor. För mig så är det trösterikt att tänka på människans helighet.

Visionärer som Swedenborg och den märkligt geniale William Blake, mystiker, konstnär, och författare, har var och en på sitt sätt tacklat människans relation till sin egen existens och Universums väldighet. I min mening gjorde Blake det bäst i några korta rader:

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Att se en Värld i ett sandkorn,
Och en Himmel i en vild blomma,
Låta Oändligheten vila i din handflata,
Och Evigheten i en timme.

Ackroyd, Peter (2008) The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. London: Chatto & Windus. Bolte Taylor, Jill (2009) My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Crane, Stephen (2005) The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics. Dawkins, Richard (1978) The Selfish Gene. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin. Ehrlich, Benjamin (2022) The Brain in Search of Itself: Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Story of the Neuron. New York: Farrrar, Straus and Giroux. Eriksson, Thomas (2014) Omgiven av idioter: Hur man förstår dem som det inte går att förstå. Örebro: Libris. Ering, Thomas Basil (1997) Diary of Victor Frankenstein. London: Dorling Kindersley. Ginsberg, Allen (1999) Meditation Rock (CD). Lund:  Bakhåll. Glas, Peter (2022) Månen har inget eget ljus: En bok om Leonardo da Vinci. Lund: Bakhåll. Gordh, Torsten E., William G.P. Mair och Patrick Sourander (2007) “Swedenborg, Linnaeus and Brain Research – and the Roles of Gustaf Retzius and Alfred Stroh in the Rediscovery of Swedenborg’s Manuscripts,” i Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, No. 112.  Gould, Stephen Jay (1996) The Mismeasure of Man.  New York: W.W. Norton.Grayling, Anthony Clifford (2022) The Frontiers of Knowledge: What We Know about Science, History and the Mind. London: Penguin Books. Gregory, Paul R. (2007) Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press. Helmholtz, Hermann von (1995) Science and Culture: Popular and Philosophical Essays. Chicago: Unversity of Chicago Press.  Kipperman, Mark (1998) “Coleridge, Shelley, Davy and Science’s Millenium”, in Criticism, Vol. 40, No. 3. Kjellgren, Johan Henrik (1995) Skrifter. Stockholm: Atlantis. Lamm, Martin (1987) Swedenborg: En studie över hans utveckling till mystiker och andeskådare. Johanneshov: Hammarström & Åberg.  Linden, David J. (2007) The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution has given us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.  Proctor, Robert N. (1988) Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (2019) Recuerdos de mi vida. Alexandria: Library of Alexandria. Shelley, Mary (2008) Frankenstein. Lund: Bakhåll. Shelley, Percy (2017) Selected Poems and Prose. London: Penguin Classics. Sherrington, Charles Scott (1955) Man On His Nature. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican Books. Sokal, Alan och Jean Bricmont (1999) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Philosophers' Abuse of Science. London: Picador. Sutter, Paul M. (2018) Your Place in the Universe: Understanding Our Big, Messy Existence. Amherst NY: Prometheus. Södergran, Edith (2003) Landet som icke är. Lund: Bakhåll. Somers, James (2021) “Head Space: Researchers are pursuing an age-old question: What is a thought?, i The New Yorker, December 6. Topelius, Zacharias (1908) Färltskärns Berättelser, Femte delen: Fritänkaren, Aftonstormar, Morgonljusning. Stockholm: Bonniers. Vidal, Fernando (2016) ‘Frankenstein’s Brain: “The Final Touch”’, i SubStance, Vol. 45, No. 2. Whitman, Walt (1961) Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Classics. Winston, Robert och Wilson, Don E. (2005) L’Uomo. Milano: Mondadori.

01/20/2023 20:23

When my friend Örjan asked me if I knew of any artists who had written about art and then specifically dealt with their own artistry, I couldn't find any names that he didn't already know. However, when I a few weeks ago rummaged through the books in an antiquarian bookshop I found a book with texts by Federico Zuccari (1539 –1609).

Zuccari and his older brother Taddeo were in their time well-known artists. In Rome, their paintings can be found in many palaces and churches. In my opinion, Federico is the more versatile of the two, while Taddeo comes off as rather awkward.

Federico shifts between different styles, often elegant, although rather inconspicuous, at least compared to great masters like Titian and Raphael. Despite this, by Titian’s death in 1576 Federico Zuccari was by several art connoisseurs regarded as Italy's foremost artist.

Federico worked for Italy’s leading princely houses, for the Pope in Rome, Philip II in Spain and Queen Elisabeth I in England. Wealthy and influential, he built a palace in Rome next to the Church of SantissimaTrinità dei Monti located by the crest of the Spanish Steps. Due to its bizarre frescoes, windows and portals, Zuccari's residence was called Casa dei Mostri, the House of the Monsters.

Federico Zuccari was a controversial and easily hurt man, who constantly managed to make himself uncomfortable. However, impetuousness, diligence and zeal for work made him sought after by a variety of employers. Furthermore, he was a tireless self-promoter and diligent writer. A drawing by Federico shows him and his brother working on a fresco at a Roman wall, while an admiring Michelangelo holds his horse to have an appreciative look at their work.

Michelangelo was Federico’s great role model and he was eventually by Pope Gregorio given the honorary commission to complete Michelangelo’s work in the Pauline Chapel, where cardinals gathered to elect a new pope and where, twenty years earlier Michelangelo had in 1549 completed his last paintings - The Conversion of Saul and St . Peter's Crucifixion.

Another task Federico carried out in the shadow of a great genius was the frescoes under the famous dome which  Brunel1eschi in 1436 had struck over the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. After its completion its interior had been left whitewashed in anticipation of its 3,600 square meters becomimng adorned with a fresco. It was first in 1571 that this assignment was awarded to Giorgio Vasari, though he died after two years. Vasari had by then covered a third of the surface with his paintings. A year later, Francesco Medici decided that the thirty-five-year-old Federico Zuccari would complete the work, something which he achieved  in less than five years.

The result was not at all appreciated by the Florentines. They were shocked by the glaring obscenities of the infernal scenes where rammish sinners by grotesque devils were sodomized with burning torches.

It was also considered something of a gross sacrilege when Zuccari, with a startling headdress and a palette in one hand prominently , portrayed himself and members of his family among the celestial hosts.

Lampoons were written and many argued that the demonic scenes should be painted over. Zuccari feigned unconcern and through his arrogance and wicked sense of humour he attracted  even more scorn upon himself A contributing reason for the Florentines’ dislike of Federico Zuccaro may also have been that het often expressed his disdain for what he called the “Florentine manner”. He came from the small, provincial town of Sant'Angelo in Vado in Marche. The Florentines in particular, but also the Romans, were also annoyed by Zuccari's sleight of hand and the scattered presence of his diverse works. It became a saying that when someone dismissed a mediocre work, which master they did not know, they did so with the words: “Surely made by a Zuccari”

Federico liked to excel with his literary culture and knowledgeable references to classical writers. When Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1569 fired him from the construction site of his palace in Caprarola, Zuccari spread a number of engravings alluding to the ancient story about The Calumny of Apelles (which earlier had been famously depicted by Botticelli). The depiction of this incident  alludes to an artist being judged  by an ignorant prince with donkey ears, an allusion to Midas who preferred the art of Marsyas to that of Apollo.  In  Zuccari’s etching Midas has the appearance of and Alessandro, who acts on the advice of personifications representing Calumny , Ignorance, Suspicion, Fraud and Conspiracy. The motif was originally described by Luciano of Samosata (120-180 AD) and was one of Federico's great favourites and he made several versions of it.

During his time in Rome, following the completion of the Florentine frescoes, Federico was commissioned by Paolo Ghiselli, papal scalco, i.e. a high-level chef in charge of the papal kitchen. Ghiselli was eager to announce his elevated social position by paying for a fresco intended to adorn a chapel in Santa Maria del Baraccano, situated in his and the Pope’s hometown, Bologna. The subject was San Gregorio's Procession to Prevent the Plague in Rome. The Pope, Ugo Boncompagni, had chosen Gregorio as his papal name.

Zuccari devoted great effort to the realization of this prestigious work of art, evident from the many drawings that have been preserved. However, his proposal was not liked, probably because it was fiercely criticized by Bolognese painters who wanted to protect their city’s art market from “alien” encroachment.

Zuccari was not paid for his work. An unsigned note declared that his proposal was “fuzzy” and “undignified”. The artist became enraged and on the annual feast of Saint Luke, patron saint of Rome’s artists, he unveiled a large canvas in Chiesa dei Santi Luca e Martina in Rome’s Forum.  Zuccari called his work Porta Virtutis, Gate of Virtue.

To his fellow artists and a general public, Zuccari explained the painting's allegorical allusions. However, the intention was obvious to everyone, not least because the ambitious chef, Paolo Ghiselli, was shown in the foreground of the painting, naked and accurately portrayed, wearing the unflattering donkey ears of King Midas and surrounded by malicious, cunning animals, such as aq wild boar and a fox, as well as ominous and repulsive figures, such as Envy, represented as a terrifying and ugly witch, who with sagging breast and entwined by poisonous snakes is lying on the ground while she clings to Ghiselli's leg, in the company of other deformed characters, such as Malice and Defamation. In the centre, Zuccari's work is defended by an imposing Minerva, who advances towards the viewer while blocking the entrance to the Garden of Virtue.

Ghiselli, deeply offended by the insult, succeeded in having the painting confiscated. Scandalized, the chef then turned to his employer Gregory XIII and Zuccari was sentenced to lifelong banishment from Rome. He moved first to Florence and then to Venice. However, at the insistence of prominent Roman artists, Zuccari was pardoned five years later and was then able to return to Rome in triumph.

In 1591, The Roman Senate gave him the hereditary title of Roman Patrician, proclaiming that  it would be inherited by his descendants. In 1595 Zuccari was appointed leader for life of the Academy he had founded in Rome and shortly before his death in 1609 Zuccari was ennobled.

Vulnerable and ambitious, Zuccari was a master of self-promotion. By publicly exhibiting his works and ensuring that any criticism directed at him could be inflated and remade as artistic spectacles, he ensured that his name was on the lips of art connoisseurs and patrons. He knew that through an intellectual appearance as an art historian and classicist he could contribute to raising the social position and general status of artists. It was to that end that he founded Rome’s Academy of Art, so young artists could not only be taught advanced artistic skills but also be endowed with an excellent literary and philosophical education. In time, Zuccari became famous not only for his artistic skills but also as an influential writer and sophisticated philosopher of art,  in the wake of Aristotle and Plato.

His books were constantly reprinted – Lettere ai Principi e Signori Dilettanti di Disegno, Pittura, Scultura e Architettura, scritte dal cavalier Federico Zuccaro, all'Accademia Insensata con un lamento per la Pittura, opera di lui stesso and Idea de Pittori, Scultori e Architetti, i.e  "Letter to Princes and Art Lovers Concerning Drawing, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, Written by Cavalier Federico Zuccaro, to an Insensitive Academy, with a Complaint on the State of Painting, a Work of His Own" and "An Idea of Painters, Sculptors and Architects."

It was extracts from these books I found in the antiquarian bookshop. As a point of departure  Zuccari applied theories that flourished through  Neo-platonic findings  among contemporary humanists and introduced what he called his concetto formula. According to Zuccari, il concetto was an inner “drawing” created in the mind of an artist. A “mirror image”, which in both dreams and consciousness reflects the objects that our vision carries into our interior, where they are embellished and “deepened” by our imagination. .

God does not reflect anything - he creates. Nature is and remains exactly as God created it. It is real, tangible, but what man creates are “artificial” mirror images, rendered with more or less great “artistic skills”. Art is thus “a copy of nature”, though not das Ding an sich, the thing in itself. All art is an interpretation.

There are several manners in which nature might be interpreted/depicted.  One is the exact representation, what Zuccari calls “a reproduction of an external image”, i.e. God's creation/nature. As an imitation of an already existing reality, such an “interpretation” becomes nothing more than an “imitation”, the art of a monkey, which only presents what God has already created. Man is not God and therefore his art should be no more than “human” art, it cannot pretend to be at the same level as God’s creativity..

Zuccari distinguishes three stages of human concetti – an  image of reality that a skilled artist has been able to create within himself and present to his audience. An art that  radiates a detailed, perfectly produced/designed mirror image of the reality it he depicts - people, landscapes, animals and nature. This skill is nonetheless inferior to what Zuccari terms as an “artistic image” through which the soul has transformed a painters impressions into "a rare, artistic image" that reshapes and deepens our view of God’s Nature.

However,  the greatest, most truly human art is La bella pittura – something that is more than just “a craft”. It is through La bella pittura that an artist’s true greatness becomes evident, when he, like Michelangelo, is able to creates an art that is far more than an ”imitator, or flatterer of nature", when art becomes something completely new, something never seen before. Enriched, transformed by astonishing inventions, fantasies and ghiribizzi, rarities.

Of course, Zuccari counted himself as one of those divinely blessed artists, something he proved through his Florentine frescoes and numerous illustrations for Dante’'s Commedia.

A true artist is able to look into the depths of his own soul, the place where God’s true spirit reside. His Creative Power. Inside his own mind, a sincerely searching artist is dazzled by the divine spark we all carry within us. The source of life. If such an artist manages to capture even a fraction of the creative ligh,t and reflect it in his art, he thereby becomes more praiseworthy than his less talented colleagues. Such an artist creates tastico, the highest stage of art—the external, innovative, eloquent, rare image that perfects all that an unbridled imagination can envisage. In such Bella Pittura, the three concetti of the soul are united – craftsmanship, originality and the God-given creative spark. This, according to Zuccari, is the at the core of true humanism, the one which makes us humans unique –  the fact that we are created in the  image of God.

A forma spirituale which, through colour and line, unites the universal with the personal/the particular and thus expresses the divine spark with human nature. Angels cannot accomplish this, they are part of God’s Nature. They lack sensitivity, a nature of their own and thus also concetti.

By being able to create artistic images within oneself, man differs from God. God is perfect. In His existence, through His substance, He includes everything. All that is in God – is God. Man, on the other hand, carries within himself a multitude of unrealised possibilities; images, comparisons, creative elements. A kind of confusing chaos that constantly strives towards perfection, but never achieves it. A curse, but also a joy. The happiness of being. A contentment  that actually is the greatest delight  within human creation. God’s gift to us humans.

In art, natural forms are transformed into matter, revealing human indeterminacy and the confusion that different sensory experiences give rise to. We can never achieve, never experience the clear order of nature/God, but we might discern something of the idea behind it all, how the immensity of God’s  might be conveyed through an art able to make our lives, our waiting for perfection, bearable.

Enough of theory – now let me leave all that behind and get down to the essentials … the viewing of art. That I became by Zuccari’s speculations was probably because he hinted at something that had always captivated when it comes to art - its distinctiveness, the sense of alienation it provides. How its special position alongside everyday life opens gates to a parallel reality. A subtle presence where terror and safety exist side by side in a flamboyant, strangely joyful world that both is present and non-existent, talking to something that lives in my interior, to my concetto.

For as long as I can remember, there has existed images within me, things I have seen in books and on walls. They have grown within me and become part of my dreams and fantasies. Often they are both terrifying and exciting. There are, of course, Disney's queens of hell.

However, the image that most clearly reflects my childish entry into the world of art was a reproduction of John Bauer’s Out into the Wide World, which hung in my mother's girl's room in her childhood home. The little boy who, on his impressive runner, looks out over the enchanted world of fairy tales carried with him everything I loved about art.

My grandparents were fond of the Finnish-Swedish Zachris Topelius's (1818-1898 poems and stories and it was in their large house in Stockhom’s lush suburb Enskede that I became familiar with Topelius’s saga Sampo Lappelill, a delightfully eerie story about how a small Sami boy during the longest night of the midwinter witnesses how the mighty Mountain King Rastekai gathers all the animals of the North to announce his intention to extinguish the sun. Rastekai wants to kill Sampo Lappelill, supported by  his fierce trolls and  predators he tries to annihilate the troublesome witness and a wild chase over snow-glittering mountains begins. However,  on the back of the golden-horned reindeer Hiisi, Sampo manages to escape the terrifying Rastekais. Time and again I returned to the fascinating illustrations of this thrilling story.

They reminded me of the eerie ghost hunt in Goethe’s Erlkönig that Grandfather told me about and showed pictures illustrating the gruesome poem:

My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
For sorely, the Erl-King has hurt me at last.

The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread,
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.
 

He also told me about Faust and the mysterious tale of Undine, the Water Spirit.

Shakespeare's stories

and Arabian Nights:

If the Arabian Nights shimmered with all the lures of the Orient, Finland became through Topelius, but mainly through the Moomin trolls and the Kalevala, home to all kinds of exciting natural mysteries.

The fairy-tale forests extended east into Alexander Afanasye’'s fairy tales, evocatively illustrated by Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942)

and south to the black, German forests of the Brothers Grimm, in the depths of which the man-eating witch from Hansel and Gretel had her abode.

Doré and Perrrault brought me to the forests and medieval castles of France

and its Parisian salons, peopled by Grandville’'s insect people.

In Enskede, there were also the drawings in Åhlén and Åkerlund’s story collections Bland tomtar och troll, Among Gnomes and Trolls. They came out at Christmas time and I read them with great fascination. First of all, the earlier editions with illustrations by John Bauer (1882-1918), which I found in Grandfather’s bookshelves.

But I was also charmed by Einar Norelius’s (1900-1985) pictures in later editions. In particular, I was drawn to a strange image of his depicting mysterious forest demons performing a nocturnal ring dance around a lugubrious tower in the depth of the Nordic forests.

I also read the later stories and was then captivated by Hans Arnold's (1925-2010)  illustrations,

which then appeared in several of the horror stories that I have read since then,

often attracted by more or less suggestive illustrations.

Science fiction:

Fantasy:

and of course exotic horror stories, as in the collection of stories below, otherwise unknown to me, in which I was particularly fascinated by a story about how a captain on a slave ship was bitten in the throat by a female slave. The wound became infected, rotted, grew and eventually turned into teeth, lips and tongue, which through demonic whispering drove the captain into insanity.

That  my great interest in fairy tales, eventually attracted me  to depictions of horror was probably a completely natural development. Fairy tales are generally filled with subtle horror and I didn't mind that at all. I was fascinated by dreadfulness.

Thrilled and chocked when Knight Bluebeard’'s wife finds the room with her murdered predecessors. I couldn’t explain why when my school teacher angrily wondered why I had made a drawing of hanged women whose blood dripped onto the basement floor..

It was not until Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales aooeared in 1975 that I found a rasonable explanation to my fascination with horror. Bettelheim explained that it was wrong to gloss over and correct the horror ingredients of folktales. They actually help children to confront difficult existential problems, such as separation anxiety, Oedipal conflicts and sibling rivalry. The extreme violence and nasty feelings in many fairy tales serve to deflect anxieties that often harass children, breeding their fantasy and imaginations,

Bettelheim turned out to be a fabulist as well. Someone who created a fairy tale of his own life - it turned out that it was not true that he acted as an "educator and therapist for severely disturbed children", neither had he been a friend and disciple of Freud.   In fact, Bettelheim was not even a psychologist. He had only taken three introductory courses in psychology. As he wrote himself:

We must live by fictions – not just to find meaning in lifer but to make it bearable.

Nevertheless, I found Bettelheim’s book to be interesting, even if he had  plagiarized much if it from a certain Julius Heuscher.

After Bettelheim it was not entirely wrong to appreciate horror stories and, like several of my generational comrades, I was both attracted and frightened by Disney's masterpiece. The nasty queens in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were present in my dreams.

and so were evocative images from, for example, Disney’s  Pinocchio. When I in the middle of the night woke up alone in a deserted house, memories remained from when Pinocchio woke up in Mangiafuoco's circus wagon and found the marionettes swaying back and forth like Bluebeard’s hanged and bloodied ladies.

Incidentally, I have read Carlo Collodi’s Le aventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino, several times. A picaresque novel that never ceases to fascinate, not least through its eerie atmosphere. Like when the confused abd lonely Pinocchio in a dark forest finds himself in front of the Blue Fairy’s house:

At the noise, a window opened and a lovely maiden looked out. She had azure hair and a face white as wax. Her eyes were closed and her hands crossed on her breast. With a voice so weak that it hardly could be heard, she whispered:

"No one lives in this house. Everyone is dead."

"Won't you, at least, open the door for me?" cried Pinocchio in a beseeching voice.

"I also am dead."

"Dead? What are you doing at the window, then?"

"I am waiting for the coffin to take me away."

Someone who captured the disturbing moods of Pinocchio; the poverty, the cold and oddities, is the Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti (1940-)

Pinoccichio has over the years attracted a large number of artistsm, among several  film directors (there are at least thirty Pinocchio films). In addition to Innocenti, I should perhaps mention another Italian master illustrator - Lorenzo Mattotti, who, in addition to Pinocchio, has illustrated a number of classics.

His interpretation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is characterized by a kind of maddening dynamic.

This is far from the creepy, menacing darkness of Corrado Roi’s (1958-) depictions of the Apocalypse and the terrors of  modern Italian horror magazines.

 

Italian art history presents many examples of what Zuccari named La Bella Pittura, in the sense of a sublime horror sprung from an artist´s concetti. Zucarelli's contemporary, the Sienese Domenico Beccafumi (1486-1551), did for example frighten  me when, in his painting The Fall of the Rebellious Angels, which I was confronted with  in Siena’s Pinacotheca. In it I discovered the cellars of Hell and in one of the corridors a demonic flame appeared to move rapidly towards the viewer. I don't really know why I felt a cold chill down my spine, but assume I had seen something similar in a nightmare.

Another nightmarish sensation seized me when I in Girolamo Savoldo's (1480-1548) The Temptation of St. Anthony  discovered a naked, corpulent man carrying a terrifying monster on his back.

The eccentric Neapolitan Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) tried to survive as an independent artist, freed from the demands of patrons, the Church and other controlling purchasers, ti that end he occasionally exhibited his works of  art along the streets of Rome and Naples, at the same time as he made himself known as author of several socially critical writings. Perhaps to appeal to a sensationalist public, Rosa excelled in horror depictions with witches and monsters appearing within in a dark and threatening universe.

Rosa's gloomy landscapes might be considered as a world seen through a temperament and may the landscapes of the Dutch Jacob van Ruisdal (1629-1682).

Rosa’s and van Rusidaì's pictorial worlds are images of God's nature, depicted as in the fresh air, quite different from Piranesi’s (1720-1758) dungeons. They are, far from cramped and suffocating, rather intricate and endless, like labyrinths encountered in dreams, without openings and exits they seemed to include the edntire world, places of torture and despair.

Like Rosa’s paintings, Piranesi’s carceri were part of an evil world without mercy and to that extent they were also images of their own cruel times  with their wars, famine and governmental abuse, like Alessandro Magnasco’s (1667-1749) sepia brown worlds of cemeteries, monasteries , torture chambers and slaughter.

The worlds of Grimmelhausen (1621-1676) and Jaques Callot, (1592-1635) were also grotesque dream worlds  mixed with icy depictions from a merciless era of religious wars and unjustified violence.

A world that was also Goya’s world, filled as it was with witches and demons. 

A mute but still roaring, oppressive nightmarish world where Reason sleeps, leaving the field open to demon the mind mixing with an all-too-tangible reality, without grace, salvation, or pity.

A hell far worse than what a visionary Dante could dream up and express, but cruelly present to a front-line soldier or holocaust victim. 

A place where the entire world is a prison, a torturing chamber, that, like Piarnesi’s dungeons, but a nauseating reality, which, unlike them is cramped and deadly.

A world harsh, merciless and demonized  like those of Magnasco, Callot and Goya are depicted by artists such as the Polish Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005),

or the Slovenian Marko Jakše (1959-)

 

Such works of art seem to arise from Zuccari's cocetti and constitute a part of what he calls La Bella Pittura, There we find in Ferrara San Giorgio fighting the dragon in Cosme Tura's (1403-1485) marvelously sharp, unforced, 

winding movement.

The Danish Christoffer Eckersberg's (1783 -1853) moonlit night in Copenhagen where a man runs along Långebro to rescue someone we cannot see.

Rerthel's Death inspects its victims at a barricade from 1848.

A gloomy, misanthropic and misunderstood Alberto Martini (1876-1954) digs in Milan among his peers from literary history and depicts their anguish through the lens of his own agony.

All the while Leon Splilliart (1881-1946) sleeplessly wanders along Ostend's empty streets, quays, piers and beaches.

At night it is desolate and empty in Belgium's cities and parks, where we find Degouve Nunqes (1867-1935)

Xavier Mellery (1845-1921)

Ferdinand Knopff (1858-1921)

Carel Willink (1900-1983)

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

and René Magritte (1898-1967):

When the day dawns, Johannes Moesmans (1909-1988) The Rumour  cycles in naked with a violin on the luggage rack

And the struggle for existence can begin again, as when James Ensor's (1860-1949) skeletons fight over a smoked herring.

Anxiety and loneliness also thrive in the East, for example with Alfred Kubin (1877-1959)

and František Kupka (1871 -1957) in Prague.

Artists who seem to walk along the Germans’ trodden paths

One of  Swiss Johann Henri Füssli's (1741-1825) four versions of his expressive Nightmare now hangs in Goethe’s house in Frankfurt, though  it never belonged to the great author. Had he had it one been in his bedroom, perhaps it would have given rise to nightmares like those that Max Klinger (1857-1920) so skilfully depicted in his absurd series of etchings Paraphrase über den Fund eines Handschuhs.

or Franz von Stuck's (1863-1928 visions of hell and war.

A senseless devastation Germany  was repeated time and time again, during so called religious wars, which the  East German Werner Tübke's (1929-2004 has depicted through a an immense panorama in Bad Frankenhausen , sometimes referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the North

or the merciless misery of the post-war period depicted by Otto Dix (1891-1969)

Then the war came back with a vengeance. Worse than ever, with such desperate ferocity that art was no longer sufficient to depict it, although much like Ferlix Nussbaum's art in the Shadow of Death reeks of horror and anguish. He was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz.

Nussbaum was a helpless victim of Nazism’s brutal mass slaughter. Even before he was wiped out, his art had hinted at what was to come. It is curious that even an artist who eventually joined the Nazi Party practiced a dark, lugubrious art, filled with premonitions of coming disasters.

The Austrian Franz Sedlacek (1891-1945) was connected to an art direction called the New Objectivity. A sharp, detailed art, which through its detached coldness, portrayed a cynically harsh view of humanity. As writtens in Christopher Isherwood’s introduction to his Farewell to Berlin: “ I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

On June 30, 1938, Sedlacek joined the NSDAP and the following year he volunteered in the Second World War. He distinguished himself as a bold front fighter in Norway, as well as in Stalimgrad. Sedlacek escaped unscathed from the Russian hell and re/appeared during the final Polish battles, although he disappeared without a trace during the last months of the war.

In its menacing, compact darkness, Sedlacek’s gloomy art is undeniably fascinating

There is with Sedlacwek a threatening, constant waiting for something – a foreboding of war and misfortune, a gloomy preparation that I also found in some paintinbgs of the Swede  Ola Billgren (1940-2001) 

and the German  Richard Oelze (1900-1980).

 

The shadows of the war hover compactly above  much European art. For example among  members of the so-called Vienna School of Fantastic Realism with artists such as  Anton Lehmden (1929-2018) 

Rudolf Hausner (1914-1995)

and Arik Brauer (1929-2021)

The decay of Germany's bombed-out cities seems to have been predicted in Monsu Desiderio's (François de Nomé 1593-1620 and Didier Barra 1590-1656) enigmatic cityscapes

  and Félicien Rops’s, (1833-1898) syphilis-infected prostitutes.

The concetti of Zuccari’s  inner space contains a lot of madness as well. 

Several artists have entered there never to return again. Thinking of the Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Hill's (1849-1911) torments.

How he, who was once one of the foremost landscape painters of his time and country, when he was diagnosed with  a severer mental illness and began to paint and draw "in his defence" and seemed to want to protect his landscapes in the interior of La Bella Pittura. Her made least four drawings a day  and more than 3 000 of them are preserved.

At the same time, the Norwegian landscape painter Lars Herterveg’s (1830-1902) mind darkened and his landscape depictions became increasingly strange.

There are still artists around the world whose perception of reality has been broken and changed after they have stepped into the inner room of their imaginationand often ended locked up within mental hospitals. This happened, for example, to the Norwegian painter Bendik Riss (1911-1988)

and the Dane Luis Marussen (Ovartaci) (1894-1985).

Now let's leave the inner rooms of these broken geniuses and enjoy an example of Raul Dufy's (1877-1953) art. A few days ago I passed a gallery that presented Dufy as Il pittore della gioia. The artist of joy.

I found this to be a true statement. When I got to see Dufy's paintings, I became enlivened and remembered a poster that I had for several years had pinned on the wall in one of my boyhood rooms. It was an advertisement for SNCF, The Société nationale des chemins de fer français,  France's national state-owned railway company. It is a dream image of Normandy. How often had I not looked at this summer picture,e with its old house, overgrown garden with inviting garden furniture and a grazing cow. A cyclist passes on a quiet road and along the river steamboats can be glimpsed. Summer peace, warmth and greenery. How many times had I not dreamed myself into that painting?

Bettelheim, Bruno (1975) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  New York: Vintage Books. Cleri, Bonita (1997) Federico Zuccari: le idee, gli scritti: atti del Convegno di Sant' Angelo in Vado. Milan: Electa.

 

01/17/2023 17:18

När min vän Örjan frågade mig om jag kände till någon konstnär som skrivit om konst och då speciellt behandlat ett eget  konstnärskap kunde jag inte finna några namn som han inte redan kände till. Men, då jag för några veckor sedan rotade bland böckerna i ett antkvariat fann jag en bok med texter av Federico Zuccari (1539 –1609).

Zuccari och hans äldre bror Taddeo var på sin tid välkända konstnärer. I Rom finns deras målningar i en mängd palats och kyrkor. I mitt tycke är Federico den mest versatile av de två, alltmedan Taddeo framstår som tämligen tafatt.

Federico skiftar mellan olika stilar, ofta elegant, fast dock tämligen intetsägande, i varje fall jämfört med de stora mästarna Tizian och Rafael. Detta till trots betraktades han vid Tizians frånfälle 1576 av flera italienska mecenater som Italiens främste konstnär.

Federico arbetade för Italiens förnämsta furstehus, för påven i Rom, Filip II  i Spanien och drottning Elisabeth I i England. Förmögen och inflytelserik uppförde han i Rom ett palats bredvid kyrkan Santissima Trinità dei Monti belägen vid Spanska trappans krön. Genom sina bisarra fresker, fönster och portaler kallades Zuccaris bostad för Casa dei Mostri, Monsternas hus.

Federico Zuccari var en kontroversiell och lättsårad man, som ständigt lyckaders göra sig obekväm. Framfusighet, flit och arbetsiver gjorde honom dock eftertraktad  av en mängd olika arbetsgivare. En outöttlig självpromotör och flitig skribent. En teckning av Federico visar hur han och brodern arbetar med att pryda en romersk yttervägg med fresker och hur en beundrad Michelangelo håller in sin häst för att uppskattande betrakta deras arbete.

Michelangelo var Federicos stora förebild och han fick av påven Gregorio hedersuppdraget att fullfölja Michelangelos arbeten i Paulinska kapellet, det kyrkorum där kardinalerna samlades för att välja en ny påve och där Michelangelo, tjugo år tidigare, 1549  hade fullbordat sina sista målningar – Saulus omvändelse och  St. Peters korsfästelse

Ett annat uppdrag som Federico utförde i skuggan av ett stort geni var freskerna under den vittberömda kupol Brunel1eschi slagit över katedralen Santa Maria del Fiore i Florens. Den hade fullbordats 1436, men insidan hade lämnats vitkalkad i väntan på att dess 3 600 kvadratmeter skulle prydas med en fresk. Först 1571 gick uppdraget till Giorgio Vasari, men denne dog efter två år. Han hade då med sina målningar täckt  en tredjedel av ytan. Ett år senare beslöt Francesco Medici att den trettiofemårige Federico Zuccari skulle fullborda verket, något han gjorde på mindre än fem år.

Resultatet uppskattades inte alls av florentinarna. De chockerades av helvetescenernas iögonfallande obsceniteter där lastbara syndare med brinnande facklor sodomerades av groteska djävlar.

Det ansågs även vara ett grovt helgerån då Zuccari, med en uppseendeväckande huvudbonad och en palett i ena handen, på en framträdande plats bland himlaskarorna framställde sig själv och medlemmar av sin familj.

Smädeskrifter skrevs och många hävdade att djävulsscenerna borde målas över. Zuccari låtsades oberörd och drog på sig än mer smälek genom sin arrogans och elaka humor. En bidragande orsak till florentinarnas ovilja mot Fedrico Zuccaro kan ha varit att den stöddige konstnärens ofta uttryckte sitt förakt för det ”florentinska maneret”. Själv kom han från den lilla staden Sant'Angelo in Vado i Marche. Speciellt florentinarna, men även romarna, irriterades av Zuccaris flyhänthet och den spridda närvaron av hans mångfaldiga verk. Det blev ett talesätt att då någon avfärdade ett mediokert verk vars mästare de inte kände till så gjorde man det  med orden: ”Säkert gjort av en Zuccari”.

Federico excellerade gärna med sin litterära kultur och kunniga referenser till klassiska skribenter. Då kardinal Alessandro Farnese 1569 sparkat honom från byggarbetsplatsen i Caprarola spred Zuccari ett antal gravyrer som anspelade på en antik förebild - Förtalet av Apelles i vilken en konstnär anklagas av en domare, med åsneöron och Farneses utseende, som agerar på inrådan av gestalter som representerar Förtal, Okunnighet, Misstänksamhet, Bedrägeri och Konspiration. Motivet som hämtats från en beskrivning av Lukianos av Samosata (120-180 e.Kr.) var ett av Federicos favoriter och han gjorde flera versioner av det.

Under sin tid i Rom, efter fullbordandet av de florentinska freskerna, fick Federico ett uppdrag av Paolo Ghiselli, påvlig scalco, en kock på hög nivå, ansvarig för påvens kök och därmed ivrig att understryka sin nya sociala ställning genom att bekosta en fresk som skulle pryda  kapellet  Santa Maria del Baraccano i hans och påvens hemstad, Bologna. Ämnet var San Gregorios Procession för att Hindra Pesten i Rom. Påven, Ugo Boncompagni , hade valt Greogrio som sitt påvenamn.

Zuccari ägnade stor ansträngning åt altartavlans förverkligande, vilket framgår av de många teckningar som finns bevarade. Hans förslag gillades dock inte, förmodligen för att det kritiserades häftigt av de bolognesiska målarna som ville skydda stadens konstmarknad från "utländska" intrång.

Zuccari fick inte betalt för sitt arbete. En osignerad skrivekse förklarade att verket var ”luddigt” och ”ovärdigt”. Konstnären blev rasande  och vid årshögtiden för den Helige Lukas, skyddshelgon för stadens konstnärer,  avtäckte han i Evangelistens kyrka i Rom en stor duk.  Zuccari  kallade sitt verk Porta Virtutis, Dygdens port.

För sina konstnärskollegor och en intresserad allmänhet förklarade Zuccari tavlans allegoriska anspelningar. Avsikten var dock uppenbar för var och en, inte minst för att den äregirige kocken, Paolo Ghiselli som  i målningens förgrund visades, naken och exakt porträtterad, försedd med  Kung Midas föga smickrande åsnöron och omgiven av ondsinta, listiga djur, som vildsvin och räv, samt olycksbådande och motbjudande figurer, som Avunden, framställd som en anskrämlig häxa  som med hängbröst och omslingrad av giftormar liggande på marken klamrar sig fast vid Ghisellis ben, i sällskap med andra deformerade karaktärer, som Illvilja och Ärekränkning. I mitten, försvaras Zuccaris verk av en imposant Minerva som avancerar mot betraktaren och spärrar ingången till Dygdens trädgård.

Ghiselli, djupt kränkt av förolämpningen, lyckades få tavlan konfiskerad.  Skandaliserad vände sig kocken sedan till sin arbetsgivare Gregorius XIII och Zuccari dömdes till livstids förvisning från Rom. Han flyttade först till Florens och sedan till Venedig. Fem år senare benådades dock Zuccari, på enträgen begäran från framträdande romerska konstnärer och kunde därefter i tirmuf återvända till Rom.

Den romerska senaten gav honom 1591 herederstiteln Romersk Patricier och beslöt att den skulle ärvas av hans ätltingar. 1595 utsågs han till livstids ledare för den av honom instiftade konstakademin i Rom och strax före sin död 1609  adlades Zuccari.

Den lättsårade och ärelystne Zuccari var en självpromotionens mästare. Genom att offentligen ställa ut sina verk och se till att all krtitik som riktades mot honom kunde blåsas upp och omskapas till konstnärliga spektakel försäkrade han sig om att hans namn var på konstkännares och mecenters läppar. Han visste också att genom en intellektuell framtoning som konsthistoriker och klassicist kunde han bidra till att höja konstnärernas sociala status. Han grundade Roms konstakademi i avsikt att förse unga konstnärer inte enbart med fördjupad konstskicklighet utan även litterär och filosofisk bildning. Med tiden blev Zuccari berömd inte enbart först sitt konstnärliga kunnande utan även som en inflytelserik författare och sofisitkerad konstfilosof i Aristoteles och Platons efterföljd.

Ständigt omtryckta blev böckerna Lettere ai Principi e Signori Dilettanti di Disegno, Pittura, Scultura e Architettura, scritte dal cavalier Federico Zuccaro, all'Accademia Insensata con un lamento per la Pittura, opera di lui stesso och Idea de Pittori, Scultori e Architetti. “Brev till fustar och konstälskare rörande teckning, målning, skulptur och arkitektur, skrivna av Cavalier Federico Zuccaro, till en okänslig Akademi, med en klagan över måleriets tillstånd, ett verk av honom själv” och ”En idé om målare, skulptörer och arkitekter”.

Det var utdrag från dessa böcker jag funnit i antkvariatet och jag läste med intresse Zuccaris fundringar kring konst och fantasi. Zuccari utgick från de teorier som i nyplatonsk anda frodades bland samtidens humanister. Han introcucerade vad han kallade sin concetto formel. Enligt Zuccari var il concetto en inre ”teckning” som skapats av konstnären. En ”spegel” som i såväl dröm som medvetande reflekterar de föremål som seendet, buret av ”föreställningar”, bär med sig in i vårt inre.

Gud speglar ingenting – han skapar. Naturen är sådan som Gud skapat den. Den är verklig, påtaglig, men vad männsikan skapar är ”artificiella” spegelbilder, framställda  med mer eller mindre stor ”konstskicklighet”. Konsten är således ”en kopia av naturen”, inte das Ding an sich, saken i sig. All konst är en tolkning.

Det finns flera former av naturtolkning. En är den exakta avbildningen, vad Zuccari kallar för  ”en avbildning av den yttre bilden” dvs. Guds skaplese. Som en imitation av en redan existerande verkligheten blir en sådan ”tolkning” ingenting annat än en ”efterapning”, en apas konst, som  enbart förevisar vad Gud redan skapat. Människan är inte Gud och därför bör hennes konst inte vara förmer än en ”människas konst”, hur skickligt hon än lyckas imitera Guds skapelse.

Zuccari urskiljer tre steg av concetti – den bild av verkligheten som en skicklig konstnär skapat i sitt inre och som utstrålar en detaljrik, fullkomligt framställd/utformad spegelbild av det han avbildar – människor, landskap, djur och natur. Denna skilcklighet är likväl undermålig vad Zuccari benämner den ”konstnärliga bilden” genom vilken själen har transformerat de naturliga intrycken till ”en sällsam, konstnärlig bild” som omskapar och fördjupar vår syn på Guds Natur.

Men den största, sannast mänskliga konsten är La bella pittura – ursprunget till något som är förmer än enbart ”ett hantverk”. Det är genom en sådan konst som en konstnärs storhet blir uppenbar, då han likt Michelangelo skapar en konst som är långt mer än en ”efterhärmare eller smickrare av naturen”, då konsten blir till något helt nytt, något aldrig skådat. Berikad, förvandlad genom förbluffande inventioner, fantasier och ghiribizzi, sällsamheter.

Givetvis räknade sig Zuccari som en av dessa gudabenådade konstnärer, något han bevisat genom sina florentinska fresker och talrika illustrationer till Dantes Commedia.

En sann konstnär förmår blicka in i djupet av sin själ, den plats där Guds sanna ande vilar. Hans Skaparkraft. I sitt inre bländas en uppriktigt sökande artist  av den gudgnista vi alla bär inom oss. Livets källa. Om en sådan konstnär förmår att skildra en bråkdel av det skapande ljuset och spegla det i sin konst blir han därigenom mer berömvärd är sina mer talanglösa kollegor. En sådan artist skapar tastico, konstens högsta stadium – den yttre,  innovativa, talande, sällsamma bild som fulländar allt vad en ohämmad fantasi kan föreställa sig. I en sådan Bella Pittura förenas själens tre concetti – hantverkskicklighet, oiriginalitet och den gudagivna skapargnistan. Detta är enligt Zuccari den sanna humanismern, mänskligheten, den som gör oss människor unika – till Guds avbild.

En forma spirituale som genom färg och linje förenar det universella med det personliga/det särskilda. Det gudomliga med det mänskliga. Änglar  kan inte åstadkomma detta, de är ju en del av Guds Natur. De saknar sinnesintryck och därmed även concetti.

Genom att i sitt inre förmå skapa sig konstnärliga bilder skiljer sig människan från Gud. Gud är perfekt. I sin existens, genom sin substans, innefattar Han allt. Allt som finns i Gud – är Gud. Människan, däremot, bär i inom sig en mängd icke fullkomnade möjligheter; bilder, jämförelser, skapande element.Ett slags ofullkomligt, förvirrande kaos som ständigt strävar mot perfektion, men aldrig uppnår den. En förbannelse, men också en glädje. Lyckan i att finnas till. En lycka som är som störst i det mänskilga skapandet. Guds gåva till oss.

Inom konsten omformas naturliga former till materia, slumpmässiga och urskiljbara, men avslöjar därmed även  den mänskliga obestämdheten och den förvirring som olika sinnesupplevelser ger upphov till. Vi kan aldrig uppnå, aldrig uppleva naturens/Guds klara ordning, men aningen om att den finns, hur den kan förmedlas genom konsten, gör också våra liv, vår väntan på fullkomligheten, uthärdlig.   

Ja, ja, låt mig nu lämna allt det där därhän och övergå till väsentligheterna – konstbetraktrandet. Att jag fascinerades av Zuccaris teorier berodde antagligen på att han antydde något som alltid gripit mig genom konsten – dess särprägel, utanförskap. Hur dess särställning vid sidan om vardagligheten öppnar portarna till en parallell verklighet. En subtil närvaro där skräck och trygghet existerar sida vid sida i en prunkande, sällsamt glädjefylld värld som både finns och inte finns, som lever i mitt inre, i min concetto.

Så länge jag kan minnas har det inom mig funnits bilder jag sett i böcker och på väggar. De har vuxit inom mig och blivit en del av mina drömmar och fantasier. Ofta var de såväl skrämmande som spännande. Där fanns givetvis Disneys helvetesdrottningar.

Fast den bild som klarast speglar mitt barnsliga inträdande i konsten värld var en reproduktion av John Bauers Ut i vida världen, som hängde i min mors flickrum i hennes barndomshem. Den lille pojken som på sin imponerande springare  blickar ut över sagans förtrollade värld bar med sig allt det jag älskade i konsten.

Mina morföräldrar var förtjusta i Zachris Topelius dikter och berättelser och det var i deras stora hus i Enskede som jag blev bekant med Topelius saga Sampo Lappelill, en härligt kuslig berättelse om hur en liten samepojke under midvinterns längsta natt blir vittne till hur den mäktige Fjällkonungen Rastekais samlar alla Nordens djur för att förkunna sin avsikt att släcka solen. Då han blivit varse Sampo Lappelill försöker Rastekais och hans undelrlydande rovdjur oskadliggöra det besvärande vittnet och en vild jakt över snöglittrande fjäll tar sin början, men på den guldbehornade renen Hiisis rygg lyckas Sampo undkomma den förskräckande Rastekais. Gång på gång återväde jag till sagans fascinerande illustrationer.

De påminde mig om den kusliga spökjakten i Goethes Erlkönig som Morfar berättade för mig och visade bilderna till.

Min far, min far, han hårt i mig tar,
älvkungen gjort mig så illa, far!

Sin häst han rysande sporrar i hast
och håller det kvidande barnet fast.
Sin gård omsider når han med nöd.
Då låg i hans armar gossen död.

Han berättade även om Faust och den mystiska sagan om Vattendanden Undine.

Shakespears berättelser

och Tusen och en natt:

Om Tusen och en natt skimrade av all Orientens lockelser blev Finland genom Topelius, men främst genom Mumintrollen och Kalevala hemort för allsköns spännande naturmystik.

Sagoskogarna sträckte sig österut in i Alexander Afanasyevs sagor, suggestivt illusterade av Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942).

och söderut till Bröderna Grimms svarta, tyska skogar i vars djup den människoätande häxan från Hans och Greta hade sin hemvist.

Doré och Perrrualt tog vid i Frankrikes skogar och medeltida borgar

och dess parisiska salonger befolkades av Grandvilles insektsmänniskor.

I Enskede fanns också teckningarna i Åhlén och Åkerlunds sagosamlingar Bland Tomtar och Troll. De kom ut vid jultiden och jag läste dem med stor fascination. Först och främst de tidigare upplagorna med illustrationer av John Bauer, som fanns i Morfars bokhyllor.

Men jag tjusades även av Einar Norelius  bilder i senare upplagor. Speciellt fäste jag mig vid en märklig bild med mystiska skogsdemoner som utförde en nattlig ringdans kring ett lugubert torn i Ödemarken.

Jag läste även de senare berättelserna och greps då av Hans Arnolds illustrationer,

_

som sedan dök upp i flera av de skräckhistorier som jag allt sedan dess har läst,

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ofta ditlockad av mer eller mindre suggestiva illustrationer.

Science fiction:

Fantasy:

och givetvis exotiska skräckhisorier, som i nedanstående för mig i övrigt okända samling berättelser i vilken jag speciellt fäste mig vig vid hur en kapten på ett slavfartyg av en kvinnlig slav blev biten i halsen. Såret infekterades, varade, ruttnade, växte och förvandlades till tänder, läppar och tunga som genom demoniska viskningar drev kaptenen till vansinne.

Att jag genom mitt sagointresse attrraherades av skräckskildringar var antagligen en helt naturlig utveckling. Sagor är i allmänhet fyllda av subtil skräck och det var inte alls mig emot. Jag fascinerades av skräcken.

Chocken då Riddar Blåskäggs hustru finner rummet med hennes mördade föregångare fann jag enbart fascinerande och jag kunde inte förklara varför så var fallet när min skollärarinna upprört undrade varför jag gjort en teckning med hängda kvnnor vars blod droppade mot källargolvet.

Det skulle dröja tills Bruno Betteleheims Sagans förtrollade värld kom 1978 som jag fick en tämligen rimlig förklaring till min skräckfascination. I den boken förklarade han att det var fel att skyla över och tillrättalägga folksagornas skräckingrediener. De hjälper nämligen barn att konfrontera sig med svåra existeniella problem, som separationsångest, oedipala konflikter och syskonrivalitet. Det extrema våldet och de otäcka känslorna i många sagor tjänar till att avleda sådant som mycket väl kan hända i barnens föreställningsvärld,

Bettelheim visade sig vara en fabulist även han. Någon som skapat en saga av sitt liv – det visade sig nämligen att det inte alls stämde att han verkat som ” pedagog och terapeut för svårt störda barn.” I själva verket var Bettelheim inte ens psykolog. Han hade enbart tagit tre introduktionskurser i psykologi. Men vad gjorde det? Det innebar inte alls att jag ogillade hans bok eller ansåg att han haft fel.

Det var alltså inte fel att uppskatta skräckskildringar och likt flera av mina generationskamrater lockades jag och skrämdes jag av Disneys mästerverk. De otäcka drottningarna i Snövit och Törnrosa var närvarande i mina drömmar.

och så var suggestiva bilder från exempelvis Pinocchio. Då jag ensam i ett öde hus vaknat upp mitt i natten fanns minnen kvar från då Pinocchio vaknat upp i Mangiafuocos cirkusvagn och finner marionetterna vaja fram och tillbaka, som Blåskäggs hängda spöken.

För övrigt har jag flera gånger läst om Pinocchio, denna italienska pikareskroman som aldrig upphör att fascinera, inte minst genom sin kusliga stämning. Som då den förvirrade, ensamme Pinocchio i en sagoskog finner sig framför den Blå Féens hus och hon öppnar ett fönster, blickar ner mot den arme Pinocchio och förklarar:

”I det här huset bor ingen. Alla är döda.” ”Men, du kan öppna dörren för mig.” bad Pinocchio gråtande.”Jag är också död””Död? Men vad gör du då där i fönstret?” ”Jag väntar på kistan som man ska bära bort mig i.” När hon sagt detta försvann hon och fönstret stängdes ljudlöst.

Någon som fångat de oroande stämningarna i Pinocchio, fattigdomen, kylan och märkvärdigheterna, är den italienske illustratöre Roberto Innocenti (1940-) 

Pinoccichio har genom åren lockat en stor mängd konstnärer och inte minst filmregissörer (det finns minst trettio Pinocchiofilmer). Föruom Innocenti bör jag kanske nämna en annan italiensk mästerillustratör – Lorenzo Mattotti (1954-), som förutom Pinocchio har illusterat en mängd klassiker.

Hans tolkning av Dr Jekyll och Mr Hyde präglas av en ursinning dynamik.

Fjärran från det stilla, hotande mörkret i Corrado Rois (1958-) skildringar av Apokalypsen och skräcken i moderna italienska skräckmagasin.

Italiensk konsthistoria uppvisar en mängd exempel på vad Zuccari benämner La Bella Pittura, i meningen en skräckblandad subtilitet som tycks sprungen ur konstnärernas inre. Zucarellis samtida den sienesiske Domenico Beccafumi (1486-1551) chockade mig exempelvis då jag i hans tavla De upproriska änglarnas fall, som jag såg I Sienas Pinakotek, upptäckte Helvetets källarlokaler. I en av gångarna tycks en demonisk eldslåga snabbt röra sig mot betraktaren. Vet inte riktigt varför jag kände en kall kåre längs ryggraden, tror att jag i en mardröm hade sett något liknande.

En annan mardrömslik sensation grep mig då jag i Girolamo Savoldos (1480-1548) St. Antonii hemsökelse fick syn på en naken, korpulent man som pä sin rygg bar ett anskrämligt monster.

Den originelle napolitanaren Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) försökte dra sig fram som självständig konstnär, frigjord från mecenaters krav, och ställde därför emellanåt ut sin konst längs Roms gator, samtidigt som han gjorde sig känd som författare till en mängd samhällskritiska skrifter. Kanske för att tilltala en sensationslysten public excellerade Rosa i  skräckkskildringar med häxor och monster i en mörk, hotad värld.

 

Rosas dystra landskap kan betraktas som världen sedd genom ett temperament och så även holländaren Jacob van Ruisdals (1629-1682) landskap.

Rosa och van  Rusidals bildvärldar befinner sig mitt i  Guds natur, i den friska luften, annat var det med Piranesis (1720-1758)  fängelsehålor. De är knappast trånga och kvävande, snarare invecklade och oändliga, likt drömmars labyrinter, utan öppningar och utvägar tycks de innefatta hela världen, platser för tortyr och förtvivlan.

Likt Rosas tavlor var Piranesis carceri del av en ond värld utan nåd och i så måtto var de även en bild av sin samtids krig, väld, svält och övergrepp, likt Alessandros Magnasco (1667-1749) sepiabruna världar med deras kyrkogårdar, kloster, tortyrkammare och stridsscener.

Grimmelhaussens och Jaques Callots världar där groteska drömvärldar blandas med iskalla skildringar från en skoningslös tid av religionskrig och omotiverat våld.

En varld som även var Goyas värld, fylld med häxor demoner. 

En stumt vrålande, tryckande mardrömsvärld där Förnuftet sover och lämnar fältet fritt för demoni och en alltför påtaglig verklighet, utan nåd, frälsning och medlidande.

Ett helvete långt värre än var en visionär som Dante kunde uttrycka, men högst levande för en frontsoldat eller holcaustoffer.

Ett fängelse som likt Piarnesis källarhål saknar utvägar men som till skillnad från dem är trångt och kvalmigt.

En värld hård och skoningslös som Magnascos, Callots och Goyas, liksom den hemsökt av demoner och missfoster, oändlig utan nåd och slut skildras av konstnärer som polacken Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005),

eller slovenen Marko Jakše (1959-)

Samtliga integrerade delar av Zuccaris Bella Pittura, hans inre concetti. Där finner vi i  Ferrara San Giorgio kàmpa mot draken i Cosme Turas förunderligt skarpa, otvunget slingrande ròrelse.

Eckersbergs månklara natt i Köpenhamn där en man springer längs Långebro för att undsätta någon vi inte kan se.

Alfred Rerthels Död inspekterar sina offer vid en barrikad från 1848.

En dyster, misantropisk och oförstådd  Alberto Martini (1876-1954) gräver i Milano ner sig bland sina gerlikar ur litteraturhistorien och skildrar genom sin egen våndas lins deras ångest.

Alltmedan Leon Splilliart (1881-1946) sömnlös vandrar längs Ostendes folktomma, kajer, pirar och stränder.

  

Om nätterna är det ödsligt och tomt i Belgiens städer och parker, där vi finner Degouve Nunqes,

  

Xavier Mellery 

Ferdinand Knopff,

 

Carel Willink,

Paul Delvaux,

och Magritte:

När dagen grytt cyklar Johannes Moesmans (1909-1988) Rykte naken in med en fiol på pakethållaren

Och kampen för tillvaron kan åter ta sin början, som då skelett hos Ensor slåss om en böckling. 

Ångest och ensamhet frodas även i Öst, exempelvis hos Kubin

och Kupka i Prag.

Artister som tycks vandra längs tyskarnas upptrampade stigar.

Schweizaren Johann Henri Füsslis (1741-1825) fyra versionerf av sin expressiva Mardröm hänger visserligen i Gothes hus i Frankfurt, men den tillhörde aldrig den store diktaren. Hade han haft den I sitt sovrum kanske den hade gett upphov till mardrömmar lika de som Max Klinger (1857-1920) så skickligt skildrat I sin absurda etsningsserie Paraphrase über den Fund eines Handschuhs,

eller Franz von Stucks (1863-1928)  helvetes-och krigsvisioner.

En meningslös förödelse av Tyskland har upprepats gång på gång, bland annat under de så kallade religionskrigen, som östtysken Werner Tübke (1929-2004) har tolkat genom ett ofantligt panorama i Bad Frankenhausen, ibland kallat Nordens Sixtinska kapell.

eller efterkrigstidens skoningslösa elände hos Dix.

Sedan kom kriget tillbaka. Värre än någonsin, med en sådan förtvivlad grymhet att konsten inte längre räckte till för att skildra den, även om mycket som i Ferlix Nussbaums konst i Dödens skugga stinker av skräck och ångest. Han mördades 1944 í Auschwitz.

Nussbaum var ett hjälplöst offer för nazismens brutala masslakt. Redan innan han utplånades hade hans konst antytt vad som skulle hända. Märkligt är att även en konstnär som sedermera  anslöt sig till Nazistpartiet utövade en mörk, luguber konst, fylld av föraningar om en kommande katastrof.

Österikaren Franz Sedlacek (1891-1945) var ansluten till en konstriktning som kallades den Nya Sakligheten. En skarp, detaljrik skildringskonst som genom sin kyla skildrade mellankristidens cyniskt hårda människosyn och skarpa iaktagelseförmåga. Som det står i Cristopher Isherwoods inledning till hans Farväl till Berlin: “Jag är en kamera med öppen slutare, helt passiv, mekaniskt registrerande”.

Den 30 juni 1938 anslöt sig Sedlacek till NSDAP och året efter drog ha ut som frivillig i Andra Världskriget. Han utmärkte sig som djärv frontkämpe i såväl Norge, som i Stalimgrad. Sedlacek klarade sig oskadd ur det ryska helvetet och dök upp under de polska slutstriderna, fast han försvann spårlöst under krigets sista månader.

I sitt hotfullt kompakta mörker.är Sedlaceks dystra konst onekligen fascinerande

Det finns hos honom en hotad väntan. På krig och ofärd, en dyster förberedelse som jag även funnit hos Ola Billgren (1940-2001) och Richard Oelze (1900-1980).

Krigens skuggor vilar kompakt over Europas konst. Exempevis hos medlemmarna ï Wiens så kallade Skola för fantasiskk konst, med konstnärer som Anton Lehmden (1929-2018) 

Rudolf Hausner (1914-1995)

och Arik Brauer (1929-2021)

Förfallet I Tysklands sönderbombader städer tycks ha förutspåtts i Monsu Desiderios (François de Nomé 1593-1620 och  Didier Barra 1590-1656) gåtfulla stadslandskap

eller Félicien Rops (1833-1898) syfilismittade prostituerade.

Zuccaris slutna rum gömmer mycket vansinne

 och flera konstnärer har trätt in där för att aldrig återvända. Tänker på Carl Fredrik Hills (1849-1911) plågor.

Hur han, som en gång varit en av sin tids främsta landskapsmålare, då han trätt in sin sinnesjukdom började han måla och teckna “till sitt försvar” och tycktes vilja skydda sina landskap i La Bella Pitturas inre rum.  

Vid samma tid förmörkades den norske landskapsmålaren Lars Hertervegs (1830-1902) sinne och hans landskapskildringar blev allt märkligare.

Fortfarande finns det runt om i världen konstnärer vars verklighetsuppfattning brustit och då de stigit in i sin fantasis inre rum har de samtidigt spärrats in på mentalsjukhus. Det hände exempelvis  normannen Bendik Riss (1911-1988)

och dansken Luis Marussen (Ovartaci) (1894-1985).

Låt oss nu lämna dessa brustna geniers inre rum och avnjuta ett exempel på Raul Dufys (1877-1953) konst. För någon dag sedan passerrade jag en utställningslokal som presenterade Dufy som Il pittore della gioia. Glädjens konstnär.

Faktum är att jag fann det vara ett helt riktigt påstående. Då jag ficks se Dufys mälningar blev jag glad och mindes en affisch som jag under flera år haft på väggen i ett mitt pojkrum. Det var en reklam för SNCF, de franska järnvägarna och en drömbild av Normandie. Hur ofta hade jag inte betraktat denna sommarbild med sitt gamla hus, igenvuxna trädgård med inbjudande  trädgårdsmöbler och en betande ko. En cyklist passerar och längs floden skymtas ångbätar. Sommarfrid, värme och grönska. Hur mänga gånger hade jag inte drömt mig in i den tavlan?

Bettelheim, Bruno (1978) Sagans förtrollade värld: folksagornas innebörd och betydelse.. Stockholm: AWE/Geber. Cleri, Bonita (1997) Federico Zuccari: le idee, gli scritti: atti del Convegno di Sant’ Angelo in Vado. Milano: Electa.

 

09/01/2022 15:37

 

Italy is an inexhaustible source of all kinds of unexpected experiences – culinary, as well as cultural. I open the door to something that has fleetingly interested me and impressions, memories, dreams and a host of other phenomena rush over me. Like when a month ago, together with my American friend Joe, I visited Florence and was confronted with Donatello’s art. An exhibition about his life, works and influence was presented in the palaces of Strozzi and Bargello.

 


I had previously visited Florence many times and in churches and museums been confronted with Donatello’s work, read about the Master and heard my art professor tell about him, but I had never seriously realized the extent of Donatello’s genius. The great and revolutionizing influence he had had on his followers. I once again realised the astonishing moment in human history during which he and his good friend Brunelleschi constituted the eye of the hurricane. Donatello with his sculptures and reliefs, Brunelleschi with his theories about the central perspective and the dome he created above Santa Maria del Fiore.

 


The two friends had visited Rome together, where Donatello had been overwhelmed by the presence of cultural treasures left behind by past times; the imaginative richness, balance and perfect harmony of the Greek and Roman statues and sarcophagus reliefs, this while Brunelleschi (1377-1446) in detail studied ancient arch techniques and immersed himself in the writings of Vitruvius (80-15 BC).

Brunelleschi was the more theoretically/mathematically versed of the two geniuses, while Donatello was a consummate artist/craftsman, with an intuitive sense of the expressions his art would take to satisfy his clients’ expectations, and more than that – astonish them. Donatello’s contemporaries often pointed to his lack of education, claiming that he was barely literate. I doubt if this is really true, assuming it was a myth intended to suggest that his genius was God-given, just as Muslims often state that Muhammad could neither read nor write, thereby implying that his teachings were forthwith dictated by God.

Donatello, actual name was Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. Donatello is a diminutive, an epithet given him due to his small stature. He was born in Florence 1386, as the son of Betto Bardi, whose occupation was listed as “wool carder”, although he also occupied himself as goldsmith. Wool carder could mean that Bardi was a proletarian, though it could also mean that he was owner of a wool carder manufactory, something that seems to be indicated by the fact that he was a Guild Master. The guild he belonged to would then have been the powerful Arte della Lana, a craft association that included wool manufacturers and wealthy merchants involved in Florence’s flourishing wool industry.


During Donatello's lifetime, the wool business employed no less than 30,000 workers, a third of the population of Florence, who annually produced 100,000 metres of textiles and clothing.

 


 

The buyers and exporters of wool and cloth was over time able to amass large fortunes, which they used to lend at interest to various European rulers. Most of these bankers were organized within a guild called Arte di Calimala. The strange name Calimala, Calm Her, came from the name of the street where Arte di Calimala’s headquarter was located. Through their wealth, members of this guild were able to influence and manipulate the rulers of Florence. Most influential among the members of this particular guild was the Medici family.

 

A picture in an Italian comic book illustrates the state of affairs in Donatello’s Florence. Donald Duck is toiling away shearing sheep and collecting wool while his Uncle Scrooge is counting the money he has received through wool sales and banking.

 


 

Like several other northern Italian trading cities, Florence was during Donatello’s lifetime governed by an assembly called the Signoria. Its nine members were chosen from the city’s leading guilds. Six of them came from guilds called Priori, i.e. the six ancient and most powerful guilds, among them the Arte della Lana and Arte di Calimala. Two additional members were elected from the fourteen ”minor” guilds. The ninth member of the Signoria was named Gonfaloniere di Giustizia and served as its chairman. He was elected every two months, not by lot but by members of the outgoing Signoria.
 

 

One of the several peculiarities of this form of government was how the members of the Signoria were elected and the short time they served as decision makers. The names of all guild members over the age of thirty were placed in eight leather bags. Every two months these sacks were carried out of the church of Santa Croce, where they were kept and during a short ceremony the names were drawn at random. Only men who were not in debt could be elected, moreover they would not have had a seat in the Signoria during the past year and they could not have any family ties to the men who had served during the previous term. Immediately after their election, the nine members of the Signoria were expected to take up residence in the Palazzo della Signoria, which facade was adorned with the coats of arms of the guilds. There they would stay for the two months that their mission lasted.

 


That's how it all worked in principle, but over time intrigues and manipulations confused the already complicated system and power effectively came to rest with the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, an office that came to be dominated by the increasingly powerful Medici family. However, this did not mean that the guild system and its influence on Florence’s power game disappeared. For several centuries, the Signoria continued to dominate the economic and political life of the city.

The
Arte della Lana, of which Donatello’s father was a member, controlled the entire process from the raw, packaged wool that on a daily basis arrived in the city, to the finished textiles produced at looms scattered among private homes and manufactures located within the city walls.

 

 

Like other guilds, the Arte della Lana coordinated and controlled the activities of its members; guaranteed the quality of the production, set prices, regulated wages, checked the training of journeymen, tested and decided who should be awarded a master craftsman's certificate.


 

Each guild had its patron saint, while its board resided in a palace, generally they also supported and paid for Catholic masses and the maintenance of a specific church. The mighty Arte della Lana resided in an impressive palace in the very centre of the city, its patron saint was St. Stephen and its church was none other than Florence’s DuomoSanta Maria del Fiori.

 

 


In niches around the Chiesa di Orsanmichel, there are statues of the patron saints of the various guilds. Arte della Lana’s St. Stephen had been sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti, in whose renowned bottega Donatello at the age of seventeen had been accepted as an apprentice.

 

 

During Donatello’s lifetime the bottega system was well developed in Florence and the city counted on anumber of master bottegas. A bottega was more than an artist's studio, more than a place of learning for future masters and could best be described as a workshop that, under great competition, delivered commissioned work to various patrons. Much of the work was governed by strict routines marked by extremely important craftsmanship and tasks which depended on clients’ requirements, lack of time when it came to the execution of the complicated works, as well as the guild system’s production control and detailed regulations.

 

 

In particular, the maufacture of paints was an essential part of a bottega’s activities and for that reason Florentine painters belonged to one of the six most powerful guilds that made up the Priori – Arte dei Medici e Speziale, the Crafts Association of Doctors and Apothecaries, i.e. an association of specialists who made and used drugs and various decoctions. In addition to artists, the Arte dei Medici e Speziale also included shopkeepers who sold spices and textile dyes.

 

 

Each bottega produced its own colours. Paint production, as well as the careful preparation of canvases and specially treated wooden boards which constituted the base/groundwork for paintings, were labour-intensive processes handled by the bottega’s apprentices.

 

Colour pigments came from a variety of sources. They could consist of different types of soil containing minerals and clay, such as Raw or Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umbra. The pigments were often based on toxic substances such as mercury, lead, sulfide, tin, and cinnabar. They could also be constituted by very expensive imports such as Indian Yellow, which was made from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves, or most expensive of them all – the blue stone, lapiz lazuli, which was brought to Florence from Badakshan by the upper reaches of the river Amu Darya. To obtain the best pigments, artists were often forced to experiment on their own, or to gain such high esteem that patrons were willing to pay for their access to coveted and expensive pigments.

 


The pigments had to be grinded down to small, fine grains by using a runner, a cone-shaped stone with a flat bottom surface that was used to crush the pigments against a smoothened stone slab. When the pigments obtained the right grain size, they were compacted into a paste, by adding different binders. During Donatello’s time, the most common binder was egg yolk mixed with water – tempera. An alternative was to add oil, usually from linseed, to the solution, thus making it dry faster and permitting application to softer surfaces like canvas, instead of the commonly used base made of pine or poplar. Other common binders were beeswax and casein.

 

The artists’ workshops also produced various forms of varnish. The medieval name for varnish was the Latin word veronix, which gave rise to today's vernissage, the opening day of an art exhibition. During the Renaissance, this meant that when the varnish had dried the work of art could be considered completed and thus presented to the client. If the client rejected the result, it could mean a great loss of prestige for the bottega, as well as a serious financial setback.

 

Within a bottega, the hard-working apprentices were called garzoni, boys. Donatello’s entry as a garzone in the bottega of Master Lorenzo Ghiberti took place at an unusually old age. Generally, most garzoni accepted into a bottega were around ten years old. They were entrusted to their Master’s care. He nurtured, disciplined and taught them and they were considered to be part of his household. They lodged and ate together with their master’s family. Several garzoni did not advance from working with colours and panels, but the most skilled and enthusiastic of them were by the master taught to sketch, read and wtite, and could finally be allowed to participate in the completion of his works of art. Gradually, the most skilled garzoni were entrusted with more important tasks than the painting of decorative details and completion of the master's contours, or the colouring of previously delimited surfaces.

 

 

The guild required a master to provide his garzoni with an accartati, contract, and a fixed salary, the latter was usually quite modest—generally five or eight gold florins in a year, compared to a skilled labourer’s wages of about thirty-five florins within a year. At the end of his apprenticeship, a garzone could be offered to undergo a journeyman’s test. If he succeeded he was declared a journeyman and thus the opportunity to offer his services as an independent artist, though a journeyman was not allowed to establish his own bottega. That required membership in the Arte dei Medici e Speziale.

 

Guild members provided membership if a journeyman could present a Masterpiece (from which our contemporary word originates) that was accepted as such by selected guild members. If the jorneyman was accepted he was appointed Master of Arts and through a specific certificate he was thus granted the right to open a bottega of his own. First, however, a would-be Master had to prove he was the recognized son of a guild-member and willing to pay an entry fee, as well as signing a contract stipulating that he accepted the guild’s statutes and committed himself to submit an annual contribution to the guild’s common coffers.

 

The strict work discipline, fixed routines, the practical work that attached great importance to every single detail, the rigorous quality control of the guilds, fierce competition, the cooperation between a Master and his garzone, as well as the team spririt reigning within the guilds contributed to the fact that many Renaissance artists at an early age became exceptionally skilled craftsmen.

 

 

The earliest work of art that attributed to Donatello is a David he in 1409, at the age of twenty-three, carved in marble. The work had been paid for by Arte della Lana, the guild to which Donatello’s father belonged and it was intended to adorn one of the buttresses of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. However, it was not placed there because the guild members thought it was too small to be appreciated from ground level. The statue thus remained for several years in a bottega before the Signoria in 1416 brought it to its palace and placed it on a pedestal with the inscription: “To those who bravely fight for the defence of the motherland, the gods provide help, even against the most terrible enemies.” Apparently, the city counsellors thought that the young, bold David could serve as a role model for defenders of the Republic.

 

Criticism has been harsh while judging this first known work by Donatello. It has been written that the dimensions are wrong, that the whole work gives a ”formal and bland expression.” This David of his has been mercilessly compared to Donatello’s later skills and declared to be quite uninteresting.

 

Having now seen it in real life, I arrived at a different opinion. Considering the circumstances that predisposed the manufacture of the statue, it is certainly a masterpiece. David rests his left hand by his side while he, positioned in an elegant contraposto, triumphantly lifts his long robe to reveal Goliath’s severed head, which rests at his feet – still with both sling and stone embedded in the skull. Despite the distance from which the sculpture would be viewed, the grotesque head is fashioned in great detail and prominently presented, with its closed eyes and half-open mouth, through which the dead giant’s tongue can be glimpsed. The killing stone has penetrated the forehead, the congealed blood is difficult to distinguish from clumps of tangled hair.

 

 

There is no doubt that the arrangement was intended to adorn a buttress and thus be viewed from below. It all seems to be striving upwards. The gesture of the left hand opening the garment makes the head of the defeated Goliath seem closer to us than the rest of the of the statue. It looks like the gory head has been placed in a cave formed by the robe. At the same time, the opening in the mantel is reminiscent of a flame striving upwards, making the entire sculpture, with its Gothically curved movement, remind us of earlier madonna-sculptures carved from ivory and thus being adapted to the curvature of the elephant’s tusk. Through their elegantly curved movements, these Virgins and their child seems to be lifted up towards heavenly heights.

 

David’s oversized right fist, which has often been criticized, and his relatively small, and not so empathetically characterized, head, underline the impression that the sculpture was to be viewed from below and from a great distance. Considering all this, I got the impression, particularly since the sculpted details cannot be discerned from afar, that Donatello’s David was in fact his “Masterpiece”, his entrance exam to a guild. Since Donatello at the time was active in Ghiberti’s workshop, which master was better known as a sculptor than a painter, it is possible that the guild which he entered as a recognized master was the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legname, the Guild of Master Stonecutters and Wood Carvers.

 

 

Donatello's good friend and peer Nanni di Banco, who together with Donatello had been given the task of decorating Il Duomo’s buttresses, did seven years later make a famous sculpture group, which impressed his contemporaries and became a great inspiration for Donatello (who probably assisted di Banco with the manufacture) – Quattro Santo Coronati, Four Crowned Saints. These four martyrs, whose names were unknown, are by tradition said to have been Christian sculptors who under the Roman Emperor Diocletian refused to make sculptures of “pagan” gods and therefore were placed alive within sealed lead coffins and thrown into the Sava River in present-day Serbia. They had since then been invoked as patron saints of sculptors and were of course the obvious choice of the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legname to adorn its niche on the church di Orsanmichele.

 

 


In 1405 Nanni had been appointed master of the aforementioned guild. The four figures are masterfully arranged within a shallow semi-circular niche, where, through glances and discreet movements, they seem to be involved in a conversation. The solemn gestures, the toga-like clothing and the volume of the bodies testify that Nanni was influenced by ancient Roman sculptural art.

Donatello’s marble statue of David had, during the exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, been placed in the same room as another youthful work by Donatello – the Crucifix in Santa Croce. It hung next to Brunelleschi's crucifix from Santa Maria Novella. The reason for this was surely an anecdote in Giorgio Vasari's (1511-1574) anecdote in his Le vite de’ più eccelenti pittori, scultori e architettori, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.

 

 

For Santa Croce, Donatello had “with infinite patience” carved a wooden crucifix, which he proudly displayed to his friend Brunelleschi, who, however, after Donatello’s enthusiastic descriptions, had expected something better and thus could not help to smile. The disappointed Donatello sensed his friend’s displeasure and asked him, in view of their great friendship, to tell him what he really thought of the crucifix. After some hesitation, Brunelleschi once again looked intensely at the crucifix and stated: “You have put a peasant on the cross and not Jesus Christ, the most perfect man ever born.” Bitterly, because he had after all expected praise, Donatello replied: “If it was as easy to make something as it is to criticise, my Christ would really look to you like Christ. So you get some wood yourself and try to make one yourself.”

 


Without a word, Brunelleschi nodded and left the church. Not revealing it to anyone, he set about making a crucifix with the aim of surpassing Donatello’s creation. After several months’ of hard work he produced, with great perfection, a work which, according to him, was superior to Donatello’s crucifix.

One morning Brunelleschi invited his friend Donatello to dine with him. Donatello naturally accepted the invitation and they walked together towards Filippo’s house. As they passed the market, Brunelleschi bought some ingredients for the dinner, and after stating he had a couple of more errands to run he gave the market goods to Donatello and asked him to take them to his bottega. When Donatello entered the workshop, he found Filippo’s crucifix stategically placed in perfect lighting. Overwhelmed with surprise and admiration, Donatello dropped the apron in which he had placed the eggs, the cheese and other items brought from the market. At the sam moment, Filippo arrive and found his friend standing among the broken eggs, lost in thoughts and apparently stunned by suprise. Laughingly, Brunelleschi asked: “What’s your design, Donatello? What are we going to eat now that you’ve broken everything?” “Myself,” Donatello answered, “I’ve had my share for this mornig. If you want yours, you take it. But no more, please. Your job is making Christs and mine making peasants.”

 

 

It is a quite subtle anecdote and Vasari’s anecdote has for posterity come to characterize differences between Brunelleschi’s and Donatello’s art. It has time after time been commented upon by various art critis.

The difference between the two representations of the dying Christ is actually not that great. It is clear that the two wood carvers found their inspiration in Giotto’s Triumphal Crucifix in Santa Maria Novella. Painted in 1288, it was more than a hundred years old when Donatello and Brunelleschi made their crucifixes.

 

 

Giotto was inspired by Franciscan spirituality, which more than paying hommage to his glory and sublimity, or inhuman suffering, had emphasized Jesus’ humanity, love and poverty. Giotto’s crucifix thus depicted a dying man, with a realistically rendered body. There are no signs of barbaric beatings or physical suffering. Christ wears no crown of thorns and the only wounds he exhibits are from the spear thrust into his side and the nails hammered through his hands and feet. Maybe he is already dead.

 

It is in the expressions of their faces that the biggest differences between Donatello’s and Brunelleschi’s versions of the crucified Jesus become most apparent. It may be an illusion, though I assume that Donatello’s Jesus is closer to us than Brunelleschi’s Christ, with his tired, but still gentle gaze under almost closed eyelids, a half-open mouth with a swollen upper lip. His more prominent cheekbones and high forehead. The face, despite its lack of external damage, seems to bear witness to how an ordinary person exposed to contempt, betrayal and grotesque bullying is close to leaving his earthly life, but despite all this, Jesus’ tired face radiates forgiveness and human love.


Giotto’s Jesus is emaciated, at least compared to the more fleshy and muscular bodies depicted by Donatello and Brunelleschi. The latter’s Jesus, however, seems to be slimmer built than Donatello’s. Brunelleschi’s Christ has the same bent legs as Giotto’s, while the stretched legs of Donatello's Jeusus figure rest more heavily against the stem of the cross. Brunelleschi’s Christ has a small crown of thorns, though like Giotto’s Jesus, Donatello’s is lacking one.

 


It is in the expressions of their faces that the biggest differences between Donatello’s and Brunelleschi’s versions of the crucified Jesus become most apparent. It may be an illusion, though I assume that Donatello’s Jesus is closer to us than Brunelleschi’s Christ, with his tired, but still gentle gaze under almost closed eyelids, a half-open mouth with a swollen upper lip. His more prominent cheekbones and high forehead. The face, despite its lack of external damage, seems to bear witness to how an ordinary person exposed to contempt, betrayal and grotesque bullying is close to leaving his earthly life, but despite all this, Jesus’ tired face radiates forgiveness and human love.

Jesus’ heavy body lacks in Donatello’
s rendering the slender elegance of Brunellschi’s personage. Like in Donatello’s version, Brunelleschi’s Jesus does not present many signs of having been brutally beaten and abused. However, in comparison with Donatello’s Jesus he has an air of refinement and sensitivity. A true aristocrat, or rather a superman’s submissive resignation under God’s omnipotent will. His eyebrows are sharply defined, the nose narrow and the cheeks soft and smooth.
 

Donatello's Jesus is closer to us in the sense that he endowed with the build of a manual labourer, like the construction worker Jesus probably was before he was convinced that he had a God-given mission (the Greek word tektōn the term used for Jesus’ occupation could mean craftsman, in the sense of a builder working with both wood-work and stone masonry). His figure and face indicate signs of the everyday life of such a man, with all the brutality and closeness to life that seems to be lacking in Brunelleschi’s nobleman. Vasari’s account of Brunelleschi’s judgment is to this extent entirely correct. Donatello’s Jesus is indeed reminiscent of a peasant, someone who has not only been crucified according to the Gospels, but furthermore been subjected to mob violence and the street contempt shown to powerless and/or deviant people.

 

 

Why does Vasari, while comparing him with Brunellschi's representation, seem to underestimate Donatello’s Jesus? Perhaps because Vasari in all the artist descriptions emphasized his appreciation of an artist’s ability to link physical beauty with creative skill and thus succeeded in imitating God’s creative power and originality in his/her works.

According to Vasari, a skilled artist is, unlike a farmer, a Creator, someone who, in accordance with the words of the
Book of Revelation:And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’mirrors God’s creative and innovative powers. A view that was not at all unusual among Renaissance intellectuals who often saw themselves as more than farmers. They were “citizens”, townspeople who, unlike the down-to-earth peasants, could appreciate the subtleties of philosophy and religious faith, far from the superstition and brutality that prevailed among the toilers of the earth. In fact, many Florentines harboured a deep-seated distrust and even fear of the peasantry who surrounded the city. In his Ricordi, Memoirs, Donatello’s contemporary, the wealthy cloth merchant Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, stated that “there is no single peasant who would not be willing to come to Florence to burn the city down.” In other words, in an early work such as the crucifix in Santa Croce, Donatello already sreveals his skill in reshaping the art that dominated his time, in a new, revolutionary and life-like manner.

 

 

After finishing his crucifix, Donatello goes from strength to strength. Constantly varying and deepening the possibilities of his studies of ancient art combining them with an awareness of the innovations made by his contemporary artist colleagues. The powerful patron Cosimo de Medici caught sight of him and during his long life, during which Donatello was feverishly active until the end, he was never without constant, new assignments. In addition to his superb skills and unexpected gifts, Donatello, unlike many other artists, was known to be a modest, kind and extremely generous person.

 

 

It is through the subtle characterisation, the vitality and psycholgical depth of his motifs that Donatello has been hailed for an undeniable mastery. Shortly after returning from his study trip to Rome in 1433, in the company of Brunelleschi, Donatello created in Santa Croce his Annunciation, as a monument for the family tomb of the powerful Cavalcanti clan.

The angel and Virgin are executed in high relief in front of a partially gilded background in the form of a closed gate. They are depicted in the moment just after Gabriel’s appearance. The Virgin, placed in front of a lyre-shaped chair, has risen in surprise after sitting reading a book, which she still holds in her hand. The youthfully beautiful Madonna puts one hand to her chest and her graceful, gothically curved figure vaguely suggests that she has for a moment intended to escape from the apparition. The exquisite drapery of the dress follows the movement of the legs to the left, out of the picture, but at the last moment the maiden has controlled her emotions and turned towards the angel.

 


Gabriel kneels in front of the Madonna, who he almost shyly looks up at. It seems that with his slightly turned head, humble appearance and searching gaze, he wants to capture Maria’s unconditional attention. The scene breathes a bright, lively interplay between the portrayed figures, who animate their emotions with gestures and facial expressions. Donatello has succeeded in giving Maria’s nobly refined face an expression of quiet surprise, marked by both gratitude and humility.

Donatello avoided traditional elements such as the dove of the Holy Spirit and the lily, or olive branch, in the angel’s hand. The symbolic language is limited and subtle, like the book of Mary alluding to the Bible’s predictions about the coming of the Messiah and the closed gate in the background, suggesting the chastity of the Madonna.

 


Donatello never repeats himself and constantly surprises. Five years before the Annunciation in Santa Croce, Donatello, together with his colleague Michelozzi, had executed a sumptuous funerary monument for the still living Cardinal Rainaldo Brancacci. Brancacci was a sly, political vane and it appears rather strange how ecclesiastical princes like him could have the audacity to like ancient pharaohs erecting extravagant memorials over themselves. So be it, because after all, we have such self-adoring narcissists to thank for the astonishing masterpieces of several Renaissance geniuses.

 


I

On the Brancacci sarcophagus, Donatello executed one of the stiacciatore reliefs admired by his contemporaries. Stiacciato is a technique that makes it possible for a sculptor to create a so-called recessed relief with a depth of only a couple of millimeters. To gradually reduce depth from foreground to background an illusion of greater depth is created. Donatello must have learned this technique from his master Ghiberti, who used stiacciato in his occasionally depth-perspective reliefs on the famous Paradise Gates of the baptistry of Santa Maria degli Fiori

 

 

In his Ascension of the Madonna, Donatello portrayed an elderly, perhaps tired and worried woman surrounded by gracefully hovering angels. I come to think of the whirling of the Rhein daughters in the introduction to Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

 


Returning to Florence, Donatello created several portraits in the Roman Antique style, difficult to distinguish from Greek and Roman models.

 


 

Or penetrating, highly original studies of contemporary men:

 

 

For one of the niches in Giotto’s tower next to Santa Maria del Fiore, Donatello executed an Old Testament prophet – Habakkuk. The gloomy and tormented man who called out to God with the lamentation:

 

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

 

 

The misanthropic man depicted by Donatello and popularly called Il Zuccone, the Bald One, had as its model a now forgotten artist, wealthy man and opponent of the Medici family – Giovanni de Barduccio Cherichini. The sculptue became immediately popular among the Florentines, who were taken by the old man’s serious attitude, as well as the great skill and realism with which the statue had been executed.

 


Vasari states that it was Donatello’s favorite work, and that he got into the habit of swearing his oaths by saying: “By the faith I have in my Zuccone,” and that while he was working on on the statue he would look at it and keep muttering; “Speak, damn you speak!”

Donatello increasingly distanced himself from the fashions of his time. His insightful studies of well-known saints became increasingly realistic and unexpectedly bold. As an aged and worn-out Mary Magdalene depicted in all her frailty, with an emaciated body, wated through devastating penance.

 


So different from his St. George, which was commissioned by the armourers’ guild to adorn their niche in the Chiesa di Orsanmichele. The niche Donatello was assigned was unusually shallow and thus the sculpted a figure that partially emerges from it and it can thus be seen from several directions.

It is an individual who steps forward, alert and tense. St. George has not yet attacked the dragon, which presence spectators sense behind their backs. The warriuors’s feet rest firmly on the ground, but his right foot is slightly extended and the posture thus harmonizes with St. George’s worried facial expression. He does not exude defiance and can hardly be assumed to guard anything. His shield is at rest, but we nevertheless get an impression of courage and determination. A determined preparedness for a difficult task that could have a fatal outcome for himself.

 

 

As expected, St. George is encased in a sinuous and exquisitely chiselled shell of leather and metal, after all it was the armorers’ guild that hade commissioned Donatello to create a bold and heroic Saint George. Despite this, there is an air of defenselessness about the lonely saint, well aware as he is of the great danger he will soon be exposed to. However, this does not prevent his whole figure from being characterized by a nervous energy. We are unsure how long he will sustain this tension. Soon he must attack, … or retreat.

Nervousness and hesitation characterize the tense face; the furrowed brow and the worried look. Unlike Donatello's marble David, St. George is in his niche almost level with the viewer who can thus be directly confronted with his anxious preperaedness. Soon he will overcome all his doubts and thus becomes an image of one of the virtues that the Florentines liked to attribute to themselves – Prontezza, an ability to be prepared to face every threat and adversary with elevated calm.

 


 

The relief under St. George is executed in exquisite stiacciato through which the loin of his horse appears to be closer to the viewer than its head. The dragon, St. George and the Virgin, who is rendered in elegant Gothic curvature, are sharply plced against a central perspective background, where the wild nature, which cliffs and caves are the dragon’s home, are juxtaposed to the ordered, urban landscape behind the Virgin – culture and order in contrast to the unbridled evil of nature.

 


Soon Donatello utilized the stiacatto technique for increasingly sophisticated representations. With a background of symmetrically constructed areas created through a perspective combined with empty surfaces, he harmonizes the actors with a space that both encloses them and opens behind them. Dramatically concentrated, and at the same time dynamic depictions that as in snapshots captures eventful processes, through which emotional energy is reflected through the actors’ body language.

A relief on a baptismal font in Siena shows the turbulent scene when a kneeling executioner during a banquet on a plate is handsing over the severed head of John the Baptist to Herod. The drama of the main incident is strongly emphasized and psychologically nuanced. The various reactions to the blood-stained head are reflected as captured in a wave of horror and disgust, which to the right subsides around an unaffected Salome who seems to have just finished her fatal dance.

 


The depth of the image is divided into several planes – foremost where the executioner holds out the dish with John’s severed head, small children flee at the sight of the terrifying head while the unemotional Salome in a pleated dress that seems to refer to the wild dance she previously has performed before Herod

 


The other side of the table forms another plane in which Herod recoils in disgust when he is offered grotesque of a severed head, while his wife Herodias, with a giving gesture indicates the cut off head she has persuaded her daughter to request from her stepfather as a condition for perfroming her arousing dance. A void has opened up around Herodias and her explanatory attitude, her nasty request has aroused disgust and repudiation among those around her. At the other end of the table, one of the diners covers his face with one hand as he turns away in repulse of the bloody spectacle.

 

 

On a plane behind these people we glimpse the musicians who have accompanied Salome’s dance and at further away we glimpse how the executioner hands over the head of John the Baptist to Herodias and her daughter. The lively, and highly original, presentation of a commonly known scene probably shocked the spectators who were confronted with it. There was no elegant sophistication here, but an unprecedented brutal realism. A flash of presence through which the artist conveyed an impression that he had actually witnessed what he described.
 

 

Donatello did not only use the stiacatto technique to present crowded and dramatic scenes. He also created intimate, devotional setting, such as this one where a deceased Jesus is lifted up by mourning angels.

 


 

Or a number of sensitively depicted Madonna images reflecting a tender love between mother and son.

On an exterior pulpi by the facade of the Cathedral of Prato, he depicted a joyfully unrestrained horde of dancing little angels. Such pulpits were used by famous preachers who, like rock stars, moved from town to town and attracted large audiences through their virtuoso preaching

 

 

It is difficult to imagine how austere orators and sombre revivalists preached their deeply religious messages of divine punishment and Christian restraint from a rostrum adorned with bacchanalian, dancing cherubs.

 


 

Inside the slightly congested basilica of Padua, Donatello gave vent to his original and imaginative art. Behind the high altar we find, for example, a representation of one of Sant Antonio’s miracles. In its scenic grandeur it reminds of some historical cinemascope film produced in Hollywood. The cinematic impression once again provides an impression that Donatello actually witnessed the vivid scene he is rendering.
 

 

What Donatello illustrates is a somewhat silly, but at the same time politically cahreged legend. The Pataria was a 11th-century movement aiming at reforming the clergy by enforcing papal sanctions against simony, challenging clerical control of the Eucharist, as well as it tried to outlaw clerical marriage and concubinage. The movement caused some armed rebellions which were soon put down and Pataria eventually was declared to be an open and punishable heresy.

According to legend, a miller named Bonvillo denied the celestial and miraculous nature of the Eucharist, namely that the belief that during Mass the wine and bread actually were transformed into real flesh and blood. He challenged San Antonio by keeping his mule confined for days without feeding her. Then he would take her to the square in front of the catedral and a multitude of people and put some tasty fodder in front of her. At the same time, San Antonio would rise a consecrated oblate for the mule to see. If the animal knelt before the host and ignored the pile of clover and other appetizing things, Bonvillo promised that he would never again utter any disbelief in the miracle of the holy mass.

 

 

Antonio accepted the challenge and on the agreed day the saint showed the host to the mule with the words:

 

If indeed what I hold my hand is the human fleash of our Creator, I command you, dumb animal, to humbly approach Him and show Him due reverence.

 

Scarcely had Antonio finished his sentence than the mule, to the astonishment and jubilation of the people, ignored the appetizing food, bowed her head and knelt before the sacrament and incarnation of Christ’s body.

Perhaps a certain humor can be sensed through Donatello’s large-scale representation of of a multitude of the people showing astonishment at the miracle of the kneeling mule.

 

 

Among the evangelist symbols that also adorn the main altar of the Basilica San Antonio di Padua, the lion of Mark undeniably makes an amusing impression, humanized as it is with an individualized expression of concentration and authority.

 

 

The Madonna, enthroned in front of the altarpiece’s crucifix, stands in front rather than sits on her throne. She appears to be leaning forward, an impression reinforced by her thrusting head which lends intensity to the forward movement. She holds the baby Jesus in front of her, as if she wants to demonstrate it to the congregation. The chubby child turns to us with a gesture and facial expression that seem to free him from his mother’s hold. The treatment of the bronze is exemplary – shiny, smooth and hard.

 

 

Right next to the Basilica di San Antonio, the condottiere Erasmo Stefano da Narni, called Gattamelata (the Honey Smoth Cat) is in a powerful manner urging his magnificent steed forward. In earlier (painted) equestrian depictions, of which Ucello’s and del Castagno’s frescoes are the most famous, the huge horses appear to be more prominent than their riders.

 


With the ancient Roman equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, who was probably Donatello’s main model, the roles appear to be reversed. The horse is truly magnificent, though the emperor seems to outsize it.

 

Gattamelata’s horse exudes calm and massive power. The general’s posture and facial features express confined, but intense activity. His grim expression does not indicate any unleashed warrior frenzy, but rather careful calculation, control and concerted preparedness.


In his sculpture, Donatello has depicted Gattamelata as he leads his troops during a battle. Command staff and sword form a diagonal that cuts out the commander at an angle to the plinth, thus drawing the viewer’s attention to his reflection and overview. Compared to previous equestrian statues, there is a realistic renewal here, a dignity and formal effect that is nevertheless based on previous representations.

 


Donatello made several detailed horse studies and in Naples there is a magnificent horse’s head which, in the exhibition in the Palazzo Strozzi was placed next to a copy of a head from the four ancient bronze horses that adorn the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. They had been stolen from Constantinople in 1204 and since then thay have been an inspiration for various artists.
 

 

Gattamelata is a free-standing sculpture, one of the few previously created after Roman Antiquity. In many ways, Donatello's revolutionary art was a renewal of ancient Roman-Greek art, which has made some art connaiseurs to believe that some of his art works actually originated from ancient Rome. However, not his most famous work – the free-standing bronze sculpture of David.

As of 1437, the Medici were the most influential family in Florence and largely controlled the city and its Signoria. For several centuries, the Medici gathered at their court Italy’s foremost artists, writers, humanists and philosophers. Of course, this gave glory and prestige to the increasingly powerful and wealthy Medici clan, but possibly their patronage of art, music and literature could also be considered a gesture of appreciation of their hometown and its citizens.

Donatello was held in high esteem by Cosimo de Medici, the leading man of the Florentine moneyed aristocracy, who assumed an unofficial position as ruler of the city republic. In 1440 he ordered from Donatello a “free-standing statue”, a figure in the “antique” spirit, completely sovereign, unbound by any decorative tasks.

 

 

The result was astonishing. Donatello’s David was placed in the garden of the Medici Palace and its shocking originality aroused astonishment and admiration. The heroic youth is almost completely naked, and it is only Goliath’s fearsome, armored head at his feet that suggests this is the David of the Old Testament and not some Greek god.

With an enigmatic smile, the elegant youth poses with one foot on Goliath’s severed head. It is the moment after his defeat of the giant. The boy has a strong physique, though provides the spectator with a remarkable “feminine” impression. David’s slender build contrasts with the large sword he holds in his right hand.

His nakedness suggests that David defeated Goliath not through physical strength but due to God’s intervention. This is not the case, as it was with Donatello’s St. George of a moment of vigilance and nervousness, but about relaxation and reflection. The young man’s face is calm. His facial muscles are completely relaxed and a mysterious smile plays on the slightly open mouth. There is a subtle pride in his expression, not boastfulness but rather a reflection of inner thoughts. We are not confronted with a triumphant superhero holding aloft a sword and a severed head. Instead, we meet a contemplative face and relaxed body.

 


The body position indicates a calm confidence. David rests standing, seemingly carelessly, but nevertheless harmoniously, with the weight placed on the right leg. It is a classical counterpose, well known through Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, Spear Bearer, which since its creation in 440 BC. has been admired and copied as the epitome of harmony, dynamism and balance. Not least in poses taken by modern film actors, such as the young Marlon Brando and several other Hollywood stars.

 


At the same time, in Donatello's David there is something of the sliding line rhythm of the Gothic, from the brutally severed head along the body up to the shoulders and the long hair. A gliding upward movement that meets and interacts with gently falling rhythms in the hat, arms, crotch and legs. A continuous pulse seems to run around the entire sculpture, a constant succession of clearly chiseled silhouettes around hard, solid matter. Freed from all supports and surrounding ornaments, structures and contexts, an individual appears, who with a unique physicality, allows himself to be viewed from all angels. In my opinion, Donatello’s David is far more harmonious and complete than Michelangelo’s more famous and admired free sculpture of the young David.

 

 

The tradition-breaking, uniqueness, but still antique-applying quality of Donatello’s David has made several “experts” declaring it to be the first free-standing sculpture in history after Antiquity and a kind of talisman for the Renaissance. An opinion I perceive as an example of a coomon, casual condemnation of the greatness of medieval art. I do not see the Renaissance as a break with earlier art, it is rather a superb part in an unbroken chain of masterpieces. The psychological depth Donatello conveys in his art is also present in medieval artwork.

 


 

On our walk to Donatello’s David in the Bargello Palace, we passed several exquisite Byzantine ivory miniatures. This meticulously executed craftsmanship, with its perfect dynamics and harmony within confining spaces, reminded me of an ivory miniature made in Lorraine sometime in the 11th century that I in 1973 first saw in East Berlin’s Bode Museum and I since then I have often thought about it.

 

 

The figures are pressed against each other in a round-arched niche. The ivory carver has masterfully arranged the entire image surface and balanced Thomas the Doubter and Jesus against each other with perfect clarity, rhythmic power and saturated expressiveness. With his back to the spectator, the Doubter climbs upwards while he clings to Jesus. In anguish and doubt, he tears at Christ's mantle and with his fingers dig deep into the exposed wound. Thomas’ intrusive clinging is contrasted with Christ’s calm. With raised arm he exposes his wound and harmoniously fills the roundel of the niche while he is serenely watching the upset Tomas. Jesus exoresses concerned participation, patience and pity. Here, through gestures and interplay, there is profound psychology at play, just as in Donatello’s best works.
 

 

Perhaps one might consider medieval crucifixes as free-standing sculptures. For example, Helmsted’s bronze crucifix from the latter part of the 11th century,

 


or Bishop Gero’s crucifix in the Cologne Cathedral. Carved sometime between 970 and 1000, it is history's first preserved, wood-carved monument and already perfected in its representation of Jesus’ already dead and prostrate body.


The statue of St. Teodore in Chartres gives an heroic an impression similar to Donatello’s St. George.

 

Pierre de Montreuil’s Adam from the begiining of the 13th century, which is now in the Musée de Cluny in Paris, can actually be considered as a free-standing sculpture, produced in a perfect Greek-Roman antique spirit.


 

The Defeated Synagogue in the Strasbourg Cathedral is as poignant psychological study as those created by Donatello.

 


So are the prophets of Bamberg. Jonah’s face bears comparison with Donatello’s Il Zuccone.

 


The Rider in Bamberg is certainly not as dynamic as the Gattamelata sculpture, but is nevertheless endowed with a calm and noble grandeur.

 


Uta von Ballenstedt in Naumburg has a mysterious and withdrawn air about her and thus stands in stark contrast to the wonderfully realistic representation of the lush and happily smiling Queen Adelaide of Burgundy, made 1260 in Meissen, although it looks so fresh and new that I doubted whether it could actually be that old.

 

 

The lively relief of the Last Supper in Naumburg is as skillfully executed and varied as any of Donatello’s reliefs.

 


Bishop Hohenlohe’s imgae from 1350 in the Bamberg Cathedral leans towards us and like the figures in Donatello’s artwork he provides us with a vivid, unique and idiosyncratic impression.

 


Despite a realisation of the greatness of medieval art, I nevertheless dare to say that Donatello’s contribution is both different and revolutionary. His astonishing blend of tradition and modernity was, after all, something entirely new.

Medieval artists never ceased to seek inspiration from the sources of the classical art of Byzantium and Rome, though their output was overshadowed by a spiritual outlook. A presentation of ideal conditions, largely disconnected from Antiquity in the sense that Augustine gave as the task of art – uti non fruti, to use but not enjoy. The medieval Christian ideal of God allowed the flesh of Antiquity to be resurrected in a declared form, purified in the fire of faith, bearer of a message about the Kingdom of Eternity beyond the limits of the visible.


Contrary to such a mindset, Donatello’s work has a worldly anchoring. Even when he portrays saints and madonnas, he does so in a personal and intimate way. A reality seen through a temperament and sometimes, as in the statue of David, he lets himself loose in a way that seems to be completely freed from Judeo-Christian tradition and thinking.

 


In the exhibition in the Palazzo Strozzi, one of Donatello’s strangest works was exhibited on a pedestal. It was for a long time widely considered to date from Roman Antiquity, although Vasari and some of his contemporaries carrectly identified it as a work of Donatello. Vasari describes the sculpture as:

 

a bronze Mercury, standing three feet high in full relief and clothed in a curious fashion.

 

 

Cupido-Attys is undeniably bizarre. A remarkably skilfully made study of a child’s body, whose proportions, contrary to medieval methods of representation, cannot be considered to be those of a miniature adult. Part of the puzzling character of this statue originates in the juxtaposition of a variety of classical motifs—wings like a cupid, a small goat's tail like that of a faun, winged sandals like those of Mercury, and what seems to be an allusion to the Bacchus Child and other fertility-suggesting creatures which during Antiquity, often were depicted in the form of babies, cupids and putti.

 

 

The strange clothing that exposes the boy’s genitalia, the raised arms and above all the face, where the burnished bronze, chubby cheeks, dimples, a half-open, smiling mouth – all this gives an impression of movement, a fleeting, excited feeling allluding to ancient models of bacchanalian, unrestrained freedom, expressed in the raised arms and the swinging, dancing movement.

 

However, even though the statue has been interpreted as an expression of the free-spirited joy of the Renaissance, by me it provides a sneaking sensation of unease. Through the strange pants that expose his genitals and the boy’s vitality, his apparently cheerful liveliness, the whole arrangement seems to be charged with an ill-concealed erotic energy, an air of distasteful pederasty. Behind Cupido-Atty’s consummate realism, the masterful execution of details, a sense of discomfort might be felt, something menacing, unhealthy and disturbing. The boy, in the midst of all his implied joie de vivre, seems able to do harm – to himself and others.

 

At the age of seventy-five, Donatello created a representation of Judith in the process of cutting off the head of Holoferenes. Judith stands upright, her sword is raised, while she with a firm grip on his hair lifts up the lifeless tyrant’s body. Calmly and methodically, she prepares to severe the brutal old man’s head from his body, acting with the calm of an everyday butcher. For several years, the sculpture was placed in front of the Signoria’s palace, as a symbol of the Republic’s contempt for autocrats and tyrants.

 

 

Donatello’s last masterpieces, executed when he was approaching the age of eighty, are the bronze reliefs on the so-called pulpits in the Florentine church of San Lorenzo. “So-called”, because these are probably not pulpits, but rather intended to be sarcophagi, even if were not used as such, but lifted up on pillars to be used by pulpits.

 

Vasari wrote that Donatello in the ned became increasinly senile, though there is not the slightest sign of this in the execution these reliefs, which are characterized by the same monumental realism as the altar reliefs in Padua. Hoever, here the realisim even stronger than before, perhaps even characterized by an old man’s disillusionment. As in the his representation of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom during which he with with a long pole attached to his neck by an excutioner is mercilessly ressed down into violently blazing fire. The spectators seem to be quite unmoved by the horrid spectacle. A Roman soldier holds his shield in front of him, as if to protect himself from the heat of the fire.

 

 

In another impressive scene, the three women descend to visit Jesus’ tomb. There they are met by an angel who announces that he has risen. The eldest of them seems to be clinging to a pillar, overwhelmed as she is by the startling message, while another woman, whose face is hidden by her cloak, with a lamp in her hand, descends the steps of the rock tomb. She seems not yet to have perceived the angel’s presence.

 

 

The reliefs are so high up that it is difficult to make out any details. I was amazed at the sight of a servant who, during Pilate's confrontation with Jesus, holds up the bowl of water in which the prefect is to wash his hands, a symbolic act to show that he is not guilty of the death sentence he pronounced. But ... with my neck strained, I tried to focus my gaze on the servant’s head. Did I see right? Did he really have two faces?

 


When I got home I rummaged through my art books and found that this was indeed the case. It looks as if Donatello was trying to create a sense of movement. With one facial movement, the servant calmly turns to Pilate, while the other seems to be turned to Jesus, in surprise at his presence or what he he saying.

 


 

The art historians I conulted commented on the double face by making a lot of comparisons with similar images, not least ancient Janus’ faces. It seems to me that they got lost in complicated explanation, which in at least two of them resulted in the opinion that the double countenance of the servant reflects Pilate’s hesitancy, his reluctance to make a firm decision and stick to it.

It may well be a plausible explanation. How, to me, Donatello’s double-faced servant might be a bold and successful attempt to create movement in art through duplication.

 

Already in ancient times, a Stone Age artist succeeded in admirably creating a boar’s gait in the Spanish cave of Altamira using a technique a technique of doubling features.

 


It would take thousands of years before Italian Futurists succeeded in creating a illusion of movement, like Balla in his representation of a dog’s brisk walk with its master. Or Boccioni when he fills the space of an entire painting with the illusion of movement, while the face of a woman leaning forward is doubled in what appears to be a window reflection.

 

 

Once again, one of my blog posting has grown beyond its limits. However, it was hard to hold back all the thoughts that my meeting with Donatello in Florence gave rise to. The realization of his modernity, vitality, inventiveness and unimaginable skill was undeniably staggering and will stay with me for a long time.

Vasari wrote:

 

He was superior not only to his contemporaries but even to the artists of our own time […] Artists should, therefore, trace the greatness of the art back to him rather than to anyone born in modern times. For as well as solving the problems of sculpture by executing so many different kinds of work, he possessed invention, design, skill, judgement, and all the other qualities that one may reasonably expect to find in an inspired genius.

 

 

Harris. Jim (2011) ”Defying the Predictable: Donatello and the Discomfiture of Vasari,” in Harris, Jim, Scott Nethersole and Per Rumberg (eds.) ‘Una insalata di più erbe A Festschrift for Patricia Lee Rubin. London: The Courtauld Institute of Art. Levey, Michael (1967) Early Renaissance. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books. Martina, Guido och Giovan Battista Carpi (1983) “Messer Papero e il Ghibellin Fuggiasco,” in Topolino, n. 1425, 20 marzo. Pagolo Morelli, Giovanni di (2019) Ricordi: Nuova edizione e introduzione storica. Florence: Firenze University Press. Pfeiffenberger, Selma (1967) ”Notes on the Iconology of Donatello’s Judgement of Pilate at San Lorenzo,” in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 4. Poeschke, Joachim (1993). Donatello and his World: Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Vasari, Giorgio (1988) The Lives of the Atists. London: Penguin Classics.

 

 

08/28/2022 11:04

Italien är en outsinlig källa för allsköns oväntade upplevelser – kulinariska, såväl som kulturella. Jag gläntar på dörren till något som flyktigt intresserat mig och plötsligt forsar intryck, minnen, drömmar och en mängd andra fenomen över mig. Som då jag för en månad sedan tillsammans med min amerikanske vän Joe besökte Florens och där konfronterades med Donatellos konst. En utställning kring hans liv, verk och influens på en mängd efterföljare efterföljare pågick i Palazzi Srozzi och Bargello.

 

 

Förvisso hade jag tidigare besökt Florens och i olika kyrkor konfronterats med Donatellos verk, läst om mästaren och hört min konstlärare Aron Borelius berätta om honom, men jag hade aldrig på allvar insett vidden av Donatellos genialitet och hans stora betydelse för sin eftervärld. Det häpnadsväckande moment i mänsklighetens historia under vilket han och hans gode vän Brunelleschi utgjorde orkanens öga. Donatello med sina skulpturer och reliefer. Brunelleschi med sina teorier kring centralperspektivet och kupolen han lät slå över Santa Maria del Fiore.

 

 

De båda vännerna hade tillsammans besökt Rom, där Donatello omtumlats av antikens kulturskatter; statyers och sarkofagreliefers fantasifulla rikedom, balans och fulländade harmoni, alltmedan Brunelleschi (1377-1446) ingående studerat den antika valvtekniken och fördjupat sig i Vitruvius (80-15 f.Kr.) skrifter.

 

Brunelleschi var den mer teoretiskt/matematiskt bevandrade av de två genierna, medan Donatello var en fulländad konstnär/hantverkare, med en intuitiv känsla för de uttryck hans konst skulle anta för att tillfredsställa beställarnas förväntningar, rummets förutsättningar och hans egen självkritiska hållning. Donatellos samtida pekade ofta på hans brist på bildning och påstod att han knappt var läskunnig. Jag tvivlar och antar att det var en myt som togs till intäkt för att hans genialitet var gudagiven, liksom muslimer ofta säger att Muhammed varken kunde läsa eller skriva, för att därmed antyda att hans lära var direkt dikterad av Gud.

 

Donatello, hette egentligen Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi. Donatello är ett diminutiv, ett epitet som kom sig av att han var liten till växten. Han föddes i Florens 1386 som son till Betto Bardi, vars yrke angivits som “ullkardare”, fast han ägnade sig även åt guldsmide. Ullkardare kan betyda att Bardi var proletär, men kan också innebära att han var föreståndare för en en ullkardarmanufaktur, något som tycks bevisas genom anmärkningen att han var skråmästare. Det skrå det kunde röra sig om vore så fall det mäktiga Arte della Lana, en hantverksförening som omfattade yllefabrikanter och köpmän verksamma inom Florens blomstrande ylleindustri.

 

Under Donatellos livstid sysselsatte verksamheten kopplad till ull inte mindre 30 000 arbetare, en tredjedel av Florens befolkning, som årligen producerade 100,000 meter textiler och kläde.

 

 

Uppköparna och exportörerna av ull och kläde tillskansade sig med tiden stora förmögenheter, som de använde till att med ränta låna ut till olika europeiska makthavare. De flesta av dessa bankirer var organiserade inom ett skrå kallat Arte di Calimala. Det märkliga namnet Calimala, Lugna henne, kom från namnet på den gata där Arte di Calimalas högkvarter var beläget. Genom sin rikedom kunde medlemmar i dettta skrå påverka och manipulera Florens styresmän. Mest inflytelserik bland skråets medlemmar blev sedermera familjen Medici.

 

En bild i en italiensk serietidning illustrerar utmärkt förhållandet – Kalle Anka sliter med att klippa får och samla in ull alltmedan Farbror Joakim räknar de pengar han fått in genom ullförsäljning och bankirverksamhet.

 

 

Likt flera andra norditalienska handelsstäder styrdes Florens under Donatellos levnad av en församling kallad Signoria. Dess nio medlemmar valdes från stadens ledande skrån. Sex av dem kom från skrån kallade Priori, det vill säga de sex äldsta och mäktigaste skråna, bland dem Arte della Lana. Två medlemmar valdes från de fjorton mindre skråna. Den nionde medlemmen benämndes Gonfaloniere di Giustizia och verkade som ledare för Signorian. Han valdes varannan månad, dock inte genom lottdragning utan av den avgående Signorians medlemmar.

 

 

En av flera märkvärdigheter med detta styrelseskick var hur Signorians medlemmar valdes och den korta tid de verkade. Namnen på samtliga skråmedlemmar över trettio år lades i åtta lädersäckar. Varannan månad bars dessa säckar ut från kyrkan Santa Croce, där de förvarades och under en kort ceremoni drogs namnen slumpmässigt fram. Endast män som inte var skuldsatta kunde väljas, dessutom skulle de inte ha suttit i Signorian under det gångna året och de fick inte ha något familjeband med de män som verkat under den tidigare mandatperioden. Omedelbart efter det att de valts förväntades de nio styrelsemedlemmarna bosätta sig i Palazzo della Signoria, vars fasad var prydd med skrånas vapensköldar, där kom de att stanna under de två månader som deras uppdrag varade.

 

 

Så fungerade det hela i princip, men med tiden förvirrade intriger och manipulationer det redan komplicerade systemet och makten kom i realiteten att vila hos Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, ett ämbete som kom att domineras av den allt mäktigare Medicifamiljen. Detta innebar dock inte att skråväsendet och dess inflytande på Florens maktspel försvann. Under flera århundraden fortsatte Signorian att dominera stadens ekonomiska och politiska liv.

 

Arte della Lana, där Donatellos far var medlem, kontrollerade exempelvis hela processen från den råa, emballerade ullen som dagligen strömmade in staden, till de färdiga textilier som tillverkades vid vävstolar utspridda bland privathem och manufakturer inom stadens murar.

 

 

Likt andra skrån samordnade Arte della Lana sina medlemmars aktiviteter; försäkrade sig om kvalitén på produktionen, fastställde priser, reglerade löner, kontrollerade utbildningsgången hos gesäller, samt prövade och beslutade vem som skulle förlänas ett “mästarbrev”.

 

 

Varje skrå hade sitt skyddshelgon, dess styresmän residerade i ett palats och i allmänhet stödde de och bekostade mässor och utsmyckningar i en specifik kyrka. Det mäktiga Arte della Lana förfogade över ett imponerande palats i stadens centrum, dess skyddshelgon var Skt. Stefan och dess kyrka var ingen mindre är Florens Duomo – Santa Maria del Fiori.

 

 

I nischerna framför den Medicidominerade Chiesa di Orsanmichele fanns statyer av de olika skrånas skyddshelgon uppställda. Arte della Lanas Skt. Stefan hade där skulpterats av Lorenzo Ghiberti, i vars välrenommerade bottega Donatello vid sjutton års ålder hade börjat som gesäll.

 

 

Under Donatellos livstid var bottegasystemet väl utbyggt i Florens och staden räknade med en mängd mästerbottegas. En bottega var mer än en konstnärs-studio, mer än ett lärosäte för blivande mästare och kan väl snarast beskrivas som en verkstad som under stor konkurrens levererade beställningsarbeten till olika mecenater. Mycket av arbetet styrdes av stränga rutiner präglade av hantverksmässiga ytterst viktiga rutiner som i sin tur var beroende av beställarnas krav, tidsbrist då det gällde utförandet av de komplicerade arbetena, samt skråsystemets produktionskontroll och detaljerade regelverk.

 

 

Speciellt tillverkningen av färger var en väsentlig del av en bottegas verksamhet och orsaken till att Florens konstnärer tillhörde ett av de sex mäktigaste skrån som utgjorde Priori – Arte dei Medici e Speziale, Hantverksföreningen för läkare och apotekare, alltså en sammanslutning för specialister som tillverkade och använde sig av droger och olika dekokter. Förutom konstnärer ingick även butiksägare som sålde kryddor och textilfärgningsmedel i Arte dei Medici e Speziale.

 

 

 

Varje bottega framställde sina egna färger. Färgframställning, samt den noggranna prepareringen av de dukar och specialbehandlade träskivor som utgjorde underlaget för målningarna var en en arbetskrävande process som tillföll bottegans lärlingar.

 

Färgpigmenten kom från en mängd olika källor. De kunde utgöras av olika jordarter innehållande mineraler och lera, som  eller Bränd siena och Bränd umbra. Pigmenten var ofta baserade på giftiga ämnen som kvicksilver, bly, sulfid, tenn och cinnober ett mineral som är en blandning av kvicksilver och svaveldioxid. De kunde också vara mycket dyra importprodukter som Indiskt gult, som tillverkats av urin från kor som utfodrats med mangoblad, eller dyrast av dem alla – den blå stenen, lapiz lazuli, som fördes till Florens från Badakshan vid Amu Darjas övre lopp. För att erhålla de yppersta pigmenten tvingades konstnärer experimentera på egen hand eller vinna så pass stor uppskattning att beställarna var villiga att bekosta åtkomsten av eftertraktade pigment.

 

 

Pigmenten måste rivas, det innebar att de maldes ner till små, fina korn genom att finfördelas med hjälp av en löpare, en kägelformad sten med plan bottenyta som malde dem mot en flat stenhäll. Då pigmenten fått den rätta kornstorleken revs de samman till en pasta, genom tillsats av olika bindemedel. Under Donatellos tid var det vanligaste bindemedlet hela ägg, eller enbart äggvita – tempera, men man använde även bivax, kasein och olika oljor, främst linolja. Konstnärsbottegerna tillverkade även olika former av fernissa och lasyr. Det medeltida namnet för fernissa var det latinska ordet veronix, som gett upphov till nutidens vernissage, dvs. öppningsdagen för en konstutställning. Under renässansen betydde det att då fernissan torkat kunde konstverket presenteras för beställaren, om denne underkände resultatet var det för bottegan såväl en stor prestigeförlust, som ett ekonomiskt bakslag.

 

Inom en bottega kallades de hårt arbetande lärlingarna garzoni, pojkarDonatellos inträde som garzone i den uppburne Mästaren Lorenzo Ghibertis bottega skedde vid en ovanligt hög ålder. I allmänhet var de flesta garzoni som accepterades i en bottega i tioårsåldern. De anförtroddes i mästarens vård. Han fostrade, disciplinerade och undervisade dem medan de var en del av hans hushåll, där de logerade och åt tillsammans mästarens familj. Flera garzoni avancerade inte från att arbeta med färger och pannåer, men de skickligaste och mest entusiastiska av dem fick av mästaren lära sig skissera, läsa och slutligen även medverka vid konstverkens fullbordande. Efter hand anförtroddes de alltmer betydande uppgifter än framställandet av dekorativa detaljer och ifyllande av mästarens konturer, eller anläggandet av av tidigare fastställda färgytor.

 

 

Skråna krävde att en mästare skulle ge sina garzoni ett accartati, kontrakt, och en fast lön, den senare var oftast blygsam – i allmänhet fem eller åtta guldfloriner under ett år, att jämföras med en utbildad arbetares lön som var omkring trettiofem floriner per år. Vid slutet av lärlingstiden kunde en garzone beredas ynnesten att få genomgå en gesällprov. Om han lyckades med att förklaras som gesäll kunde det ge dem möjligheten att erbjuda sina tjänster som självständiga konstnärer, men de tilläts inte driva egna verkstäder. För det krävdes medlemskap i Arte dei Medici e Speziale något som i konstnärernas fall krävde att skråmedlemmarna visade sin uppskattning av ett Mästerverk (varifrån vårt samtida ord härstammar) och att en gesäll därigenom kunde utnämnas till Mästare, Maestro dell’arte och därmed rätten att öppna en egen bottega. Först måste dock en blivande Mästare bevisa att han var erkänd som son till en tidigare medlem av ett skrå och betala en inträdesavgift, samt skriva ett kontrakt som innebar att han accepterade skråets statuter och förband sig till en årlig inbetalning till dess gemensamma kassa.

 

Den stränga arbetsdisciplinen, de fasta rutinerna, det praktiska arbetet som lade stor vikt vid att varje detalj var så perfekt som möjligt, skrånas stränga kvalitetskontroll, den hårda konkurrensen, samarbetet mellan mästaren och hans garzone, samt den stora kårandan var säkerligen orsaker till att renässanskonstnärerna blev så skickliga och mognade som artister vid en tidig ålder..

 

 

Det tidigaste konstverket som kan härledas till Donatello är hans David, som han 1409 högg i marmor vid tjugotre års ålder. Arbetet hade bekostats av Arte della Lana, det skrå som Donatellos far tillhörde och var tänkt att pryda en av katedralen Santa Maria del Fiores strävpelare. Den placerades dock inte där emedan skråets medlemmar tyckte att den var för liten för att kunna uppskattas från marknivå. Statyn blev således under flera år stående i en bottega innan Florens Signoria 1416 förde den till sitt palats, placerade den på en piedestal med inskriften: ”Till de som tappert kämpar för fosterlandet försvar ger gudarna hjälp, även mot de mest fruktansvärda fiender.” Uppenbarligen tyckte stadens rådmän att den unge, djärve David kunde tjäna som förebild för Republikens försvarare.


Kritiken har ofta varit nedlåtande då det gäller detta första kända verk av Donatello. Det har skrivits att dimensionerna är fel att hela verket ger ett ”formellt och intetsägande uttryck”. Denne David har skoningslöst jämförts med Donatellos senare skicklighet och förklarats vara tämligen ointressant.

 

Efter att nu i verkligheten ha fått ett tillfälle att betrakta Donatellos Davidframställning på nära håll har jag fått ett helt annat intryck. Med tanke på de omständigheter som predisponerade statyn är den förvisso ett mästerverk.

 

Vänsterhanden håller David vid sidan, medan han placerat sig i en elegant contraposto lyfter han triumfatoriskt sin långa klädnad för att därmed avslöja Goliats avhuggna huvud, som vilar vid hans fötter – fortfarande med såväl slunga som sten inborrade i skallen. Trots det avstånd från vilket skulpturen skulle betraktas är det groteska huvudet detaljrikt och framträdande presenterat, med sina slutna ögon och halvöppna mun, genom vilken man skymtar den döde jättens tunga. I pannan sitter den dödande stenen inborrad, det stelnade blodet är svårt att skilja från hårsvallet.

 

 

 

Det framstår klart att arrangemanget var tänkt att pryda en strävpelare. Det hela tycks sträva uppåt. Vänsterhandens gest som öppnar dräkten gör att den besegrade Goliats huvud tycks vara närmre oss än Davids uppåtsträvande gestalt. Det tycks i klädnadens djup vila som i en grotta. Samtidigt påminner klädnadens öppna, spetsiga flik om en svart eldslåga som strävar mot höjden. Det gör hela skulpturen som med sin gotiskt svängda rörelse påminnaner om de tidigare madonnaskulpturer som utförts i elfenben och därigenom anpassats till elefantbetens kurvatur. Genom den elegant böjda rörelsen tycktes Jungfrun och hennes barn lyftas upp mot himmelska höjder.

 

 

Den överdimensionerade högernäven, som ofta kritiserats och Davids förhållandevis mindre och inte så inkännande karaktäriserade huvud understryker intrycket av att skulpturen skall betraktas underifrån och från stort avstånd. Med tanke på allt detta fick jag intrycket att eftersom skulpturens detaljer inte kan urskiljas från långt håll så utgjorde Domnatellos David i själva verket ett ”mästerverk”, hans inträdesprov till ett skrå. Eftersom Donatellos vid tilläöllet arbetade i Ghibertis verkstad, vars mästare var mer känd som skulptör än målare, är det möjligt att det skrå i vilket han invaldes som mästare var Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legname, Stenhuggarmästarnas och träsnidarnas skrå.

 

 

Donatellos gode vän och jämnårige Nanni di Banco, som tillsammans med Donatello hade fått uppgiften att pryda Il Duomos strävpelare gjorde sju år senare en berömd skulpturgrupp som imponerade på samtiden och blev en stor inspiration för Donatello – Quattro Santo Coronati, Fyra krönta helgon. Dessa fyra martyrer vars namn var okända skulle enligt traditionen ha varit kristna skulptörer som under kejsar Diocletianus vägrat framställa skulpturer av romerska gudar och därför placerats levande i förseglade blykistor som slängts i Savafloden i nuvarande Serbien. De hade sedan dess åkallats som skulptörers beskyddare och var givetvis Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legnames självklara skyddshelgon.

 

 

Nanni hade 1405 blivit utnämnd till mästare inom ovannämnda skrå och det var för dess räkning som han utförde sin skulpturgrupp för kyrkan Chiesa di Orsanmichele. De fyra gestalterna är mästerligt arrangerade inom en grund halvcirkelformad nisch, där de genom blickar och diskreta rörelser tycks vara inbegripna i ett samtal. De högtidliga gesterna, togaliknande klädnaderna och kropparnas volym vittnar om att Nanni påverkats av Antikens skultpurkonst.

 

Donatellos marmorstaty av David hade under utställningen i Pallazzo Strozzi placerats i samma rum som ett annat ungdomsverk av Donatello – Krucifixet i Santa Croce. Det hängde bredvid Brunelleschis krucifix från Santa Maria Novella. Orsaken till detta var säkerligen en anekdot i Giorgio Vasaris (1511-1574) anekdot i hans Le vite de´più eccelenti pittori, scultori e architettori, De mest utmärka målarnas, skulptörernas och arkitekternas liv.

 

 

För Santa Croce skar Donatello ”med oändligt tålamod” ett krucifix av trä som han stolt uppvisade för sin vän Brunelleschi, som dock efter Donatellos entusiastiska beskrivning hade väntat sig något bättre och inte kunde låta bli att småle. Den sårade Donatello anade vännens misstycke och bad honom att med tanke på deras stora vänskap berätta vad han verkligen tyckte om krucifixet. Efter en viss tvekan såg Brunelleschi mot krucifixet och konstaterade: ”Du har satt en bonde på korset och inte Jesus Kristus, den mest fullkomliga man som någonsin fötts”. Bitter, eftersom han trots allt hade förväntat väntat sig beröm svarade Donatello: ”Om det vore lika lätt att fördöma något, som att själv skapa det skulle min Jesus inte se ut som en bonde. Ta du själv lite ved och försök göra ett krucifix.”

 

 

Utan ett ord lämnade Brunelleschi kyrkan och utan att avslöja det för någon satte han igång med att tillverka ett krucifix med syftet att överträffa Donatellos skapelse. Han åstadkom efter flera månaders arbete, med stor perfektion, ett verk som enligt honom var vida överlägset Donatellos krucifix.

 

En morgon bjöd Brunelleschi in sin vän Donatello att äta med honom. Donatello tackade givetvis ja till inbjudan och de gick tillsammans mot Filippos hus. Då de passerade marknaden köpte Brunelleschi några ingredienser till middagen och eftersom han sade sig ha ytterligare ett par ärenden som omndelbart måste uträttas gav han marknadsvarorna till Donatello och bad honom ta dem till sin bottega. Då Donatello kommit in i verkstaden fann han Filippos krucifix effektivt placerat med en perfekt ljussättning. Överväldigad av förvåning och beundran, släppte Donatellos förklädet i vilket han placerat äggen osten och de andra varorna han burit med sig från marknaden. Då Filippo, kom in och fann han vännen stå vilsekommen och häpen bland de krossade äggen. Skrattande frågade Brunelleschi: "Vad håller du på med, Donatello? Hur ska vi nu kunna äta något när du har tappat allt?" "Jag," svarade Donatello, "har fått nog. Om du vill ha något, ta det. Dig är det givet att göra Kristus, och mig bönder."

 

 

Det är en tämligen underfundig liten historia och Vasaris berättelse har för eftervärlden kommit att karaktärisera skillnaden mellan Brunelleschis och Donatellos konst och har kommenterats ett otal gånger.

 

Skillnaden mellan de två framställningarna är egentligen inte så stor. Det framstår klart att de två träsnidarna fann sin inspiration i Giottos triumfkrucifix i Santa Maria Novella. Målat 1288 var det mer än hundra år äldre än de krucifix som Donatello och Brunelleschi skapade. Giotto var inspirerad av den franciskanska andligheten som mer än hans ära och upphöjdhet, eller omänskliga lidande, hade poängterat Jesu medmänsklighet, kärlek och fattigdom. Giottos krucifix framställde därmed en döende människa med en realistiskt framställd kropp. Hos honom finns inga spår av barbariskt prygel och tortyr. Han bär ingen törnekrona och de enda sår han uppvisar är från spjutsticket i sidan och spikarna i händer och fötter.

 

 

 

Det är i ansiktenas uttryck som den största skillnaden mellan Donatellos och Brunelleschis jesusframställningar blir mest tydlig. Det kan vara en illusion, men jag tycker att Donatellos Jesus genom sin sin trötta men likväl milda blick under nästan slutna ögonlock, en halvöppen mun med svullen överläpp, sina mer framträdande kindknotor och höga panna är oss närmre än Brunelleschis Kristus. Ansiktet tycks, trots sin brist på yttre skador, vittna om hur en vanlig människa utsatt för förakt, förräderi och grotesk mobbing är nära att lämna jordelivet, men trots allt detta det utstrålar Jesu trötta anlete förlåtelse och människokärlek.

 

Giottos Jesus är tämligen utmärglad, i varje fall jämfört med de mer muskulösa kropparna skildrade av Donatello och Brunelleschi. Den senares Jesus tycks dock vara smäckrare byggd än Donatellos. Brunelleschis Jesus har samma böjda ben som hos Giotto, medan Donatellos kristusfigurs sträckta ben vilar tyngre mot korsets stam. Brunellschis Jesus har en liten törnekrona, men likt Giottos Jesus saknar Donatellos en sådan.

 

 

Donatellos Jesus är oss närmre i så måtto att han är förlänad med en kroppsarbetares gestalt, likt den byggnadssnickare Jesus i själva verket var innan han fick sin uppenbarelse och sitt gudagivna uppdrag. Hans gestalt och ansikte uppvisar tecken på en sådan mans vardagsliv, med all den brutalitet och livsnärhet som tycks saknas hos Brunelleschis ädling. Vasaris berättelse om Brunelleschis omdöme är i så måtto helt korrekt. Donatellos Jesus påminner verkligen om en bonde, någon som inte enbart i enlighet med evangeliernas berättelser har korsfästs, utan dessutom utsatts för pöbelns våld och det gatans förakt som visas maktlösa och avvikande människor.

 

 

Varför tycks då Vasari, medan han jämför honom med Brunellschis framställning, underskatta Donatellos Jesus? Kanske för att Vasari i samtliga konstnärsskildringar poängterar sin uppskattning av en konstnärs förmåga att sammanlänka fysisk skönhet med kreativ skicklighet och därmed i sina verk lyckas efterlikna av Guds kreativa kraft och originalitet.

 

En skicklig konstnär är, enligt Vasari, till skillnad från en bonde en Skapare, någon som i enlighet med Uppenbarelsebokens ord förmår göra “allting nytt”. En syn som inte alls var ovanlig bland Renässansens intellektuella som ofta betraktade sig som förmer än bönder. De var “medborgare”, stadsbor som till skillnad från de jordnära bönderna förstod att uppskatta filosofins och den religiösa trons subtiliteter, fjärran från den vidskepelse och brutalitet som var förhärskande bland jordens arbetare. I själva verket hyste många florentinare en djupt rotad misstro och även rädsla för de bönder som omgav staden. I sina Ricordi, Minnen, fastslog Donatellos samtida, den förmögne klädeshandlaren Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, att ” det finns ingen bonde som inte vore villig att komma till Florens för att bränna ner staden”. 

 

Med andra ord, i ett tidigt verk som krucifixet i Santa Croce visar sig Donatello redan sin skicklighet i att på ett nytt, revolutionärt och livsnära sätt omgestalta den konst som dominerade hans samtid. Efter sitt krucifix går Donatello från klarhet till klarhet. Ständigt varierande och fördjupande de möjligheter som hans studier av antik konst i kombination med en medvetenhet om de innovationer hans samtida konstnärskolleger gjorde. Den mäktige mecenaten Cosimo de Medici fick ögonen på honom och under sin långa levnad under vilken Donatello in i det sista var febrilt verksam saknade han aldrig ständigt nya uppdrag. Förutom sin suveräna skicklighet och oväntade franställningar var Donatello, till skillnad från många andra artister, känd för att vara en blygsam, vänlig och ytterst generös person.

 

 

Det är genom sin subtila karaktäristisk av sina motiv som Donatello blivit hyllad för ett obestridligt mästerskap. Strax efter återkomsten från sin studieresa till Rom 1433, i sällskap med Brunelleschi, skapade Donatello i Santa Croce sin Annunciazione, Tillkännagivandet, som ett monument för den mäktiga klanen Cavalcantis familjegrav.


Ängeln och jungfrun är utförda i hög relief franför en delvis förgylld bakgrund i form av en stängd port. De skildrs i ögonblicket strax efter Gabriels uppdykande. Jungfrun, som placerats framför en lyrformad stolsrygg, har överraskad rest sig upp efter att ha suttit och läst en bok, som hon fortfarande håller i handen. Den ungdomligt vackra madonnan för en en hand mot bröstet och hennes gracilt, gotiskt svängda gestalt antyder vagt att hon för ett ögonblick tänkt fly uppenbarelsen. Dräktens utsöka drapering följer benens rörelse åt vänster, bort ur bilden, men i sista stund har jungfrun kontrollerat sina känslor och vänt sig mot ängeln.

 

Gabriel knäfaller framför madonnan som han i det närmaste blygt blickar upp emot. Det verkar som om han med sitt lätt vridna huvud, ödmjuka framtoning och sökande blick vill fånga Marias obetingade uppmärksamhet. Scenen andas ett ljust, levande samspel mellan de framställda gestalterna, som med gester och ansiktsuttryck animerar sina känslor. Donatello har lyckats förläna Marias ädelt förfinade ansikte ett uttryck av stilla förvåning, präglat av såväl tacksamhet som ödmjukhet.

 

Donatello undvek traditionella inslag som den Helige Andes duva och liljan, eller olivkvisten, i ängelns hand. Symbolspråket är begränsat och subtilt, som Marias bok som anspelar på Bibelns förutsägelser om Messias ankomst och bakgrundens slutna port som antyder Madonnans kyskhet.

 

 

Donatello upprepar sig aldrig och överraskar ständigt. Fem år innan Bebådelsen i Santa Croce hade Donatello tillsammans med sin kollega Michelozzi för den fortfarande levande kardinalen Rainaldo Brancacci byggt ett överdådigt gravmonument. Brancacci var en slug politisk vindflöjel och det framstår som tämligen märkligt hur kyrkofurstar som han hade fräckheten att över sig själva, likt forntida faraoner, resa extravaganta äreminnen. Det får vara hur det vill med den saken eftersom vi trots allt har sådana självförgudade narcissister att tacka för förbluffande mästerverk utförda av flera renässansgenier.

 

 

På Brancaccis sarkofag har Donatello utfört en av de stiacciatoreliefer som beundrades av hans samtid. Stiacciato är en teknik gör det möjligt för en skulptör att med enbart ett par millimeters djup skapa en så kallad eller försänkt relief. Att gradvis förminska djupet från förgrund till bakgrund skapa illusionen av större djup hade Donatello säkerligen lärt sig av sin mästare Ghiberti, som använt sig av stiacciato i sina ofta djup-perspektiva reliefer på de berömda Paradisportarna till Santa Maria degli Fioris baptisterium.

 

 

 

Donatello framställer i sin madonnas himlafärd en äldre, kanske trött och oroad kvinna som omsvärmas av graciöst svävande änglar. Osökt kommer jag att tänka på rehndöttrarnas kringvirvlande i inledningen till Wagners Das Rheingold.

 

 

Återkommen till Florens skapade Donatello ansikten i antik stil, svåra att skilja från grekiska och romerska förebilder.

 

 

Eller inträngande, ytterst originella studier av samtida män.

 

 

För en av nischerna i Giottos torn bredvid Santa Maria del Fiores utförde Donatello en gammaltestamentlig profet – Habakkuk. Den dystre och plågade man som anropade Gud med orden:

 

Herre, hur länge ska jag ropa på hjälp utan att du hör, ropa högt till dig över våld utan att du räddar? Varför låter du mig se ondska, och hur kan du själv se på sådant elände? Fördärv och våld är inför mig, det uppstår tvister och gräl.  Därför blir lagen utan kraft, och rätten kommer aldrig fram. Den ogudaktige omringar den rättfärdige och rätten förvrängs.

 

 

Den misantropiske mannen, som av populärt kallas Il Zuccone, Den skallige, hade som förebild en numera bortglömd konstnär, förmögen man och motståndare till Medici familjen – Giovanni de Barduccio Cherichini. Den blev omedelbart populär bland florentinarna som greps av den gamle mannens svårmodiga uppsyn och hållning, samt den stora realism med vilken staty utförts.

 

 

Vasari påstår att det var Donatellos favoritverk och att han fick till vana att svära sina eder genom att säga: ”Vid den tilltro jag för min Zuccone”, och att medan han skulpterade sitt verk gång på gång ropade: ”Tala! Tala!”.

 

Donatello avlägsnade sig alltmer från tidens mode och hans insiktsfulla studier av välkända helgon blev alltmer realistiska och oväntat djärva. Som en åldrad och sliten Maria Magdalena framställd i all sin skröplighet med en avmagrad kropp, späkt av förödande botgöring.

 

 

Så skild från hans Sankt Göran som av rustningmakarnas skrås beställts för att pryda en nisch i Chiesa di Orsanmichele. Den nisch Donatello anvisats var ovanligt grund och därmed träder den skulpterade gestalten delvis ut från den och kan därmed ses från flera håll.

 

Det är en individ som stiger fram, vaksam och spänd,. Sankt Göran har ännu inte gått till anfall mot den drake som åskådaren anar bakom sin rygg. Fötterna vilar stadigt mot marken, men den högra foten är lätt framskjuten och hållningen harmoniserar därmed med oroade ansiktsuttrycket. Det är inte trots som helgonet utstrålar och han kan knappast antas bevaka något. Hans sköld är i vila, men vi får ett intryck av mod och beslutsamhet. Beredskap inför en svår uppgift som kan få en dödlig utgång.

 

 

Som väntat är han inkapslad i ett slingrande och utsökt cisileratcililserat skal av läder och metall, det var ju rustningsmakarnas skrå som gett Donatello uppgiften att skapa en heroisk Sankt Göran. Trots detta står det en air av skyddslöshet kring det ensamma helgonet, väl medvetet om den stora fara han inom kort skall utsättas för, men detta hindrar att hela hans gestalt präglas av en nervös energi. Vi är osäkra om hur länge han kan upprätthålla denna spänning. Inom kort måste han gå till attack, eller dra sig undan.

 

Nervositet och tvekan präglar det spända ansiktet, den rynkade pannan och oroade blicken. Till skillnad från Donatellos marmordavid är Sankt Göran i sin nisch nästan i jämnhöjd med åskådaren som därmed direkt kan konfronteras med hans ängsliga beredskap, som trots allt slutligen övervinner all tvekan och därmed blir till en sinnebild för en av de dygder som florentinarna tyckte om att tillskriva sig själva – Prontezza, en förmåga att med upphöjt lugn vara beredd att möta varje hot och motgång.

 

 

Reliefen under Sankt Göran är utförd i utsökt stiacciato genom vilken länden på hans häst tycks vara närmre åskådaren än dess huvud. Draken, Sankt Göran och Jungfrun, framställd i elegant gotisk kurvatur, är skarpt utförda framför en centralperspektvisk bakgrund, som kontrasterar den vilda natur vars klippor är drakens hemvist mot stadslandskapet bakom Jungfrun – kultur och ordning i motsats till naturens otyglade ondska.

 

 

 

Snart utnyttjade Donatello stiacattotekniken för alltmer sofistikerade framställningar. Med bakgrund av symmetrisk uppbyggda rum och rymd skapad genom perspektiv kombinerat med tomma ytor, levandegör han motsägelsefria rektioner mellan bildernas delar, mellan aktörerna och ett rum som både omsluter dem och öppnar sig bakom dem – en dramatiskt koncentrerad och samtidigt dynamisk skildringskonst som i ögonblicksbilder fångar händelserika förlopp, genom vilka känslodynamiken speglas i aktörernas kroppsspråk.

 

En relief på en dopfunt i Siena visar den nyansrika scen som uppstår då en knäfallande bödel under ett gästabud på ett fat överlämnar Johannes Döparens huvud till Herodes. Huvudhandlingens dramatik är stark framhävd och psykologiskt nyanserad. Reaktionen inför det det blodiga huvudet avspeglas i en våg av skräck och vämjelse, vilken mot höger stillnar kring Salomes oberörda gestalt. Hon tycks precis ha avslutat sin fatala dans.

 

 

Bilddjupet är uppdelat i flera plan – främst bödeln som räcker fram fatet med Johannes avhuggna huvud, småbarnen som flyr från det skräckinjagande huvudet och den kyliga Salome i en veckrik klädnad som tyckas antyda den vilda dans hon tidigare utfört inför Herodes.

 

 

Bordets andra sida utgör ett annat plan där Herodes i avsmak ryggar tillbaka inför det avhuggna huvudet, alltmedan hans hustru Herodias med en givande gest för sin make förevisar det avhuggna huvudet som hon övertalat sin dotter att begära av sin styvfar som tack för sin upphetsande dans. Det har uppstått en tomhet kring Herodias och hennes förklarande attityd, som om hennes otäcka begäran väckt avsky bland hennes omgivning. Vid bordets andra ände täcker en av middagsgästerna med ena handen sitt ansikte alltmedan han i vämjelse vänder sig bort inför det blodiga spektaklet.

 

 

På ett plan bakom dessa personer skymtar vi de musikanter som oberörda har ackompanjerat Salomes dans och längst bak ser vi hur bödeln överräcker Johannes Döparens huvud till Herodias och hennes dotter. Den livfulla, originella framställningen chockade antagligen de åskådare som konfronterades med den. Här fanns ingen elegant sofistikation utan en tidigare inte skådad brutal realism. En ögonblicksbild genom vilken konstnären förmedlade intrycket av att han verkligen bevittnat vad han beskrev.

 

Donatello gjorde inte bruk av stiacatto enbart för att framställa folkrika dramatiska scener. Han skapade även intima andaktsbilder, som denna där en avliden Jesus av sörjande änglar lyfts fram till beskådande.

 

 

Eller en mängd känsligt skildrade madonnabilder som speglar den ömma kärleken mellan mor och son.

 

 

Han skildrade på en yttre predikstol, vid sidan av fasaden till Katedralen i Prato en glädjefylld frisläppt hord av dansande småänglar. Sådana predikstolar nyttjades av berömda predikanter som likt rockstjärnor drog från stad till stad och genom sin virtuosa predikokonst lockade till sig stora åhörarskaror.

 

Det är tämligen svårt att föreställa sig hur stränga vältalare och dystra väckelsepredikanter spred sina djupt religiösa budskap om gudomliga straff och kristen återhållsamhet från en talartribun prydd med backanaliskt uppspelta, dansande keruber.

 

 

 

 

Inne i den lite väl överlastade basilikan gav Donatello utlopp för sin originellt fantasirika konst. Bakom högaltaret finner vi exempelvis en framställning av ett av Sant Antonios mirakler. Den påminner i sin storslagenhet om en scen från någon historisk cinemascope-film producerad i Hollywood. Återigen ges här ett filmatisk intryck av att Donatello verkligen betraktat den livfulla scen han återger.

 

 

Vad Donatello illustrerar är en något töntig, men samtidigt politiskt högaktuell berättelse. Pataria var en 1000-talsrörelse som syftade till att reformera prästerskapet genom att tvinga fram påvliga sanktioner mot simoni, ifrågasätta prästernas kontroll av nattvarden och förbjuda prästerliga äktenskap och konkubinat. Rörelsen orsakade en del väpnade uppror som snart slogs ner och Pataria förklarades vara ett öppet och straffbart kätteri.


Enligt legenden förnekade en mjölnare vid namn Bonvillo eukaristins natur, nämligen att vin och bröd under mässan verkligen förvandlades till blod och kött. Han utmanade San Antonio genom att hålla sin mula instängd i flera dagar utan att mata henne. Sedan skulle han ta henne till torget framför folket och lägga lite foder framför henne. Samtidigt skulle San Antonio placera hostian framför mulan. Om djuret knäböjde inför hostian och ignorerade högen med klöver och annat aptitligt lovade Bonvillo att han aldrig mer skulle visa vantro inför mässundret.

 

 

Antonio accepterade utmaningen och på den överenskomna dagen visade helgonet hostian för mulan med orden:

 

Om jag verkligen håller vår Skapare i handen beordrar jag dig, arma djur, att med ödmjukhet närma dig Honom och visa Honom vederbörlig vördnad.

 

Knappt hade Antonio avslutat meningen förrän mulan till folkets förundran och jubel ignorerade den aptitliga födan, sänkte sitt huvud och knäböjde inför Kristi kropps sakrament.

 

Kanske kan en viss humor anas genom Donatellos storstilade framställning av folkets förundran inför miraklet med den knäfallande mulan.

 

Bland de evangelistsymboler som även pryder Basilica San Antonio di Paduas huvudaltare ger onekligen Markus lejon ett roande intryck, förmänskligat som det är med sitt individualiserade uttryck av koncentration och auktoritet.

 

Madonnan, som tronar framför altaruppsatsens krucifix, snarare står framför än sitter på sin tron. Hon tycks luta sig framåt, ett intryck som förstärks av hennes framskjutna huvud som förlänar intensitet åt den framåtriktade rörelsen. Hon håller Jesusbarnet framför sig, som om hon vill förevisa det för menigheten. Det knubbiga barnet vänder sig till oss med en gest och ett ansiktsuttryck som gör att han tycks frigöra sig från sin mors grepp. Behandlingen av bronsen är föredömlig – skinande, slät och hård.

 

 

Alldeles intill Basilica di San Antonio driver kondottiären Erasmo Stefano da Narni, kallad Gattamelata (den Honungslena Katten) på en hög sockel fram sin kraftiga springare. I tidigare (målade) ryttarframställningar, av vilka Ucellos och del Castagnos fresker är de mesta kända, tycks de väldiga hästarna vara mer framträdande än sina ryttare.

 

 

På den antika ryttarstatyn av Marcus Aurelius, som antagligen var Donatellos främsta förebild, tycks rollerna vara omkastade. Visserligen är hästen magnifik, men kejsaren tycks vara större än den.

 

 

Gattamelatas häst utstrålar lugn och massiv kraft. Generalens hållning och ansiktsdrag uttrycker en hopbiten, intensiv aktivitet. Hans bistra uppsyn tyder inte på någon lössläppt krigarkraft, snarare på noggrann planering, kontroll och sammanbiten beredskap.

 

 

Donatello har i sin skulptur framställt Gattamelata medan han anför sina trupper under en strid. Kommandostav och svärd bildar en diagonal som i vinkel mot sockeln skär ut härföraren och därmed får betraktaren att uppmärksamma hans reflexion och överblick. Jämfört med tidigare ryttarstatyer finns här en realistisk förnyelse, en värdighet och formverkan som likväl bygger på tidigare framställningar.

 

 

Donatello gjorde flera ingående häststudier och i Neapel finns ett magnifikt hästhuvud som på utställningen i Palazzo Strozzi placerats bredvid en kopia av ett huvud från de fyra antika bronshästar som pryder fasaden på Markuskyrkan i Venedig. De hade 1204 rövats bort från Konstantinopel och sedan dess varit en inspiration för olika konstnärer.

 

 

Gattamelata är en fristående skulptur, en av de få som tidigare skapats efter Antikens tidevarv. I mångt och mycket innebar Donatellos revolutionerande konst en förnyelse av den antika romersk-grekiska konsten, något som gjorde att en del av hans verk senare antogs härstamma från det antika Rom. Dock inte hans kanske mest berömda verk – den fristående bronsskulpturen av David.

 

Från och med 1437 var Medici den mest inflytelserika familjen i Florens och kontrollerade i stort sett staden och Signorian. Under flera århundraden samlade Medici vid sitt hov Italiens främsta konstnärer, författare, humanister och filosofer. Givetvis skedde det för att ge glans och prestige åt den allt mäktigare och förmögnare Mediciklanen, men möjligen även kunde deras gynnande av konst, musik och litteratur även betraktas som en gest av uppskattning av hemstaden och dess medborgare.

 

 

Donatello uppskattades livligt av Cosimo de Medici, den florentinska penningaristokratins ledande man, som intagit en inofficiell ställning som stadsrepublikens härskare. 1440 beställde han av Donatello en ”fristående staty” där gestalten i antik anda framträder helt suverän, obunden av dekorativa uppgifter.

 

 

Resultatet blev förbluffande. Donatellos David placerades i Medicipalatsets trädgård och dess chockerande originalitet väckte häpnad och beundran. Den heroiske ynglingen är helt naken och det är enbart Goliats anskrämliga, bepansrade huvud vid hans fötter som antyder att det rör sig om David och inte någon grekisk gud.

 

Med ett gåtfullt leende poserar den elegante ynglingen med foten på Goliats avhuggna huvud, precis efter att ha besegrat jätten. Pojken har en stark fysisk och ger ett anmärkningsvärt ”feminint” intryck. Davids slanka kroppsbyggnad kontrasterar till det det stora svärd han håller i högerhanden.

 

Nakenheten antyder att David besegrat Goliat inte genom fysisk styrka utan genom Guds ingripande. Här rör det sig inte, som fallet var med Donatellos Skt. Göran om ett ögonblick av vaksamhet och nervositet, utan om avspänning och eftertanke. Ynglingens ansikte är lugnt. Ansiktsmusklerna är helt avspända och på den lätt öppna munnen spelar ett mystiskt leende. Det finns en subtil stolthet i uttrycker, inte skrytsamhet utan snarare en spegling av inre tankar. Vi konfronteras inte med en triumferande superhjälte som håller svärd och avhugget huvud högt. Istället möter vi ett kontemplativt anlete.

 

Kroppsställningen visar på en rofylld självsäkerhet. David vilar stående, till synes vårdslöst men likväl harmoniskt med tyngden lagd på det det högra benet. Det rör sig om en klassisk kontrapose, välkänd genom Polyklitos Doryphoros, Spjutbärare som sedan den skapades 440 f.Kr. har blivit beundrad och kopierad som sinnebilden av harmoni, dynamik och balans. Inte minst i poser intagna av moderna filmstjärnor som John Wayne och andra machomän från Hollywood.

 

 

Samtidigt finns det hos Donatellos David något av gotikens glidande linjerytm, från det brutalt avhuggna huvudet längs kroppen upp till skuldrorna och det långa håret. En glidande uppåtriktad rörelse som möter och samverkar med lugnt fallande rytmer i hatten, armarna, mellangärdet och benen. En fortlöpande puls som löper kring hela skulpturen, en ständig följd av klart utmejslade silhuetter kring den hårda, fasta materian. Frigjord från alla stöd och omgivande ornament, strukturer och sammanhang framträder här en individ som med en unik kroppslighet låter sig betraktas från alla håll. I mitt tycke är Donatellos David långt mer harmonisk och fulländad än Michelangelos mer berömda och beundrade friskulptur av den unge David.

 

 

Den traditionsbrytande, unika, men likväl antikanspelande kvalitén hos Donatellos David har gjort att den deklarerats vara historiens första fristående skulptur efter Antiken och en slags talisman för Renässansen. En åsikt jag uppfattar som ett slentrianmässigt fördömande av storheten hos Medeltidens konst. Jag ser inte Renässansen som en brytning med tidigare konst, snarare en suverän del i en obruten kedja av mästerverk. Det psykologiska djup Donatello förmedlar i sin konst är även närvarande i medeltida konstverk.

 

 

På väg mot Donatellos David Bargellopalatset passerade vi flera utsökta, bysantinska elfenbensminatyrer. Detta minutiöst utförda hantverk, med dess perfekta dynamik och harmoni inom begränsande utrymmen, fick mig att minnas en elfenbensminiatyr tillverkad i Lorraine någon gång på 1000-talet som jag 1973 först såg i Östberlins Bode Museum och ofta tänkt på sedan dess.

 

 

Gestalterna pressas mot varandra i en rundbågig nisch. Elfenbenssnidaren har mästerligt disponerat hela bildytan och balanserat Tomas Tvivlaren och Jesus mot varandra med perfekt klarhet, rytmisk kraft och mättad expressivitet. Med ryggen mot åskådaren klättrar Tvivlaren uppåt och klänger sig samtidigt fast vid Jesus. I ångest och tvivel sliter han i Kristi mantel och gräver djupt med fingrarna i det blottade såret. Tomas påträngande fastklamrande kontrasteras mot Kristi upphöjda lugn. Med lyftad arm blottar han sitt sår och fyller harmoniskt nischens rundel medan han med bekymrat deltagande, tålamod och förbarmande betraktar den upprörde Tomas. Här finns genom gester och samspel en djuplodande psykologi, precis som i Donatellos bästa verk.

 

 

Kanske kan man betrakta medeltidens krucifix som fristående skulpturer. Exempelvis Helmsteds bronskrucifix från 1000-talets senare del,

 

 

eller Biskop Geros krucifix i Kölnerdomen. Skuret någon gång mellan 970 och år 1000, historiens första bevarade, träsnidade monument och redan fulländat i sin framställning av Jesus i dödsögonblicket nersjunkna kropp.

 

Statyn av Skt. Teodore i Chartres ger ett minst lika hjältemodigt intryck som Donatellos Skt Göran.

 

 

Pierre de Montreuils Adam från mitten av tolvhundratalet som nu finns i Musée de Cluny i Paris kan faktiskt även den betraktas som en fristående skulptur, framställd i en fulländad antik anda.

 

 

Den Besegrade Synagogan i Strasbourgs katedral är en lika gripande psykologisk studie som de Donatello skapade.

 

 

Så är profeterna i Bamberg. Jonas ansikte tål en jämförelse med Donatellos Il Zuccone.

 

 

Ryttaren i Bamberg är visserligen inte så dynamisk som Gattamelataskulpturen, men har en lugn och ädel storhet.

 

 

Det har även Uta von Ballenstedt i Naumburg. Mystisk och tillbakadragen står hon i skarp kontrast till den förunderligt realistiska framställningen av den frodiga, glatt leende Drottning Adelaide av Burgund, gjord 1260 i Meissen, fast den ser så färsk och ny ut att jag tvivlade på om den verkligen kunde vara så gammal.

 

 

Den livliga reliefen av Den Sista Nattvarden i Naumburg är lika skickligt utförd och varierad som någon av Donatellos reliefer.

 

 

Biskop Hohenlohes skulptur från 1350 i Bambergs katedral lutar sig mot oss och ger som gestalterna i Donatellos konst ett levande, unikt och egensinnigt intryck. En imponerade, underligt närvarande porträttstudie .

 

 

Trots en insikt om den medeltida konstens storhet vågar jag likväl påstå att Donatellos insats är både annorlunda och revolutionerande. Hans förbluffande blandning av tradition och modernitet var trots allt något fullkomligt nytt.

 

Medeltidens konstnärer upphörde aldrig att söka inspiration vid den klassiska konstens källor i Bysans och i Rom, men deras produktion överskuggades av ett andligt synsätt. En framställning av ideala tillstånd, i stort sett frikopplad från Antiken i den mening som Augustinus gav som konstens uppgift – uti non fruti, att nyttja men icke njuta. Medeltidens kristna gudsideal lät Antikens kött återuppstå i förklarad gestalt, renat i trons eld, bärare av ett budskap om Evighetens rike bortom det synligas gräns.

 

I motsats till ett sådant tänkesätt har Donatellos verk en världslig förankring. Även då han framställer helgon och madonnor gör han det på ett personligt och intimt vis. En verklighet sedd genom ett temperament och ibland som i Davidstatyn släpper han sig lös på ett sätt som tycks vara fullständigt befriat från judisk-kristen tradition och tänkande.

 

 

I utställningen i Palazzo Strozzi fanns på en piedestal ett av Donatellos underligaste verk. Det ansågs allmänt länge som härrörande från Antiken, även om Vasari och några av hans samtida hade identifierat det som ett verk av Donatello. Vasari beskriver skulpturen som

 

en metallisk Mercury av Donato, en och en halv arm hög, rundlagd och klädd på ett tämligen bisarrt vis.

 

 

Cupido-Attys är onekligen bisarr. En anmärkningsvärt skickligt gjord studie av en barnakropp, vars proportioner, i motsats till medeltida framställningssätt, inte kan betraktas som en vuxen människa i miniatyr. En del av statyns förbryllande karaktär finner sitt ursprung i sammanställandet av en mängd klassiska motiv – vingar som en Cupido, en liten getsvans som på en faun, bevingade sandaler som hos Merkurius, och vad som tycks vara en anspelning på Bacchusbarnet och andra fruktbarhetsantydande varelser som under Antiken ofta framställdes i form av spädbarn, amoriner och putti.

 

 

Den underliga klädseln som blottar pojkens genitalier, de upphöjda armarna och främst ansiktet där den blankpolerade bronsen, de bulliga kinderna, skrattgroparna, den halvöppna, leende munnen – allt detta ger ett intryck av rörlighet, en flyktig, upphetsad känsla som samverkar med de antika förebildernas backanaliska, hämningslösa frihet, uttryckt i de upphöjda armarna och den svängande, dansande rörelsen.

 

 

Men, trots att statyn har tolkats som ett uttryck för Renässansens frimodiga glädje, skapar den hos mig en smygande olustkänsla. Genom de underliga byxorna som blottar genitalierna och pojkens vitalitet, hans glada livlighet tycks hela arrangemanget vara laddat med en illa dold erotisk energi, en air av osmaklig pederasti.

 

Bakom Cupido-Attys fulländade realism, detaljernas mästerliga utförande finns ett obehag, något hotande, osunt och oroväckande. Pojken kan mitt all sin antydda livsglädje göra skada – för sig själv och andra.

Vid sjuttiofem års ålder skapade Donatello en framställning av Judith i färd med att hugga av Holoferenes huvud. Judith står upprätt med lyftat svärd medan hon med ett stadigt grepp i hans hår lyfter upp den livlöse tyrannens kropp. Lugnt och metodiskt bereder hon sig att liksom en alldaglig slaktare skilja den brutale gubbens huvud från hans kropp. Skulpturen var under flera år placerad framför Signorians palats, som en sinnebild av Republikens förakt för envåldshärskare och tyranner.

 

 

Donatellos sista mästerverk, utförda då han närmade sig åttioårsåldern, är bronsrelieferna på de så kallade predikstolarna i den florentinska kyrkan San Lorenzo. ”Så kallade”, eftersom det antagligen inte rör sig om några predikstolar utan snarare om sarkofager som inte använts som sådana utan senare lyfts upp på pelare för att brukas av predikanter.

 

Dessa reliefer präglas av samma monumentala realism som altarrelieferna i Padua, men här tycks framställningarna vara än mer realistiska, kanske till och med präglade av en gammal man illusionslöshet. Som i framställningen av Skt. Lars martyrium under vilket han av en bödelsdräng, på befallning en kejsares bjudande gest, med en lång stång gripit tag om Skt. Lars hals och obarmhärtigt pressar honom ner i våldsamt flammande eld. Åskådarna tycks oberörda av spektaklet. En romersk soldat håller skölden framför sig, som för att skydda sig mot eldens hetta.

 

 

I en imponerande scen stiger de tre kvinnorna ner för att besöka Jesu grav. Där möts de av en ängel som förkunnar att han är uppstånden. Den äldsta av dem tycks klamra sig fast vid en pelare, överväldigad som hon är av det förbluffande budskapet, alltmedan en annan kvinna, vars ansikte är dolt av hennes mantel, med en lampa i handen stiger nerför klippgravens trappa. Hon tycks ännu inte ha uppfattat ängelns närvaro.

 

 

Relieferna sitter så pass högt upp att det är svårt att urskilja några detaljer. Mest förbluffad blev jag vid åsynen av en tjänare som under Pilatus konfrontation med Jesus håller upp den vattenskål i vilkenprefekten skall två sina händer, en symbolhandling för att visar att han inte är skyldig till den dödsdom han uttalat. Men … med uppåtsträckt hals försökte jag fokusera blicken på tjänarens huvud. Såg jag rätt? Hade han verkligen två ansikten?

 

 

Då jag kommit hem rotade jag bland mina konstböcker och fann att så verkligen är fallet. Det ser ut som om Donatello försökt framställa en rörelse. Med den ena ansiktsrörelsen vänder sig tjänaren lugnt mot Pilatus, medan det andra tycks vara vänt mot Jesus i förvåning över hans närvaro eller vad han sagt.

 

 

De konsthistoriker jag läste och som kommenterat det dubbla ansiktet gör en mängd jämförelser med liknande dubbelansikten, inte minst antika Janusansikten. I mitt tycke tycks det som om de förlorat sig i komplicerade förklaringsmodeller, som hos minst två av dem utmynnar i åsikten att tjänarens dubbla anleten speglar Pilatus tvehågsenhet, hans ovilja att fatta ett fast beslut och stå vid det.

 

Det kan mycket väl vara en trovärdig förklaring. Men, för mig tycks det vara ett djärvt och lyckat försök av Donatello att genom dubblering framställa rörelse i konsten. Redan under forntiden lyckades en stenålderskonstnär att i den spanska grottan Altamira på ett beundransvärt sätt med en sådan teknik framställa ett vildsvins gång.

 

 

Det skulle dröja tusentals år innan de italienska futuristerna lyckades skapa samma rörelseillusion, Som Balla i hans framställning av en hunds snabba promenad med sin husse. Eller Boccioni då han fyller en hel tavlas utrymme med rörelseillusion, medan en framåtlutad kvinnas ansikte dubbleras i vad som tycks var en fönsterreflex.

 

 

Återigen har ett blogginlägg vuxit över sin bräddar. Men, det var svårt att hålla tillbaka alla de funderingar som mitt möte med Donatello i Florens gav upphov till. Insikten om hans modernitet, vitalitet, uppfinningsförmåga och ofattbara skicklighet var onekligen omtumlande och kommer att stanna hos mig för all framtid.

 

1568 skrev Vasari:

 

Donatello var överlägsen inte enbart sina samtida utan även vår egen tids konstnärer […] de bör därför spåra konstens storhet tillbaka till honom, snarare än till någon som fötts i modern tid. Ty bortsett från att han, genom att utföra så många olika slags arbeten, löste  skulpterandets  problem,  ägde  han uppfinningsrikedom, känsla för formgivning,  hantverksskicklighet, omdöme och alla andra egenskaper som man rimligen kan förvänta sig att finna hos ett inspirerat geni.

 

 

 

Harris, Jim (2011) ”Defying the Predictable: Donatello and the Discomfiture of Vasari,” in Harris, Jim, Scott Nethersole och Per Rumberg (eds.) ‘Una insalata di più erbe A Festschrift for Patricia Lee Rubin. London: The Courtauld Institute of Art. Levey, Michael (1967) Early Renaissance. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books. Martina, Guido och Giovan Battista Carpi (1983) “Messer Papero e il Ghibellin Fuggiasco,” i Topolino, n. 1425, 20 marzo. Pagolo Morelli, Giovanni di (2019) Ricordi: Nuova edizione e introduzione storica. Florens: Firenze University Press. Pfeiffenberger, Selma (1967) ”Notes on the Iconology of Donatello’s Judgement of Pilate at San Lorenzo,” i Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 4. Poeschke, Joachim (1993). Donatello and his World: Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Sandström, Sven (1965) Renässansskedet. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur. Vasari, Giorgio (1971) Lives of the Atists. Harmndsworth. Middlesex: Penguin Classics.

 

 

 

 

 

06/09/2022 09:49

During my youth’s frequent cinema visits I used to smile at a commercial occasionally presented before the film began – a crane striding in a bog while the speaker voice stated: “Some people like to watch birds pecking in swamps.” Suddenly the bird explodes and disappears into a cloud of smoke with the comment: “But, we like cinema!”

 


 

Maybe it was like that, I liked cinema more than bird watching. The main reason was possibly that I did not have a proper pair of binoculars and did not pay any serious attention to the nature surrounding me, never far away since I lived in a small town. However, currently one of my biggest pleasures is to walk alone through the forest around our house by a lake in southern Sweden, listen to the birds and occasionally catch a glimpse of them. Nevertheless, my familiarity with these marvellous creatures mostly comes from books.



 

Ever since my childhood, I have been fond of bird books. My grandfather had three elegant leather leather bound volumes – Svenska fåglar efter naturen och på sten ritade I-III. Med text av professor Einar Lönnberg och 364 kolorerade planscher av bröderna von Wright, Swedish Birds Drawn after Nature and litographed I-III. With text by Professor Einar Lönnberg and with 364 Coloured Plates by the von Wright brothers. The books were originally published in 1838 and the magnificent illustrations were made by three Swedish-Finnish brothers. I do not know where Grandpa’s von Wright books ended up after his death and I must state I miss them quite a lot. I often sat curled up in one of Grandpa’s armchairs with one of the large volumes in my lap. It is difficult to explain the fascination I felt while looking at these wonderfully clear and strangely beautiful bird pictures. Perhaps it had something to do with a meticulous immersion in details and the wonder of birds.


 

As I flip through such exquisite bird books as the Wright brothers’ masterpiece, I come to think of the title of one of the Portuguese author António Lobo Antunes’ novels – Explicação dos Pássaros An Explanation of Birds. Many have tried to do just that, but it is an impossibility, as difficult as explaining what life is about, therefore I find the Swedish translation of the book title to be more adequate – Explain the Birds to Me. I assume what made Lobo Antunes choose such a title for a novel about a man's inability to accept what happened to him in his life, was the impossibility to explain the mystery of birds, those often beautiful, winged and well-sung creatures. The novel deals with the protagonist’s mother’s death in cancer, his alienation from his own family, how he shot away his first wife and their children, his shaky political stance and difficulties in understanding his new wife. The birds thus become an image of us all, their inexplicable existence as a symbol for our strange choices, subterfuges, and misbegotten ideas. Life as an impossible project.

 

 

Even as a child when I sat with Grandpa’s big bird book in my lap and through the large windows could look out across his flamboyant flower mountain and its backdrop of tall pine tress, in which magpies jumped around and screamed in a way that always makes me remember Tallebo, Home of the Pines, which Grandpa called his house and garden. I suspected that there was a mysterious relationship between me and the birds. A feeling that took hold of me when I from my friend Örjan received a facsimile edition Olof Rudbeck the Younger’s Swedish Birds as a gift for my sixty years birthday. Rudbeck's book, which he began to draw and write as early as 1693, is endowed with the same attention to details as the von Wright brothers’ masterpiece, which appeared 150 years later.

 

 

I have also enjoyed John Audobon’s (1785-1851) The Birds of America, which I in 1981 was acquainted with in the 

library of the Instituto Cultural Domínicano Americano, where I often nested during my years in Santo Domingo. 

 

 

For hours I could sit in the Institute’s library immersed in admiration of Audobon’s depictions of birds, which harmonized the animals with their surroundings; the flowers, the trees, the water and often also dramatizing their existence within carefully portrayed environments.

 

 

 

That I found Audobon in the Dominican Republic was an interesting coincidence, since he was born in the neighbouring Republic of Haiti, during a time when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue. Audobon’s father owned a slave-run sugar cane plantation. Already as a six-year-old child Audobon was forced to move to France, together with his father and siblings. The ruthlessly exploited and tormented plantation slaves, with whom John’s father, like so many of his slave-owning friends, had a multitude of children, had revolted and no white man could any longer feel safe in the rebellious Saint-Domingue. An eighteen-years-old Audobon then left France for the United States.

 

 

Considering our contemporary condemnation of the artistry of nasty people I would actually not be able to enjoy Audobon’s mastery, as little as it is now permissible to admire films by the paedophile Roman Polanski. Unfortunately, I cannot help surrendering to Audobon’s exquisite art (and also appreciate Polanski’s films), even though he was obviously a rather unpleasant person.
 

 

Audobon was certainly a genius, whose contribution to ornithology and art is invaluable, though he was endowed with a complex character and was repeatedly committed to a contemptuous behaviour, which even by the lax standards of the time was quite indefensible. He was accused of lying, academic fraud and plagiarism. He enslaved black people and wrote critically about emancipation. Audobon stole human remains and sent skulls to a colleague, who used them to, through his “scientific research”, prove that white-hued persons are superior to “non-whites”.

In the United States, Audubon spent more than a decade as a businessman in Kentucky, where he owned a thrift store in the city of Henderson and also was engaged in the slave trade. For some time, Audobon was relatively successful, but in 1819 he was imprisoned accused of bankruptcy and fraud. Released, Audobon travelled through the wilderness of the United States, hunting and depicting its bird fauna. Well aware of the English’s romantic craze for nature depictions, he sailed to England in 1826, bringing with him an impressive portfolio of life-size bird depictions and his fortune was made. Audubon became a wealthy and admired man.

 

 

It was in Santo Domingo I became familiar with Audobon’s life, coming across an odd character named John Chancellor, who was also afflicted by a fair dose of racism. Chancellor bought and sold antiquarian books about Haiti and the Dominican Republic and gave me two biographies he had written; one about Wagner and one about Audobon. Unfortunately, both monographs were based on inadequate research and I later found quite a lot of inaccuracies in them. Nevertheless, I appreciated that Chancellor gave me the books and they became the gateway to better and more detailed reading about these two, undeniably unpleasant and prejudiced geniuses.

Back to the birds. During a long life I have become acquainted with several bird watchers. In the Swedish town of Lund, for example, I had a neighbour who worked as “developer” at Tetra Pak, a Swedish-Swiss multinational food packaging and processing company, though his immersive interest was to wander around the Scanian plains, or in lush forest groves, to record bird sounds. He had a large number of tapes and from time to time he played them for me to demonstrate how birdsong differed from area to area, almost like human dialects. I had a hard time distinguishing the tiny nuances, but nevertheless found it fascinating that someone to such an extent could be engaged in a scrupulous analysis of birdsong.

A few years later I read Edward Grey’s The Charm of Birds, since Lord Grey in his book demonstrated an unusually large and lively interest in birdsong, the Swedish book title had the somewhat more adequate title Birds and Birdsong. Lord Edward Grey, First Viscount and Third Baronet Grey of Fallodon, was between 1905 and 1916 British Foreign Secretary. Despite an obvious lack of knowledge of foreign languages and a distaste for diplomacy he was nevertheless a committed and skilled negotiator, who unfortunately became entangled in the run-up to World War I.

It was Lord Grey who at the outbreak of that war made the classic statement: “The lights go out all over Europe; we will not see them lit again during our lifetime.”

 


 

When the war ended, Lord Grey stated that his prediction had been correct in the sense that the consequences of the war had damaged an entire European generation and these wounds would surely be reopened once again. However, he had by then retreated to his favourite pastime – fly fishing in the crystal-clear, water cress covered Itchen, which flowed through his property in Hampshire, while he listened to the birdsong in the dense greenery by the riverbanks. What fascinated me when I read Lord Grey's well-written book was his ability to stimulate an attentive interest in birdsong.

 

 

He captured the feelings that spring grants me in the forests around our Swedish home – the half-hour before sunrise when “like morning stars all the birds sing together”, which Lord Gray described as jubilant euphony. In this choir he distinguished the beautiful voice of the wood warbler. A slender, small bird which discrete colours harmonize with newly sprouted beech leaves:

 

The soft green and yellow colours of the bird are in tone with the foliage, and its ways and movements and general happiness animate the beauty of young beech leaves: wonderful and perfect beyond description as this beauty is, the presence of a wood-warbler can still add to it.

 

 

According to Lord Gray, the wood-warbler has two tunes in his repertoire. Clear and joyful tones that tremble in short intervals and are repeated again and again. They are inter-weaved with a clear and very beautiful song, repeated ten times in slow succession.

Lord Grey assumes that the impression a human listener obtains from these melancholic tones is that they express a deep sadness. The tone is pathetic, there are tears in the wood warblers song.

In May, the birdsong in Lord Grey’s lush forestlands was taking on a new meaning. For overwintered birds the arrival of spring means a reawakening of life, while the songs of migratory birds announce their arrival. Each and every bird is through his song assuring that he is reanimated, or has returned home, is choosing his territory, searching for a mate and a place to build his nest.

 

 

The singing at dawn becomes a “tapestry translated into sound.” It starts with a few muted notes of thrush song, waking up the tits and soon “sawing notes, bell notes, teasing notes” fill the air, the song of mistle-thrush, merle and mavis, maybe also the rounded notes of an owl, and above it all rises the voice of the blackbird; warm and clear “light as amber among the sharper flood of song.” A vocal attire constituted of innumerable stitches of sound.
 

 

Lord Grey nurtured a special love for the wren. According to him, its song is not the best, though its “a good song , clear, distinct, musical and pleasant; it is elaborate rather than simple and is well turned out.” The impression of the wren’s song is enhanced by its distinctive appearance and specific character. Even though it is a bird of insignificant size, it has resolutely protruding tail feathers and a violent temper. Lord Grey watches the arrogant little bird during its spring mating season and gets the impression that the song of the wren contains more of challenge and triumph, than love. He surprises two male wrens, which on his lawn are involved in such a violent battle that they ignore his threatening presence. When one of them finally emerges victorious from the fight and the defeated bird has retreated, the victor flies to a nearby bush and from where he fills the air with a triumphant song.
 

 

In the birds’ dawn choir, Lord Grey distinguishes the blackcap’s voice, so perfect and moving that he considers it to be among the foremost English songbirds. The blackcap’s singing is loud:

 

exceedingly sweet, but also spirited: it is not very long, but is frequently repeated: there is a great variety, but the thing done is absolutely perfect. There is not a note that fails to please or to be a success.

 

 

The garden warbler’s song is also beautiful, but it seems as if that bird can never completely clear its throat and let out sounds as pure and free as those as the blackcap. However, in one respect the garden warbler is superior to its rival – his by all means beautiful song is more enduring, it lasts longer.
 

 

Lord Grey asks his readers to listen attentively to the birds triumphant dawn choir and above all notice how the blackbird’s euphony add life and soul to the entire symphony. According to Lord Grey it is impossible to explain why the blackbird’s singing surpasses any other bird’s. Why it means so much to us humans. He suggests that it might be due to a sense of “familiarity” conveyed by the blackbird’s song. The tunes of other birds are for sure quite pleasing, though the song of the blackbird directs itself to the soul of its listener. It touches deep-seated emotional strings, which ultimately unite us with the pitch-black bird. But alas,the euphoria is limited. The blackbird gives us barely four months of bel canto. He begins singing regularly by mid-March and before the end of June he falls silent. In July we might listen to the last spring tones coming from mavis and robin, but the farewell to these birds is not as melancholy as listening to the tones of the last blackbird, knowing that a long time will pass until we hear them again.
 

 

During autumn we listen to the owls’ desolate screams and hooting, sounding as if they were harbingers of something threatening and mysterious. Almost as sonorous as the solitary, enigmatic sound of the bittern. The owl’s scream consists of a long, calm and fine tone, which pauses for four seconds, to be followed by a drawn-out tone, which at first vibrates and then culminates at a soothing, full volume. The owl’s cry gives life to the forest and it would be unsettlingly quite if it ceased.
 

 

When I read Lord Grey’s careful descriptions of how nature and the behaviour of its inhabitants, the birds, is changing in accordance with nature’s course, I am reminded of the forests’ powerful breathing which I perceive during solitary forest walks, or while rowing across our lake in Swedish Göinge.

Deep down in my mind, I am upset about all kind of killing – war, slaughter, hunting, even fishing, though I nevertheless enjoy talking to fishermen and hunters and have often heard them describe how their waiting for prey unites them with their immediate surroundings. How sitting still and quite during the long waiting of their hunting sessions makes them realize how much that generally is hidden from sight and hearing. How our threatening presence in forests and groves arouses fear and suspicion among the animals, making them hide and become silent.

 

 

While we thoughtlessly walk through forests we see very little of all the life within them. Maybe we catch a glimpse of a few small birds, surprises a deer or a hare, though they quickly escape and hide among bushes and burrows. Upon our arrival alarm signals are, unknown to us, sent out and animals quickly disappear from our sight. However, we are constantly observed by the wild life, which might be in constant fear, anticipation and even excitement.

If, on the other hand, we sit down and silently scrutinize the surrounding nature we will soon discover how shy and easily frightened animals forget about our presence and resume those activities we previously have disturbed them in. Squirrels and rabbits appear, birds sing and thrushes rustle in the dry leaves around us , soon we might see how a moose or a small flock of deer appear.

 

 

What I find endearing in in people able to describe painters, and then perhaps mainly in birdwatchers, is how they patiently pay attention to “the little life”. The great patience of ornithologists, a quiet and silent wonder at the life around them, a respect for nature that makes them incapable of harming the creatures living there. It is enough for them to look at the rich life that surrounds them. Yes – several of these nature observers are obviously able to transform their activities into a part of their own life.

That’s probably why I find pleasure in reading and flipping through nature writers/artists’ books. For example, the Swedish writer and artist Gunnar Brusewitz, who among his many works of art designed the diplomas for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but his most famous works are a large amount of illustrated books, dealing with nature and animals.

 

 

I am particularly fond of his Diary from a Lake and Waterside Reflections, in which he based upon sceneries from his artist’s cottage by the lake-shore of Sparren, in the Swedich landscape of Roslagen, follows the changes of seasons and the passage of the years. With a view towards the four quarters he portrayed with skill and empathy the flight and presence of birds and the four-legged animals which walked past his haunt. Through Brusewitz’s books I perceive the scent and sound of the forest, the warmth or coolness of the air.

 


 

More minimalist nature studies were done by another artist, Björn von Rosen, who in his Conversation with a Nuthatch described his “platonic friendship” with a small bird, which I, by the way, after giving a lecture about it when I was in the fourth grade always have felt an affinity with.

 

 

Björn’s and the nuthatch’s relationship began when the blue shimmering little bird approached the artist’s windowsill while he for several months was bedridden in a troublesome illness. Björn’s wife got the idea to open the window towards the winter landscape outside, fill empty matchboxes with cookie crumbs, hemp seeds and pieces of cheese, placing them on the windowsill so Björn from his sickbed could enjoy watching how birds came to visit and devour the procurement.

 

A particularly prominent guest was a constantly recurring nuthatch. One morning when Björn von Rosen opened the window and held out his hand with some cookie crumbs in the palm, the nuthatch placed itself on his fingers and began to nibble the crumbs. With a shudder of pleasure the convalescent experienced how “the feeling of her small dry claws lingered on the skin of my fingertips while I returned to my sickbed.” This episode became the prelude to a daily routine which consisted of Björn getting up from the bed, opening the window, stretching out his hand and immediately becoming visited by the nuthatch, eating crumbs from the palm of his hand.
 

 

When Björn had recuperated and together with his two bassets resumed his daily walks, the nuthatch followed him, jumping from branch to branch. Eventually the bird demanded only cookie crumbs. If it turned out that Björn only had bread crumbs in his hand, she contemptuously threw them away with a jerk. Eventually, the nuthatch’s mate also appeared. He was interested in nut crumbs, but at first he did not dare to grab any from Björn’s outstretched hand, though he soon became as fearless as his wife.

Björn’s friendship with the two nuthatches and their children continued for nine years and in his book he described small episodes and reflections concerning the lives of these small birds, and what he assumed to be their way of thinking.

 

 

When I read books like those written and drawn by Brusewitz and von Rosen it happens that I envy avid bird watchers, for example my friend Magnus who had a house built for himself and his family in the southernmost Swedish beach town of Falsterbo, with an upper room filled with bird books next to a terrace from which he with his binoculars can watch the rich bird life. Forester as he is in service of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Magnus has had ample opportunities to get acquainted with the bird life in different parts of the world, while I remain an incorrigible and ignorant amateur, who watch birds in books and through my computer.

It was not impressions from any small birds that made me write this blog post, but a recent visit I and Rose made to Abu Dhabi. Together with our friend Lupita, who had been living in the country for a few years, we paid a visit to the Zayed Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004) Father of the Fatherland, who in Abu Dhabi is venerated with a devotion of saintly proportions. He was the main driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which in 1971 united seven emirates along the coast of the Persian Gulf. He became the Union’s first Ra'īs, President, a position that Sheikh Zayed kept for 33 years, from the founding of the UAE until his death in 2004.

 

 

In 1966, Sheikh Zayed deposed his brother Sheikh Shakhbut and thus became the undisputed ruler of Abu Dhabi. He had previously realized the importance of obtaining the full support of the people in exchange for improvements in their standard of living – jobs, fixed income, social safety nets, general health care, free and obligatory education for all. After the British withdrawal in 1967 (they had controlled the impoverished emirate since the early 19th century), Sheikh Zayed opened his country to a massive immigration of skilled workers, along with a clause in the constitution stipulating that an immigrant could apply for citizenship only after proving that he/she spoke fluent Arabic and had lived in the country for at least 30 years. However, Sheikh Zayed also stated that “guest workers”, apart from the right to vote and becoming involved in politics, would have the same rights and obligations as citizens of the Emirate.

Compulsory schooling for boys and girls was introduced, universities were founded, religious freedom was established, although state censorship of all media was maintained. Roads were built and public access to drinking water and health care was secured. In particular, Sheikh Zayed renegotiated the oil concession agreements, ensuring that Abu Dhabi obtained the lion share of revenues from all oil- and gas production, thus putting an end to the British monopoly on oil extraction, paving the way to the United Emirate’s enormous wealth. The UAE currently has an annual GDP of about 400 billion USD, a third of which comes from oil revenues, of which Abu Dhabi controls 94 percent.

 

 

When Sheikh Zayed in the mid-1960s gained total power over the country, Abu Dhabi had no paved roads, no hospitals, no schools (except for a few boys and men who attended a Qur'anic school, 98 percent of the population was illiterate). It was an even worse backwater than before since cultured pearls had put a stop to revenues from pearl fishing, which previously had been virtually the only source of the Emirate’s export revenue. Abu Dhabi’s capital consisted of a stone building that sometimes housed representatives of the British government and some huts gathered around Qasr Al Hosn, the Nahyan family’s Fortress/Palace.

I thought about this as I stood by the panoramic windows of Lupita’s and Dino’s apartment on the fifty-second floor of one of the impressive Ethiad Towers, enjoying a view of the azure-blue waters of the Persian Gulf. In a distant haze I discerned Qasr al Watan, the newly built Emirate Palace and site of the UAE Government, actually one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited. It was hard to believe that in just fifty years, this lavish, well-organized, extremely clean, and secure nation had risen from the sands of a dirt-poor Bedouin kingdom. After all, it was no wonder that the nation revered the unparalleled Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

 

 

We were the only visitors to the Zayed Museum. Its manager, a friendly, elderly man who had known the Emir personally, offered us tea and gave me a magnificent book about the archaeology of the Emirate. The museum was filled with all imaginable curiosities left from the Sheikh’s legacy. What fascinated me most was the amount of pictures and objects which bore witness to Sheikh Zayed’s immersive interest in falconry.
 

 

The main reason for my interest in this activity was that I had previously visited several of Frederick II's (1194-1250) castles and forts in southern Italy and thus had come to read something about his great passion for falconry. Another reason for my sporadic falconry interest emerged from the fact that when I more than ten years ago was working at the UNESCOs Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage a colleague of mine told me she was, among other things, working on an application for including falconry in the Organization’s Representative List of Humanity's Intangible

Cultural Heritage, an effort that finally became completely realised a year ago. She had asked me to write something about the gender aspects of the application and I then found that women had been intensely engaged in falconry, especially in the Far East and Central Asia, though it had also been a popular pastime among aristocratic ladies during the European Middle Ages.

 

 

We find, for example, falcon-hunting women in the so-called Tymouth Hours, an “Anglo-Norman” prayer book from the 1330s, in which each page is illustrated with everyday scenes, which generally has nothing at all to do with the text.

 

 

At UNESCO, I read a medieval poem by a writer who was active in Sicily by the end of the 13th century, now known as Nina the Sicilian, Nina from Messina, or Dante’s Nina. Her sonnets are recorded in a manuscript in the Vatican Library (Codex 3793) in which someone by the end of the 13th century copied 137 ”songs” and 670 sonnets. Several of these belong to the so-called Sicilian School of Poetry written in Italian and preceding the somewhat later Tuscan School, with giants like Petrarca and Dante.
 

 

Nina’s sonnets are included in the part of codex 3793 which their copyist described as written by ”unknown” authors (the free andclumsy translation below is mine):

 

 Tapina me che amava uno sparviero,         Alas, I who once loved a falcon,

Amaval tanto ch’io me ne moria                so much I could have died from love.

A lo richiamo ben m’era maniero,             When I called him, he was obedient.

Ed unque troppo pascer nol dovria            I fed him, not too much but enough.

Or è montato e salito sì altero;                  Now he has fled and reached

Assai più altero che far non solia;             heights I do not know,

Ed è assiso dentro a un verziero,               there he sits in a birdhouse,

E un’altra donna l’averà in balìa.             for by another woman.

Isparvier mio, ch’io t’avea nodrito;          Oh, my falcon, which I raised.

Sonaglio d’oro ti facea portare,                 I gave you golden bells to carry,

Perchè nell’uccellar fossi più ardito         so no bird would harm you.

Or sei salito siccome lo mare,                   You rebelled, like a stormy sea.

Ed hai rotto li geti e sei fuggito,               You destroyed your ropes, tore yourself free,

Quando eri fermo nel tuo uccellaro.         as soon as I had taught you how to hunt.

 

 

 

As with several other troubadour singers, and even contemporary Persian Sufi poets like Jalal al-din Rumi, Nina’s poetry is ambiguous in the sense that it describes earthly love against a religious backdrop. The poem’s ”other woman” could just as easily have been the Virgin Mary who received the deceased lover/falcon in her Paradise, as an earthly woman with whom the lover/falcon had forsaken the poetess.
 

 

Early records indicate that Nina was a young lady favoured by Frederick II’s mother, Costanza d’Altavilla, daughter of Sicily’s Norman ruler Ruggero II and married to his successor, the ruthless German-Roman emperor Henry IV of Hohenstaufen.

Costanza d’Altavilla died when Frederick was only five years old, though he grew up in the refined court environment created around his mother. Frederick was a rather skilled sonnet poet, who in his poetry praised the courtly love of his time. Although he wrote extensively on falconry, none among Frederick’s surviving poems does, like other Sicilian poets, mention falcons and falconry as symbols of love between man and woman. Falconry was in several Medieval, aristocratic circles considered to be the most perfect occupation of court life. For many men and women, it was an almost immersive passion, often sublimated in erotic depictions and verse.

 

 

This is evident, for example, in several illustrations of Codex Manesse, a Liederhandschrift (a manuscript of songs) compiled in 1304 for the wealthy Manesse family in Zurich. The manuscript contains works by 135 Minnesänger, German troubadours, each of whom is presented with one or more poems, exquisitely illustrated with 137 hand-painted miniatures.
 

 

The refinement and connection of falkener culture with eroticism is prominent in one of Decamarone’s short stories. This collection of tales, which in 1353 was published by Bocaccio in Florence, is not unique in the sense that a collection of more or less well-known fairy tales and legends is presented as if they had been told in a small, refined, aristocratic society, was a fairly standardised literary ploy. Decamarone’s fame is mainly linked to the elegance and stylish ease with which Bocaccaio tells his stories. This is evident in the introduction to the ninth story on the fifth day a spiritual company of aristocratic gentlemen and ladies are telling each other, after isolating themselves from the plague in Florence in a rural manor:

 

You are to know, then, that Coppo di Borghese Domenichi, who once used to live in our city and possibly still lives there, one of the most highly respected men of our century, a person worthy of eternal fame, who achieved his position of pre-eminence by dint of his character and abilities rather than by his noble lineage, frequently took pleasure during his reclining years in discussing incidents from the past with his neighbours and other folk. In this pastime he excelled all others, for he was more coherent, possessed a superior memory, and spoke with greater eloquence.

 

 

The story that Bocaccio puts in Borghese Domenichi’s mouth tells about the young, handsome and wealthy Federigo, who is engrossed by an all-consuming love for the “most beautiful and pleasant” lady in Florence; the chaste, high-minded Lady Giovanna, who unfortunately married to another man. For the sake of his love and to win Giovanna’s attention, Federigo wastes his wealth on exquisite spectacles, tournaments, Catholic masses and sumptuous dinners. However, Lady Giovanna, remains faithful to her husband and only devotes a distracted interest to Federigo and his activities. As a result, Federigo ruins himself and ends up living frugally in a small country house where he tries to turn his passion for Lady Giovanna into an immersive interest in falconry. The only wealth he has retained is a beautiful, perfectly trained gyrfalcon, which is admired by his entire neighbourhood.
 

 

When Lady Giovanna’s husband dies, she retreats to her deceased husband’s country estate, bordering Federigo’s plot of land. Her son is captivated by the neighbour’s falcon and follows him during his daily hunts. However, the youngster becomes seriously ill. When a despairing Lady Giovanna perceives how her son fades away day by day she asks what he possibly might assume would cure him from his distress. After several days of hesitation, he reveals that a wonderful gift might get him on the road to recovery. When Lady Giovanna urges her beloved son to mention such a gift, he answers “Federigo’s gyrfalcon”. Lady Giovanna, well aware of Federigo’s longing for her love, leaves for the forsaken lover’s cottage with the intention of persuading him to give her his falcon.

When Lady Giovanna arrives, in company with her refined ladies-in-waiting, the confused and overwhelmed Federigo tries imagine what sumptuous meal might through her stomach reach the coveted woman’s brain and win him Lady Giovanna’s loving attention. He spends his last pennies on a delicious dinner, but at first he does not have enough imagination to be able to figure out what he should present as an irresistible main course. It must be something wonderful, something almost beyond human imagination. He comes up with the thought that only a dish which in itself signifies, or even includes his great love and passion for Lady Giovanna might through her delight turn her tender passion towards him. His gaze falls on his pampered and well-fed falcon. Federigo twists the bird’s neck and lets his temporarily hired master chef prepare it.

And, miracle of miracles – the sumptuous meal makes Lady Giovanna mild-tempered and she looks gratefully, almost lovingly, at the deeply moved Federigo. Finally, she dares to tell her host that her son is dying, but that she imagines that he would recover if Federigo gave him his gyrfalcon as a gift. The desperate Federigo is forced to admit that they have just eaten the bird. Lady Giovanna becomes appalled when she realizes that all her hope for her son’s recovery is gone and he actually dies after a few days. Nevertheless, deep down in the depths of her heart, Lady Giovanna is greatly moved by Federigo’s desperate attempt to win her love and his sacrifice of the beloved gyrfalcon has indeed finally awakened her love for him. She marries Federigo who now becomes a wealthy man and when he has reached the goal of his fervent desire he also turns into an enterprising and frugal husband.

 

 

For centuries, even millennia, falconry has been both an immersive occupation and a source of prestige within sophisticated court circles around the world, possibly with the exception of ancient American civilizations, like those of the Mayas and Incas.

In China, there are a number of historical testimonies, in the form of literature, poems, paintings and porcelain. proving falconry’s great popularity within court culture.

 


Chinese falconry was inseparable from politics and power. Written documents dating back to 700 BCE bears witness to the importance of falconry. Especially during the Tang Era (618-907 CE), Falkener culture flourished and was highly esteemed among the Empire’s potentates – emperors mandarins and warlords. Here as well, there was a connection between eroticism and falcons, as in Chang Hsiao-p’iao’s poem from 826 CE:

 

The Lay of the Hungry Hawk

She imagines the plain afar

where the hares are plump just now:

She turns her horned bill a thousand times

and shakes her feather coat:

Just let her peck loose

this knot in her silken cord …!

But unless she got the call of man

she would not dare to fly.

 

The poem clearly alludes to women’s longing for freedom, which is, however, limited by the control their husbands has over their lives.

 

 

For centuries, Falkener culture continued to flourish at Chinese courts. Below are some falcon portraits of the versatile Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766). He came from a wealthy Milanese family and when he joined the Jesuit order, Castiglione was already a skilled artist. At the age of twenty-eight, he was introduced to the Imperial Court in Beijing, where his art was much appreciated. Castiglione had soon learned Mandarin and adapted his Western painting technique to Chinese taste. Castiglione's hybrid art came to form school, especially through his magnificent animal representations

 

 

 

Falconry arrived from China to Korea around 200 CE and from there the tradition was passed on to Japan.

 


The first Japanese written evidence for falconry dates from the 6th century CE and soon a unique and sophisticated court culture had developed around falcons and hawks – Takagari. A tradition especially linked to the Shinto religion and often expressed in the hunting societies’ beautiful costumes and aesthetically pleasing paraphernalia. A specific, ritual falconry was cultivated within various “schools” such as Suwa-ryu and Yoshid-ryu, which cherished a solid knowledge of everything concerning birds of prey, both domesticated and wild, and , for both men and women a profound familiarity with falconry became a status symbol .

 

 

In India, falconry had been practised in aristocratic circles as early as 600 BCE, but it was not until the reign of the Mughals (1526-1858) that the sport developed into a passion among wealthy men and women.
 

 

Falcons and other birds of prey were not only symbols of a desire for freedom and eroticism, but also of ruthlessness and war. The screaming of falcons and hawks as they flew in front of attacking armies was a call for bloodshed and a search for glory on the battlefields. Already 220 BCE, the poet Sung Yü stated that autumn is a

 

season of desolation and blight,

the avenging angel,

riding upon an atmosphere of death.

 

However, a thousand years later, the warrior poet Lu Yu glorified autumn as a heroic time of falconry and commemoration of ancient Chinese victories over Tatar invaders:

 

Swift falcons leave the gauntlet with sturdy talons and beaks

and bold men fondle their swords with frenzied spirits.

 

 

There are many indications that falconry originated in Central Asia, among peoples called Huns, Mongols or Tatars. Among these peoples, falconry was practised more than 3,000 years ago and birds of prey are of great importance in Central Asian and Siberian shamanism.

 


Shamans are believed to be able to change their demeanour and use paraphernalia and costumes mimicking birds of prey and in trance widely around the world, even to realms unknown to us living people.

 

 

Among Mongolian khans, falconry achieved a high level of refinement and creativity. Mongolian falconers use several different species of birds of prey, including large and complicatedly trained birds, such as eagles. During their extensive military campaigns, Mongol armies used such to hunt for provisions and as a relaxation between battles. At the time of Marco Polo’s to Kublai Kahn’s court (1275-1292) there were 60 officials who only dealt with the management of the emperor’s hunting falcons, as well as 5,000 hunters and 10,000 fully employed falconers.

 

 

Being fierce conquerors many Mongols did probably not regard the peregrine falcons as images of freedom and love, but as bloodthirsty predators who fought in their service.

 

 

In the 1998 Disney film Mulan, the murderous leader of the invading Hun Army, Shan Yu, has a ruthless Tatar falcon, Shan-Yu, as his only trusted and perhaps even respected “friend”.
 

 

The obvious, almost passionate love that avid falconers show their falcons seems to reflect a great admiration for birds of prey’s ability to adapt to the nature surrounding them. These birdmen seem to nurtures a desire to see and experience the world through a falcon’s eyes and instinct. Among some of them, there may also be an exciting feeling of being able to engage, in an almost identical fashion, participate in the falcon’s hunt for prey, a fervent desire to gain some of its instinctive strength and ruthlessness, which has nevertheless been subjected to their human owners through training.

The author Terence Hanbury White (1906 - 1964) author of The Once and Future King, a skilfully retold King Arthur saga, was born in Bombay and had an unhappy childhood. His alcoholic and moody father was District Superintendent of Police, while his mother was an emotionally chilled lady. The couple soon divorced and the young White was sent to an English boarding school where his emotional misery continued unabated.

As an adult, White fought against his homosexuality and other sexual tendencies. He wrote:

 

All I can do is behave like a gentleman. It has been my hideous fate to be born with an infinite capacity for love and joy with no hope of using them.

 

 

An acquaintance stated that T.H. White: “did not fear God but was fundamentally afraid of humanity”. In 1946, White settled on the canal island of Alderney and became increasingly alcoholic over time. It was at Alderney that he wrote the book The Goshawk, which is about how the young White after reading the lines in an old book about falconry “and the bird returned to its wild state”, became obsessed with the idea that maybe he too could be transformed to "a free savage". He got a pigeon hawk from Germany. The bird was “cruel and free”. White came to the conclusion that the only way to tame the hawk would be to deprive it of sleep, which resulted in White also came to suffer from insomnia. According to him, man and bird ended up in a common state of delirium, attraction and repulsion. It could be likened to a love affair. White never managed to tame his hawk, nevertheless he found that there was a connection between humans and animals that could be both liberating and painful.
 

 

An immersive passion for falcons, and especially valuable gyrfalcons, seems to be particularly alive in Abu Dhabi, something that not only the Sheikh Zayed Museum bore witness to, but also the emirate's eminent falcon hospital.

 

 

A place where sick and injured falcons receive excellent care in operating theatres and individual air-conditioned rooms, with place for more than the 200 falcons, which are cared for there, in addition to the 11,000 birds of prey visiting the hospital each year. The hospital’s German manager, Margit Müller, explains:

 

Falcons are fascinating, each has its own special, independent character, the way they express themselves is completely unique, almost magical. In Arab culture, they are not considered pets, but are rather considered to be family members who should be raised and cared for as such. They live with the family, have their own seat in the living room and many even sleep in their owners’ bedrooms.

 

 

The Falcon Hospital also evaluates falcons and hawks on the basis of their strength and health. The judgement of medical falcon authorities is of great importance in a country where falcons are an exclusive status symbol. Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) are the largest falcon species and their natural habitat is mountains and tundra. The Icelandic gyrfalcon is considered to be especially valuable. The large island occasionally went by the name Falcon Island and the white gyrfalcon can be seen on the top left of the Icelandic Republic’s coat of arms.
 

 

The white gyrfalcon is the most expensive falcon variant. A thoroughbred gyrfalcon can be worth more than 150,000 USD. In November 2021, the young gyrfalcon Shaheen was in Libya sold for 450,000 USD.
 

 

Valuable falcons are tenderly cared for by their wealthy owners and several of them even take their falcons on air travels, especially when it comes to introducing them to a particular game. Above all, a kind of desert birds called Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata). Theses are nomadic birds moving around arid areas in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, being rare in most parts they are especially numerous in Afghanistan.

 

 

The presence of houbaras in that country was leading to a near catastrophe for the Emirates’ wealthy sheikhs, several of whom, especially Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Kalifa bin Zayid and Dubai’s Sheik Makhtoum, who along with other gyrfalcon aficionados each year are travelling travel to the houbara hunting ground in southern Afghanistan. border areas to Pakistan. Bin Laden used to haunt this particular areas and since he had grown up in Saudi Arabia’s Bedouin tradition and he was also a falcon aficionado.

 

 

In late February and early March, houbaras gather in hard-to-reach, arid areas south of Kandahār. During the hunting season, and perhaps they still do, wealthy sheikhs of the Arabian Peninsula flew with their falcons into Afghanistan’s relatively houbara-dense areas and set up luxurious tent camps there. In February 1999, the CIA’s Bin Laden Tracking Team announced that satellite images had convinced them that their most-wanted terrorist was moving around the falconers’ tent villages and was possibly even hunting together with the sheikhs. Gary Schroen, CIA’s site manager in Riyadh and leader of CIA’s Near East Division, recommended that the entire tent city should be bombed:

 

Let's just blow everything up. And if we kill bin Laden, and five sheikhs in the strike, I'm sorry. But, what do they have to do with bin Laden? He’s a terrorist. If you lie down with the dog, you wake up with fleas.

 

 

 

It was extremely close that the UAE Sheikhs became victims of their falconry passion. However, at the last minute Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Combating Terrorism, advised against the attack. Clarke was closely acquainted with the UAE’s powerful emirate families, especially the Abu Dhabi Nahayan clan, and he was well aware that the UAE’s ports, oil and gas were essential to U.S. warfare. Clarke could thus easily overlook the fact that falconry blinded its practitioners to such a degree that they did not care if skilled participants in their hunting teams were terrorists. It was hunting and not politics that mattered, at least during the limited time when houbaras gathered in Kandahār's desert regions.

 

All those who had lived with Arabs upholding ancient Bedouin traditions knew how important Falcons could to them, especially among wealthy and powerful men. Abdelrahman Munif, a Jordanian-born Saudi who worked in the Middle East oil industry, wrote a fascinating five-part story about how oil had changed life on the Arabian Peninsula, corrupting its leaders through luxury and abundance. It is an extensive work in which each volume contains more than six hundred pages. Only the first two parts of Munif’s Cities of Salt have been translated into English.

It’s a fascinating read. The story progresses at a calm, patient pace, almost providing the reader with a feeling that he/she is travelling through the desert on a patient, arduous camel. Munif’s stories are filled with a peculiar symbolism. They have no heroes, thougfh thousands of characters and names pass by, creating a dense web of voices and legends, this while modernity relentlessly changes and transforms everything. Munif declares that ancient traditions have been falsified to such an extent that they now can be used as a defence of totalitarianism, corruption and subtle oppression. His novels are banned in Saudi Arabia, but available in the UAE.

 

 

An episode in the first novel tells about how an emir arrives at the fictional port city of Harran. He is disapproved of by the city’s Arab population, while the oil-exploring Americans and cunning, local businessmen swarm around him. The emir claimed that he had come to the city to do justice and implement law and order, though it soon became apparent that he primarily wanted to enrich himself by conspiring with the Americans and he only distractedly listened to wishes and demands coming from the urban population.

Dabbasi, the city's most crafty merchant, gained a reputation for being a devil since he knew how to manipulate the Emir:

 

because from the minute he started talking about hunting, the emir underwent a total transformation—when he listened to Dabbasi’s stories, he became like a small child and asked him to sit down by his side.

 

 

Dabbasi had observed how several of the emir’s men kept pet falcons on their wrists and lovingly caressed and talked to them while the emir sat uninterested judging the people of Harran. Dabassi had then in a loud voice suddenly declared that the areas around Harran were well known for their houbaras, which appeared during the winter months. The emir’s face lit up and he became extremely attentive to everything Dabassi said about falconry. When Dabbasi had captured the emir’s interest, he was able to convince him that it was good politics to listen to the locals before he negotiated with the Americans. “Truth is truth and the natives are closer to us than the strangers” stated the emir before he once again turned to Dabassi and with him immersed himself in conversations about houbaras and gyrfalcons. When the emir finally took farewell, it was from a benevolent urban population and when he had mounted his camel he turned to Dabbasi with the words: “When winter comes and it is as harshest, then I will come back and we ride in search of all the hunting grounds you mentioned. ”

Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (1910-2003) was born in Addis Ababa as the son of the British Consul General. At the age of eighteen, he was sent to England and educated at Eton and Oxford, where he mainly studied history. In 1930, he was invited to Ethiopia by his father’s friend Haile Selaisse. On the Ethiopian Emperor’s behalf, Thesiger made several research expeditions. During World War II, Thesiger commanded Ethiopian forces fighting the Italians, as well as Druze military units fighting the Vichy regime in Syria. After the war, Thesiger was active in the fight against migratory grasshoppers on the Arabian Peninsula and lived with the Bedouins he followed on their migrations through the vast desert area of Rub al-Khali – the Empty Quarter.

 

 

In his book Arabian Sands from 1959, Thesiger describes a timeless area with people who lived the way they had done for thousands of years. He participates in raids against hostile Bedouins, is hunted and captured by bandits, his travelling companions are threatened with blood revenge, slave hunters are in pursuit of lonely wanderers. Thesiger encounters hospitable sheikhs, revered by their subordinates while they surround themselves with harems, slaves, valuable camels and gyrfalcons.

Thesiger wrote that he his craving for adventure had been established during his Ethiopian youth. In his old age he wrote how overwhelmed he once had been while watching tribal warriors returning from battle:

 

I had been reading Tales from the Iliad. Now, in boyish fancy, I watched the likes of Achilles, Ajax and Ulysses pass in triumph with aged Priam, proud even in defeat. I believe that day implanted in me a life-long craving for barbaric splendour, for savagery and colour and the throb of drums.

 

 

After crossing Rub al-Khali, Thesiger reached in 1948 the village of Muwaiqih in the oasis of Buraimi, the domain of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He looked forward to meeting this sheikh, who was much talked about among the Bedouins, who appreciated him for his open, informal manner, steadfast character, cunning and physical strength:

 

Zayed is a Bedouin. He knows camels and rides like one of us, he is a good marksman and knows how to fight.

 


When Thesiger asked for the sheikh, he was told that it was a good idea to talk to him when "he is sitting", i.e. when he was heading a majlis, legislative council or assembly. Thesiger found the sheikh as he simple, traditionally dressed and barefoot sat directly on the sand, surrounded by thirty men. When he saw Thesiger approaching, Sheikh Zayed got up and invited the Englishman to sit down on a rug in front of him, while he respectfully sat down on the sand again.


He had a strong, intelligent face, with steady, observant eyes, and his manner was quiet but masterful. He was distinguished from his companions by his black head-rope, and the way he wore his head-cloth, falling about his shoulders instead of twisted round his head in the local manner. He wore a dagger and cartridge-belt; his rifle lay on the sand beside him.

 

Thesiger and Sheikh Zayed became good friends. He lent the Englishman his famous white camel Ghazala. Thesiger returned to Muwaiqih on several occasions and stayed there for extended periods. On one occasion, he followed Sheikh Zayed and his men during a several-week long hunting expedition, when Zayed displayed his great familiarity with all the intricate elements of falconry. He explained to Thesiger that hunting with falcons is the noblest sport in existence, since an experienced falconer feels united with his falcon. He sees and thinks like the hunting bird. This is a completely different feeling than aiming at an animal and shooting it down with a rifle. Just as Dr. Müller at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital Thesiger got he feeling that an avid falconer considered his favourite falcon almost as a family member. Falconers slept with their falcons perched by their beds, and when Zayed’s men sat talking with Thesiger, they had often brought their falcons along with them, caressing and whispering to the birds.

 

 

When Thesiger in 1977 met Sheikh Zayed for the last time, he had become one of the richest men in the world, but according to Thesiger Zayed constituted to be just as respectful and politely accommodating as he had been thirty-five years earlier. Although he now lived in a palace, Zayed was still surrounded by his falcons and as often he could tried to ride out for falconering in the desert.

As was the case for Sheikh Zayed, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen's falconry was the result of a centuries-old tradition. His Norman Viking ancestors had been avid falconers, something that several runestones bear witness to, for example the Norwegian Alsted Stone.

 

 

At the Böksta Stone close to Swedish Uppsala, we discern how a mounted hunter, followed by a man on skis, kills a moose attacked by his dogs and falcons. On top of the stne is a depiction of a hawk with mmenasing claws.
 

 

This depiction makes me think of the Swedish landscape Jämtland’s strange coat of arms, based on a seal created in 1635 by order of the Danish king Christian IV, though the difficult-to-interpret motif may be much older than that. I wonder if the coat of arms might be related to the picture on the Böksta Stone, which is said to be a representation of the ski- and hunting god Ull, whom the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus (1160-1206 CE) is telling us about.
 

 

In Nordic myths and legends, there were plenty of birds of prey. The Danish king Rolf Krake is said to have had a hunting hawk named Hábrók, who during a battle near Uppsala is said to have killed no less than thirty of the Swedish king Adil the Mighty’s hunting birds. Like Normans and Mongols, the Vikings thus seem to have brought their falcons with them in battle, as well as in everyday life.

 

The Norwegian king and later canonized Olav Tryggvason, who by the way was born in Kyiv and there converted to Christianity under Valdemar I, is said to have had a violent temper. He angrily grabbed his sister Astrid’s beloved hunting hawk and plucked the feathers from it after Astrid had refused helping him to propose to a woman who would allow him to enter into an alliance with one of his many enemies.

However, the Russian icon below does not depict Saint Olav, but the saint Tryphon, whose name means "softness/sensitivity". In Orthodox Christianity, Tryphon is worshipped as a protector of birds and prayers are directed to him asking for protection against attacks by rodents and grasshoppers. Before he became a saint in the 200s, Tryphon took care of geese in the Phrygian town Kampsade, but when the Viking Valdemar I introduced his cult in Kyiv, he became a protector of falconers and carries a merlin.

 

 

Incidentally, in Nordic legends, hunting hawks are mentioned more often than falcons, which were used more by Normans and Russian Vikings. This was because the more expensive and better-regarded falcons hunted in the open, while in the deep Scandinavian forests, hawks were much more skilled hunters. It is mentioned that the northerners also used owls as hunting birds.

King Gautrek of Västergötland always had his hunting hawk with him and when his beloved wife died, he left the throne to his son and sat mourning on her burial mound, while the hawk brought him food.

Birds of prey are often found in Viking graves, with both deceased men and women. These animals were probably their beloved hunting birds, but the practice to bury them with their masters might also have had a religious significance. In Norse mythology, birds serve as messengers and link humans with different worlds, not least the realms of life and with those of death. Famous are the ravens of the Norse god of death and wisdom, Odin – Hugin and Munin, who carried him messages from all over the world and whispered in his ears. Hugin means “thought” and Munin “memory”.

 

 

These two ravens also had a sinister aspect in connection with the fact that they were scavengers and thus also connected to Odin’s role as a feared god of death. The Icelandic poet Torbjörn Hornklof wrote in a poem to the Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre:

 

Croaking ravens, say,

whence have you come,

with bloodied beaks,

early in the morning?

Flesh stick to claws.

From throats –

foul cadaver stench.

This night you alighted

within a harvest of corpses.

 

 

On top of the crown of the world tree Yggdrasil sits the eagle Hreasvelgr, the Corpse Devourer, by flapping his wings he brings deadly tempests. Like Odin, Hreasvelgr has his trusted messenger and informant, the hawk Väderfölne, who rests upon his head.

 

 

Hreasvelgr has a twin, the eagle Are, who on behalf of the goddess of the Abyss of the Dead, Hel, picks up those who have been sentenced to death by the Thing, governing assembly among the Vikings, and brings them down to down to the excruciation pits in Helheim.


Birds know and see more than humans, something the hero Sigurd Fafnersbane experienced when, after killing the dragon Fafner and on the advice of Fafner's treacherous brother Regin, was frying Fafner’s heart in open fire. Regin wanted to eat the heart as a reward for helping Sigurd to kill Fafner. However, when Sigurd with his index finger touched the fried surface of the heart and then put it in his mouth to taste, he heard sparrows chirping in a bush

 

– Sigurd is sitting there frying Fafner’s heart. If he were to eat it himself, he would be the wisest of all humans.

 

 

The quest to become one with the birds, and especially with the falcon, this amazingly skilled hunter, is something that has crossed the mind of several men and women who have breeding and training hawks and falcons. The Vikings brought their hawks and falcons across, bringing them with them on travels to Russia, Ireland, England and Normandy and if they seettled there they continued with their falconry.
 

 

Wilhelm the Conqueror was an avid falconer and on the Bayeaux tapestry, which tells of the Norman conquest of England, several falcons and hawks are depicted. The descendants of the Normans carried their falcons further on to Sicily and the birds also accompanied them on their crusades. In the Outremer, the Crusader States, the Norman aristocrats for certain encountered like-minded Muslim potentates who just as them were avid Falconers, and they they did exchange their interests and experiences.
 

 

The Norman-German emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen claims in his sumptuous book De arte venandi cum avibus, On the art of hunting with birds, that falconry is the most refined sport in existence. It is a way to get to know and become one with nature, a spiritual exercise that also is a form of meditation, an art-form and a science. The traditional hunting with weapons and dogs appeared to Frederick as brutal and tumultuous, falconry, on the other hand, was based on a subtle interplay between bird and hunter creating a relationship between man and nature, reaching its most exquisite dignity in the falconer’s art, where he, his horse and dogs all become subordinates to the noble falcon.

 

 

For Frederick his admiration of birds of prey almost becomes a symbol of Cosmos, a powerful life force emanating from an unaltered, unbound nature. He regards birds of prey as aristocratic beings associating them with earthly rulers, almighty princes like himself – the German-Roman Emperor, the most powerful ruler of of this world.

 

Such thought reminds of the role of the falcon in ancient Egypt. There the falcon god Horus, the son of Osiris, was the maintainer of universal order. His all-percieving eyes were likened to the life-giving sun and the time-controlling moon. Horus was intimately connected with the Pharaoh, the earthly ruler as guarantor of cosmic and accordingly also human order. The eye of Horus became the symbol of all Egypt, of the life-giving Nile, of an orderly Cosmos, of the annual Nile floods, of rain and budding fertility. Horus appeared in symbiosis with Pharaoh and was thus identified with him, while the falcon god acted as the ruler's divine protector, a guarantor that he was under the protection of the Cosmos. A way of thinking which seems to fit well with the Christian notion of Jesus Christ, who is simultaneously regarded as God the Father and his Son, heavenly maintainer of justice and order, a protection against evil and the forces of chaos.

 


 

Frederick could in many ways be likened to a pharaoh. Like such a ruler, he lived in harmony with nature. Pharaoh ruled over nature in the form of his control of the Nile’s annual floods, which under his supervision were regulated by organized work and constructions of dams and canals, while he, in his own glory and power, as well as Cosmo’s guarantor built temples for the gods and palaces to himself. Frederick was also an observer of nature's changes, and as one of the world’s first environmental conservationists he set aside large tracts of land, which were to be protected and left untouched for the benefit of wildlife. An initiative that may be linked to his immersive interest in falconry. Frederick wanted to preserve natural areas so that the birds of prey could thrive and multiply.

 


Likewise, several of his magnificent buildings can be linked to his interest in falconry. I became fascinated by Frederick when I several years ago visited his Castel del Monte. On a hill with views in all directions of the surrounding landscape, shining white against a clear blue sky. A perfect octagon with eight towers, even those with eight sides. Harmoniously and majestically the castle dominates its surroundings. Like a huge imperial crown, it is set on top of a flourishing hill, a symbol of the emperor’s power and control over his reign. However, Castel del Monte is actually neither a castle, nor a palace. It lacks a moat and a drawbridge. In fact, it is an oversized hunting lodge, from which towers Frederick was able to observe the flight of birds of prey and release his own hunting falcons.
 

 

Frederick II was in many ways a strange man. In his basic book The History of Biology, which was published between 1920-1924 and translated into a variety of languages, the Swedish botanist Erik Nordenskiöld concisely summarized Frederick’s personality and contribution to biology, which he considered to have been of great importance for ornithology as a science:

 

Italian in his upbringing, semi-oriental in his habits and way of thinking, he gathered around him learned men from both East and West. He had Aristotle’s writings translated from Greek into Latin. Fredrik’s writing about falconry is so much more than just an account of hunting, it is a comprehensive account of birds' anatomy and habits.

 

 

The remarkable Frederick II, who during his lifetime was called Stupro mundi et innovator, Miracle of the World and Innovator, was during his fifty-six years of life almost incomprehensibly active in a number of areas. His many and varied achievements were far from being limited to falconry and his learned observations of and explanations about the life of birds. Frederick’s political career was characterised by disputes over his German, Italian, and Oriental claims, and was marked by constant sieges, battles, and crusades, born out of endless intrigues of a religious, social, and geographical nature. Particularly prominent were his ideological and political clashes with the pope. Frederick could be likened to a storm-carried bird of prey flying above the centre of Europe and the the Levant.
 

 

Judged by a modern yardstick, he was also a frivolous pleasure seeker, unfaithful and tolerant, with a vast amount of concubines who in his palace in Lucera, in accordance with oriental custom, were kept in seclusion and supervised by eunuchs.

 

 

He wrote about and studied mathematics, architecture, natural sciences and philosophy, reading and speaking Latin, Italian, German, Arabic, French and Greek. One of his special interests and expertise was medicine and he reformed the ancient medical school in Salerno, while he decreed that all medical doctors had to be examined and registered. In 1224, he founded the University of Naples, the first in Europe with established statutes and curricula. Music and literature flourished at his court and together with Muslim and Jewish sages he explored the mysteries of nature, not least through autopsies of humans and animals. His sceptical, practical and inquisitive character was formulated in one of his mottos Ea que sunt, sicut sunt, that which is, is as it is, a critique of theological hair-splitting. He was engrossed in nature studies. As soon as time was given him away from all the political struggles, wars and intrigues, he sought out nature.
 

 

In Ferderick's bird book De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus, there is a random picture of a man who has taken off his clothes and swim in a lake, or pond. Maybe a portrayal of Frederick himself. How he relaxes from all his worries and striving. The picture makes me think of a picture of Noman Rockwell showing how on a hot summer day travelling salesman has left his car to take a refreshing dip in a river.
 

 

Frederick intensively studied the behaviour of animals in the wild, as well as in captivity. He owned a large exotic menagerie with elephants, lions, cheetahs, dromedaries, camels, monkeys, a variety of birds of prey and most amazing of all – a giraffe, a white peacock and a polar bear. During his numerous travels Frederick often brought with him, as in a circus entourage, animals from his zoo. Of course, since it amused him to deal with the animals, but also to attract and impress other potentates. It happened that he passed through towns and villages, exposing his exotic beasts animals as if they were part of a circus spectacle.

 

 

The giraffe was a great success throughout Europe, while the white peacock and polar bear impressed the Muslim potentates he negotiated with in Palestine – he managed without bloodshed to guarantee that the holy sites were reopened to Christians and he became, with the consent of the Muslims, in any case of their temporary rulers, King of Jerusalem. He obtained his giraffe from the Caliph of Cairo, in exchange for his polar bear.

A great admiration for Frederick lives on, especially in southern Italy where he is hailed as the First European. However, this enthusiasm for the German-Roman emperor is not shared by the modern of the crusade chronicler, Steven Runciman, who wrote:

 

His was a handsome man, not tall but well-built, though early inclined to fatness. His hair, the red hair of the Hohenstaufen, was receding early. His features were regular with a full, rather sensual mouth and an expression that seemed kindly till you noticed his cold green eyes, whose piercing glanced disguised their short-sightedness. […] He was well versed in philosophy, in the sciences, in medicine, in natural history, and well informed about other countries. His conversation, when he chose, was fascinating. But for all his brilliance, he was not likeable. He was cruel, selfish, and sly, unreliable as a friend and unforgiving as an enemy. His indulgence in erotic pleasure of every sort shocked even even the easy standards of Outremer [the Middle Eastern crusader states]. He loved to outrage contemporaries by scandalous comments on religion and morals. […] He saw no harm in taking interest in other religions, especially Islam, with which he had been in touch with all his life. Yet no ruler persecuted more savagely such Christian heretics as the Cathars and their kin.

 

 

Behind everything and everywhere was falconry, during Frederick’s travels, his conversations and wars. At one point, a siege ended in disaster as Frederick and his entourage left their camp under inadequate surveillance after embarking on falconry. The enemy broke the siege and destroyed Frederick’s camp. During his free time, Frederick studied the birds and wrote on his De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus, read the works of Arabic falconers and discussed their findings with the Muslim scholars he had in his service, it is possible that he also drew the book’s unique illustrations because he was also known as a knowledgeable artist.
 

 

Although the bird reproductions are far from being as detailed and realistic as those of Rudbeck, Audobon and the von Wright brothers, they have a decorative and unique charm.
 

It is far from only falcons and hawks that Frederick described and depicted.

 

 

He also presented the people who cared for and trained the falcons.

 


He described how the hunt was carried out and how the riders leave their castles at dawn. It was mainly falconry on horseback that fascinated Frederick.
 

 

The German-Roman emperor did through his interest in falconry probably strive for a sense of liberation within his multifaceted existence. It is possible that he, like several other bird fans, identified with his hunting falcons – dreamed of becoming like a falcon. Someone who definitely seemed to wish for this was the solitary, myopic and singular John Alec Baker (1926-1987). It may seem that this man was the exact opposite of the powerful, well-known and admired Frederick II of Hohenstaufen – a fairly anonymous clerk at The Automobile Association's, AA’s local branch in Chelmsford, the capital of Essex County, north-east of London. AA provides vehicle insurance, driving lessons, crash protection, loans, car advice, and road maps. J.A. Baker lacked a driver's license, he did not even have a TV in the frugal home he shared with his wife Doreen in central Chelmsford. Doreen also worked at AA. The couple was childless and John Alec remained in Chelmsford all his life. Even his wife described him as “something of a hermit”.
 

 

But, there was something that united John Alec Baker with Frederick II of Hohenstaufen and Sheikh Sayed of Abu Dhabi – the falcons. This despite the fact that he never owned or tried to tame a bird of prey. Like Frederick II, Baker obviously wanted to be one with nature and with great patience he approached the peregrine falcons he was fascinated by. According to him, the peregrin regarded all other beings as threatening, as prey, or even harmless. It was especially difficult for a human being to appear as an inoffensive being, because to the animals we appear as killer “stinking of death. We carry it with us. It covers us like frost. We cannot tear ourselves away from it.”

 

 

It was important to approach the extremely astute peregrine falcon as quietly and unnoticed as possible:

 

To be recognised and accepted by a peregrine you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds, it fears the unpredictable. Enter and leave the same fields at the same time each day, soothe the hawk from its wildness by a ritual of behaviour as invariable as its own. Hood the glare of the eyes, hide the white tremor of the hands, shade the stark reflecting face, assume the stillness of a tree.

 

Baker wanted to be as close to the peregrine falcon as possible. He had no desire to own it, to master it. It seems that he instead wanted the falcon to dominate him, almost like an unrequited love, a passion. Baker enjoyed and was tormented by this hopeless love, bound as he was to an awkward, unsuitable human body. A spectator who tried to think like a falcon, to be like a bird of prey, but utterly unable to leave his human body behind, to deny his essence as a human being, his human distinctiveness. It is not possible to fly, to see, to feed like a falcon. Baker seems to have avoided human company, aware of his extreme myopia and a clumsiness which was exacerbated by an inexorably aggravated rheumatoid arthritis. During his childhood he had been ill and as a teenager he was after a nervous breakdown admitted to a hospital for three months, the result of an unfortunate love story.

As often as he could, the extremely myopic John Alec walked, or cycled, out into the fields east of Chelmsford. Along the lush banks of the river Chelmer, he reached Essex’s fertile and gently undulating agricultural landscape, sloping towards the mouth of the Blackwater River, by the shores of the North Sea.

 

 

With great patience and sharp observation, John Alec followed the bird life through his binoculars. By correcting his unfortunate myopia the binoculars endowed him with something resembling a “falcon’s vigilance”.

In open fields and swamps John Alec thoroughly studied the peregrine falcon’s patient watchfulness, its flight, its habits, its hunting, bathing, and mating. In his book, like Brusewitz and Lord Grey, John Alec meticulously recorded the changes of nature, the shifts and light of the days and especially the dawn; the weather, the wildlife, the scents and the plants. As a common thread through his dynamic and occasionally metaphorically exaggerated depictions, which largely follows day after day from October 1962 to April 1963, there is the constant presence of the peregrine and John Alec’s almost total identification with the bird.

 

In detail he describes the peregrine’s hunting behaviour. Investigating remains of its prey, which condition he carefully records, in detail describing how the peregrine had torn its victim to pieces and what parts of its flesh it has devoured. John Alec described a world where the existence of birds of prey is characterized by various forms of killing. His accounts are almost completely free from the propensity for a humanization of animal behaviour that often accompanies romantic depictions of nature.
 

 

In fact, J.A. Baker’s ten years of diligent study of the peregrine falcon is a thorough, though not entirely accurate, distillation of what takes place during an autumn and winter during which he realized his intention to study the peregrine as detailed as a lone human being was capable of:

 

Wherever he goes, this winter, I will follow him. I will share the fear, and the exaltation, and the boredom, of the hunting life. I will follow him till my predatory human shape no longer darkens in terror the shaken kaleidoscope of colour that stains the deep fovea of his brilliant eye. My pagan head shall sink into the winter land, and there be purified.

 

Fovea is a depression in the retina of the eye’s centred vision. In a peregrine falcon, the fovea is much more developed and effective than in humans. J.A. Baker’s (it's typical of John Alec to hide behind the initials J.A.) the mentioning of the fovea is symptomatic of his detailed descriptions. It might seem to be tiring and too cumbersome for someone who has not personally experienced the subtle shifts of nature, but for such a person Baker’s writing style might have an almost hypnotic effect.

In his strange book, John Alec hardly says anything about himself, other than his observations of landscapes and birds, his concern about human’s reckless damage to nature and their guilt for the extinction of peregrine falcons. Occasionally there something that may be described as anxiety, even contempt,occurs while Baker fumes about human’s damaging encroachment on nature. John Alec’s longing to become a peregrine falcon often returns in text:

 

I shut my eyes and tried to crystallise my will into the light-drenched prism of the hawk’s mind. Warm and firm-footed in long grass smelling of the sun, I sank into the skin and bones of the hawk […] like the hawk I heard and hated the sound of man, that faceless horror of the stony places. I stifled in the same filthy sack of fear.

 

 

Such a longing to become a bird has often been described in literature and film. While teaching at the International School in Hanoi for a time, one of my colleagues was Camille Du Aime, a large American lady who grew up on a riverboat on the Seine in Paris:

 

It was a rather miserable and leaky boat. I cannot say I enjoyed it. My parents were bohemian and while I was with them my father tried to make a living as an artist. He had traumas after his participation in World War II and tried through his art to drive away his demons. It was only at long last he found his right element in writing novels. He became rich and famous, but then it was too late for me.

 

 

Camille's father, Albert William Du Aime (1925–2008), wrote under the pseudonym William Wharton and Birdy, his first novel, written when he was over fifty, became an instant success and like his following novels Dad and A Midnight ClearBirdy became a critically acclaimed film (Wharton published more than ten books).

Birdy deals with a sensitive, somewhat neurotic young man who dreams of being free as a bird. Typical of his behaviour is when, after a clumsy and unsuccessful act of love with a beautiful girl, he returns home to a birdhouse he had built in his room and lying naked there imagines how he flies around in his room, through the house and out into the world.

After being summoned to the war in Vietnam, Birdy is wounded in the face and then suffers a severe trauma, is admitted to an asylum where he, through his bird fantasies, builds a mental wall around himself. A wall that not only excludes him from painful war memories, but also from all dealings with other humans and a normal life.

 

 

The talented film director Alan Parker, who made the film Birdy in 1984, called Wharton’s book a “wonderful story” and initially wrestled with how to portray it:

 

I did not know how I could take the lyrical tone of the book and turn it into cinematic poetry, or if an audience really wanted to see such a work.

 

At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, Parker's film won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury.
 

 

Birdy and several other works, both novels and scientific accounts,
 

 

as well as films, describe human affinity to birds, and especially falcons and hawks.

 

 

Alejandro Iñárritu’s multi-faceted film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has, through its ability to connect realism with an inner drama affecting reality and thus reshaping it, has by some critics been considered as a successful attempt to transfer Latin American magical realism into film. Iñárritu’s movies has furtermore been compared to Fellini’s 8 ½ since it depicts the world of an artist/director, both from the outside and from within, and how a writers’ block is transformed into successful art.

Iñárritu explained:

 

What this film talks about, I have been through. I have seen and experienced all of it; it’s what I have been living through the last years of my life.

 

To me, Birdman reflects quite a lot of what I have been writing about in this blog entry. For example, how it, like António Lobo Antunes Explain the Birds to Me realistically depicts a confused individual’s struggle with himself and his past life, all against a background of the birds’ inexplicable beauty, beautiful song and “freedom”, which nevertheless is entirely driven by instinct. In the case of Birdman this is about the actor Riggan Thomson’s struggle to break out of the cage created by his role as the superhero Birdman. A story marked by a similar insoluble conflict as the one of John Alec Barker who desired to become a peregrine falcon. A desire/illusion that finds its outlet in creation. In Barker's case it became a book, by Riggan Thomson a realistic play with him in the leading role, with Alejandro Iñárritu – a film.
 

 

In general, these works revolve around obsessions and border areas between fantasy and reality. Barry Hines’ (1939-2016) novel A Kestrel for a Knave, is however an entirely realistic novel set in the mid-sixties in a greyish mining town located in Yorkshire. The novel's strange title, A Kestrel for a Knight, emanates from a list in a manuscript from the mid-15th century, The Booke of Hawkyng by Prince Edwarde Kyng of England:

 

An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy Water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave.

 

 

The novel depicts an obstinate fifteen-year-old, Billy Kasper, who will soon leave secondary education and enter working life. He comes from a poor, fragmented home with an easy-going, vulgar mother and a brutal half-brother, who works down in the mine shafts; in his spare time a woman chaser, drunkard and gambler who regularly beats up his little brother. Billy has a past as a punished member of a criminal boy gang, which now haunts him. School is a nuisance and least of all Billy Kasper wants to go down the pit, working in the mines. He is only happy when he wanders around in the nature surround the gloomy mining town.

 

 

Billy is a sensitive and attentive boy, who against all odds has managed to preserve his joy and self-respect. During one night, he climbs, while endangering his life, up the wall of a ruined monastery and steals a kestrel chicken. With the help of a book he stole in a book store, Billy trains the bird to become a skilled hunting hawk. Kes, as he calls his kestrel, becomes for Billy an escape from his miserably circumvented and shabby existence. Through his patient training of Kes and his liberating hunt with his bird of prey, Billy’s self-confidence is strengthened, though he remains a stranger within the biased and vapid society that surrounds him.


It is a deeply moving and masterfully told novel which, given my past as a teacher, made quite an impression on me. The soul-destroying teaching, with its punishments and total failure to find the goodness, strength, willpower and search for security within an impoverished, bullied and abused boy, might torment any teacher with a love for his/her calling and obsessed by the joy of teaching.
 

 

A skilfully portrayed episode is when Billy Kasper is by an empathetic teacher convinced to enthusiastically tell the class about his falconry. After embarrassment and hesitation, Billy is seized by his subject and thus enchants the entire class, impressing the teacher who eventually seeks out Billy as he hunts with his falcon in the fields outside the town. The teacher realises that his student is a unique person, whose interest has opened up the world to him and might be a means to leave the boredom and bullying in a mining town immersed in bleak hopelessness, insecurity and poverty.

A Kestrel for a Knave contains both humour and joy, but it is nevertheless deeply tragic in its depiction of how a basically good and imaginative boy is constantly threatened with suffocation, enclosed as he is by a brutal and incomprehensible environment.

 

 

And now back to the introduction: “Some people like to watch birds pecking in swamps. But, we like cinema!” For me it is a truth with modification – of course I like to watch movies, but as my blog post hopefully has ind