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Dionysus the Aeropagite - The Order of Angels
Original title: Dionysius Aeropagita - Die Ordnung der Engel
Lead, zinc, cardboard, steel wire, acrylic, emulsion, oil and lacquer on canvas
Dimensions: Diptych: 331 x 554 cm
From 1984 on, Kiefer’s painting was dominated by landscape, a nocturnal landscape of dark tones, with a high horizon that brought the spectator face to face with the earth: an earth burnt, devastated and laid to waste by human suffering. During those years, he had brought greater visual complexity to the landscape, both through the image and how he worked the pictorial surface. Dionysius Aeropagita – die Ordnung der Engel, which belongs to his angels series, is undeniably dense in meanings and rich in pictorial effects. The painting is constructed with thick layers of oil paint that include and support a variety of materials. It is also cracked and partially burned to represent the charred landscape. What it means is open to speculation, particularly upon knowing that his iconography comes from an amalgam of gnostic, Kabbalistic and mystical elements. As the title—written in the upper left corner of the canvas—indicates, he began with a fifth-century text by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which establishes a heavenly hierarchy of nine orders of angels: seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels, arranged in descending order according to their proximity to God. To symbolise the angels, Kiefer places each order on rocks made of lead, which hang from the upper part of the canvas by a wire and are identified by a cardboard tag with the number and name of each class of angel. In many traditions, rocks are sacred. In alchemy, a practice he had always been interested in, lead is related to Saturn and rocks are venerated because they are believed to come from heaven. The dominant element in the piece is an airplane propeller, also made of lead, a symbol of flight and, therefore, of transcendence. In the title, Kiefer has altered the name “Areopagita” to “Aeropagita”, apparently to emphasise its significant connection to the air and the heavens, which is completed by the allusion to the aeroplane. Kiefer regards the propeller as an object that travels through time with a spiral movement, bringing history to the surface of his painting. As in other paintings from the same period, Kiefer represents the theme of spiritual salvation. Heavenly power comes to Earth once it has been purified by fire (the burnt earth). And, as in his 1974 painting entitled Painting = Burning, he associates fire with the redeeming power of art, which may have the strength to restore the earth, society, and bring it to a more spiritual condition. However, it might also appear as though Kiefer is being ironic by using a lead propeller that cannot fly and by symbolising the heavenly substance—the aerial spirit—with one of the heaviest materials on earth.