Building the reliquary

Updated: Mar 3, 2020


What exactly was the trigger for my Pope toy? In hindsight I would say it was this early 17th century copper engraving from the Mundus subterraneus by Joannem Janssonium & Elyseum Weyerstraten. An evocative scene evolves under the brightly radiating Jesuit monogram. IHS the Greek abbreviation of the name of Jesus Christ. About hundred years earlier St. Ignatius Loyola adopted this symbol as the seal of the Jesuit order. What I found particularly striking is the fact that a whole collection of scientific instruments and tools tumbles over the stairs at the feet of the Scholar, while by contrast on the opposite side we see nothing at all. I suspect that the words 五千年的歷史,七千年的文化 (5000 years of history and 7000 years of culture) had not been spoken, in any case there was apparently no need to depict a single artifact from one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The man from China stands there servile and empty handed.

The engraving provoked yet another association: Albrecht Durer's Melancholia from 1514 sprung to mind. The print's central subject is a winged female figure. Resting her head in her hand while she looks up from her work, distracted and maybe a little annoyed by a something that seems to be a huge cubic block of stone weightlessly hanging in the air. The area is strewn with symbols and tools associated with craft and carpentry, science, alchemy, geometry and so forth. A bat or devilish creature holds a banner: Melancholia I.

Dutch artist Armando (1929 - 2018) made a fantastic series of dry needle etchings reflecting on Dürer's printing under the same title. I have to admit that when I try to put together a regular cubic-shaped cabinet as reliquary, I almost naturally end up with a shaky, not entirely 90° perfect thing... very similar to Armando's engravings and completely in line with household carpentry and the melancholic mood.