PRINT January 1979


For J.F.S.S.

While he [Theophanes the Greek] delineated and painted all these things no one ever saw him looking at models as some of our painters do who, being filled with doubt, constantly bend over them casting their eyes hither and thither and instead of painting with colors they gaze at the models as often as they need to. He, however, seemed to be painting with his hands, while his feet moved without rest, his tongue conversed with visitors, his mind dwelled on something lofty and wise, and his rational eyes contemplated that beauty which is rational.
—Epifanij the Wise, Letter to Cyril of Tver (c. 1415)1

WE APPLY CERTAIN NOTIONS from the earlier history of painting, especially religious painting, to present-day art, not to project meaning onto contentless forms, but to inquire into integral contents in art, at a time when early modern aspirations to a transcendental function for painting have revived. The legacy of Russian Suprematism, which inherited already “abstract” thematic and formal preoccupations from icon painting, inspires artists to approach the issue of transcendent value directly, confronting the privileged place that painting may have with respect to the outside reality in which it exists and on which it critically comments. We have already considered the cross as one paradigm of organization and meaning in abstract art.2 The icon suggests itself as another, even more broadly applicable, model, especially as concerns representation and nonrepresentation.

Categorical differences between icon and cross are not always clear, most obviously in cases where an icon represents the Crucifixion, with the cross as its dominant pictorial motif. Any image showing the cross presents us with the definitive planar configuration: two lines intersecting, which generate a plane. Such flat representations can be considered at least artistic (and sometimes religious) stand-ins for a crucifix, the true crucifix with corpus being, at the other extreme, a piece of sculpture (although even then ambiguity attaches to the part of a crucifix that is not sculptural, the plain cross part, which is only sculptural to the extent that relief is the sculptural shadow of painting).

From the modern point of view, there can only be ambiguity when the cross in a crucifixion image is abstract enough to raise the question of whether it is pictorial at all. In a basalt Frankish gravestone crucifix from the end of the 7th century (Rheinisches Landes-museum, Bonn), the upper half, with cut-out orthogonal Greek cross, is surmounted by the head of Christ, three smaller Greek crosses in relief appearing above and to either side of the head in a pedimental top, with figural shoulders and arms “framing” the upper two open quadrants and a pair of schematic legs bordering the lower dividing beam. Two more small relief crosses are held by the figure’s hands to the left and right, as if to account narratively for the crossbar. But in the lower register an even larger “X”-shaped (St. Andrew’s) cross divides the lower square very crisply, with parallel incised lines in the members of the “X” stressing geometry over figuration, while four incised lines of the same type “frame” this square much more nonobjectively than do the anthropomorphic features of the cross-in-square above. At the point of intersection of the “X” is another small orthogonal cross in relief, like those above, which serves to link, and to equate, the pictorial and the abstract sectors of the sculpture.

Or consider the great Cross of Lothar, of chased gold, perhaps made in Cologne in about 980 (Cathedral Treasury, Aachen),3 a freestanding (processional?) cross that is nevertheless so far removed from sculpture as a category (except to the extent that anything engraved is literally sculpted, graven) that it condenses representation, one might say, even further than to painting, to a state of drawing in pure line. A cross (bearing the corpus) is represented graphically on a cross-shaped format. The artist was aware of this as an esthetic proposition, for he made a point of representing the depicted cross as having its (unframed) upper outside edge coincident with the inside framing band of the overall cross. So the depicted cross hangs down from the very frame of its (also cruciform) ground, as if in analogy with the “representational” hanging-down of Christ’s body within that inner cross: a pictorial artifice is encompassed by the real artifice of graphic art.

A 12th-century icon of the Novogorod school (Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery) literally represents no human figures at all, only the cross with the crown of thorns and some angels, the corpus of Christ being missing. We also see personifications of the sun and moon, but they are as abstract as metaphors—as are all images of angels, who are the only inhabitants of this scene. Otherwise, the only object is the sign of the cross itself, isolated against a spaceless, transcendent ground of light. If this is the closest that an icon can come to being a cross, how interesting that the other side of the panel should bear the exact opposite, a picture that is so much an image as to constitute the definitive icon: the face of Christ, the image of the Divine Image. This icon motif, like a cross, can be approached from the modern point of view, especially for ideas of absolute, unreduced, physically groundless reflection, not to mention the idea of a motif that is given and not invented.

It is important that this icon has two faces, one “cruciform” and one “iconic,” not simply a front and a back.4 If the cruciform side were meant to be an unseen back, it would not have its Orthodox-style foot-rest (suppendaneum) tilted in the correct direction. Traditionally, in Russian Orthodox icon painting, the foot-rest is depicted reversed, as it is here: a real cross, say, on a building, would show a foot-rest sloping down from upper right to lower left, not the opposite, as here and as customarily.5 To a Russian an icon is thus a presence looking out forever toward our (transient) beholding. Not surprisingly, the superimposition of a cross on a face is one of the fundamental configurations of early modern Russian painting.

Crosses are frequently represented in Russian painting of the avant-garde. The Novgorod icon has a crown of thorns slung over the cross, which translates readily into a circle around the point of intersection of an upright cross, just the configuration that we find in,for example, a Composition in gouache on board, by Ilya Chasnick, dating from 1923. Chasnick has straightened the foot-rest to the horizontal, either to generalize the Orthodoxy of the motif or to override the question of reversed, or not reversed, iconic orientation. Malevich, too, made adjustments of this kind, and several of his major cruciform Suprematist Paintings from after 1920 eliminate the foot-rest entirely, leaving a regular Latin cross.

Many obvious cruciform configurations occur in Suprematist and Constructivist painting. Frequently the cross as a whole is rotated off the vertical axis, in conformity with an oblique orthogonal structure, encouraging an unbounded effect. Then the cruciformal analogy between orthogonal stretcher bars and a depicted intersection seems more pictorial, and the edges take on the function of cropping a boundless plane rather than governing a bounded field: Leon Polk Smith’s No. 7802, 1978, is a beautifully poised example. There is, however, a Kandinsky painting, Red Bar, 1927 (formerly Guggenheim), in which the dominant motif is a vertical cross with a diagonal red crossbar, stressed by a triangular arrowhead tip. However, the red bar thrusts upward from the lower left to the upper right, violating the orientation of what must be the most familiar of all emblems to a Russian. Kandinsky’s intent could either have been to cancel any traditional iconic reference, or else to retain it, while canceling its prefabricated significance. Or perhaps he was turning from the iconic to the cruciform, presenting his symbolic motif as it was accustomed to being found not contained within a painting but as a concrete thing in the world.

Both crosses and icons seem to have a special relation to the modern painting as a self-sufficient but transcendent entity. This has to do with religious questions of representation and nonrepresentation, and also with notions of the symbolic and the incarnate, which run parallel with esthetic concepts of the mode of being of a work of, especially abstract, art. The cross is a preeminently structural form. The icon, as a conventionalized image (generally painted on canvas over panel) is more problematic in relation to abstraction. Obviously it stands close to the aspirations of Post-Impressionist painting toward a flat and conventionalized image that is inert, self-sufficient, not in a depictively (or idolatrously) subordinate relation to its motif, and that may somehow implicate a whole transcendent sphere. Affinities of this kind were considered by artists, especially once the Russian icons began to be cleaned and noticed, around 1910.6 But such an intervention, by one tradition (old religious art) upon another (self-consciously new painting), could not have occurred if the logic of the new, creative, receiving tradition had not demanded it.

We can observe spiritual as well as formal affinities between Picasso’s La Vie, painted in Barcelona in 1903, and an icon of The Virgin and St. John from Constantinople, probably painted in 1395. Key features of the posture, drapery and placement of the figures compare, especially the motif of a morose woman with one hand wrapped mittlike in her long gown. We might wonder whether Picasso knew icons of this type, especially as he was generally interested in medieval art at this time.7 Most striking, however, are not detached formal similarities, but correspondences of overall expressive effect. If both works are about morbid dejection,8 their spiritual affinity is advanced by comparably abstract artistic means, since the Virgin and Saint John are obviously mourning a crucified Christ who would normally be represented between them, while in La Vie the human dejection of a pair of closely paired couples (lovers at the left, a mother and child at the right) is increased by separating them with two represented works of art (a drawing of crouching lovers above a painting no doubt based on Van Gogh’s etching Sorrow). It could even be claimed that, if a crucifix is not represented but implied in the icon, there is a cruciformal relation between the two horizontally equated figure pairs in La Vie and the two vertically equated works of art (works that are both thematically related to the “real” figures), with the hand of the standing male figure (in analogy with Picasso’s hand, even as he paints this?) occurring at the point of bilateral intersection. We are interested, then, in a kind of content that is not borrowed from literary or iconographic tradition, one in which specifically artistic relations correspond with general significance, where the specialized work of painting relates to consciousness and emotion.9

The portraits of Gustave Klimt are among the most forthrightly iconic of modern paintings, in their gold and silver ornamental passages as well as their insistence on flat design. Further iconic formal qualities are apparent in portraits where a figure takes the form of a tall, condensed triangular zone impacted with ornamental forms, and where the edges of this mass collide with a competing decorative ground. A comparable disposition can be found today in paintings by Thornton Willis, where a large, pointed, roughly triangular mass pushes up from the lower edge of the canvas, splitting the “ground” in two: when one side of such a form is more or less vertical, we may find an especially close affinity with a Klimt portrait where the figure might have a straight back on one side matched with an inflected, irregular edge along the other, as in Hope, II, 1907–08. In Willis’ paintings, similarly, the intruding central form can be bracketed together as part of a double triangular light/dark, figure/ground alternation on one side and a comparable alternation between more or less rectangular bands on the other.

We come close to the spirit of the icon in the fascination on the part of the members of the Blaue Reiter group with the Bavarian hinterglasmalerei tradition (literally, “painting on the back of glass”) of folkloric holy pictures painted from behind on pieces of glass. The Bavarian hinterglasmaler perpetuated a tradition of frontal, or at least highly schematic, holy images, that were visually quite like the icons of Orthodoxy, even though the modesty with which the folk painter took his subject for granted pictorially does not compare with the learned and quasi-priestly role of the icon painter in respect to his conventions.

Kandinsky painted hinterglasmalerei, although, despite the often reckless spiritualism of his writings, efforts are now made to negate the religious content of these paintings. Thus Kandinsky’s Sancta Francisca, 1911, has been treated as though it were practically a joke referring to the artist’s servant girl, Fanny, even though the joke, if it is one, depends on the fact that St. Francisca of Rome is the patron saint of housewives. Similarly, in his St. Vladimir, 1911 (Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich),which is conceded to relate to Orthodox icons, we have the image of the Russian patron saint of artists, whose feast day was the same as St. Vassily; and Kandinsky lends Vladimir his own features.10 Surely the point is that Fanny was a kind of Francisca, just as Wassily was, or at least aspired to be, a kind of Vladimir, and not that in their human lives they had nothing in common with the saints? The illustration of several examples of hinterglasmalerei in Kandinsky and Franz Marc’s Der Blaue Reiter (1912), including the frontispiece, was accompanied by texts that were not religiously negative, whether a remark like Macke’s “Only through . . . form . . . do we sense the secret powers, the ‘invisible God,’” or the extended “quotation” about the building of Moses’ tabernacle borrowed from W. Rozanov’s Italian Impressions (St. Petersburg, 1909).11 Paul Klee also painted hinterglasmalerei.

In modern painting the iconic and the cruciform converge in schematic treatments of a single head where a horizontal at eye-level intersects with the vertical axis of the nose. This configuration appears to have developed in the Russian contingent of the Blaue Reiter wing of German Expressionism, especially with Jawlensky and Kandinsky, and to have been fundamental to Malevich as well. There is even a sheet of two sketches, drawn by Malevich sometime between 1917 and 1930, where a filled-in head and an Orthodox-type cross are separated but juxtaposed, the head above the cross.12

This concept finds its theological counterpart, which is worthy of mention, in the ancient defense of the icon by analogy with the cross. A council at Constantinople in 691 (or 692) had defined the cross “as an instrument of the Incarnation, and therefore the object of honors proper to the mechanism of salvation rather than simply as a symbol of the Crucifixion.”13 During the iconoclastic period of 726–843 in Constantinople, panel paintings were completely forbidden, and murals were restricted to ornament and to certain symbols such as the cross.14 A council held at Nicea in 787 saluted “the form of the precious and life-giving cross” on behalf of icons (and relics), affirming: “One of the traditions which we . . . preserve is that of making representational paintings . . ., as confirming the real and not merely the imaginary incarnation of God the Logos, and as contributing to good in other ways. For those things which illustrate each other emphasize each other.”15

The question of representation in sacred art was not everywhere readily put to rest. In Armenia the cross alone, and not the icon, was acceptable in sacred art.16 In Western Europe the crucifix carrying a sculptural corpus was not frequently found until the turn of the millenium. Thomas Aquinas accorded the cross latria, the highest of his three degrees of worship (the next being hyperdulia, for representations of the human Jesus, and, lastly, dulia, for saints as images of the Image of God, that is, for being Christ-like): one wonders whether he would have had the newer sculptural crucifixes in mind, rather than crosses that we would consider more “abstract.” About a century later, in the Golden Legend (translated by the Franco-Polish art critic Theodor de Wyzewa, co-founder of the Révue wagnerienne in 1884), reference is made to the iconoclasm of the Emperor Theodosius, who effaced pagan “emblems” from the walls of Alexandria and replaced them with the painted “sign of the cross,” an act which took the wind out of the sails of Egyptian pagans, since it reminded them of “a letter . . . in their language” [the ankh, of course] which “was by their doctrine the symbol of the future life.”17

When the early iconoclasts succeeded for a time in overthrowing religious images, what began to appear were “genre scenes, such as pictures of the chase, Hippodrome, trees, birds and beasts,” as well as revivals of Hellenistic models and decorations borrowed from the Arabs and, ultimately, the Persians18—in all, a development that could be interpreted as signaling a new art more open than icons were to naturalism. That is practically the opposite of the high medieval iconoclasm of Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th-century reformer who attacked “not religious art, but profane images of an unbridled, often irrational fantasy, themes of force in which he [admitted] only a satisfaction of idle curiosity,”19 or of Bernardino of Siena, who, turning away from pictures, painted Jesus’ name on a board and had the people venerate that instead,20 which would please many French theoreticians now. Schapiro’s criticism of Gothic iconoclasm as being hostile to “an attitude of spontaneous enjoyment and curiosity about the world, expressed through images that stir the senses and the profane imagination,”21 does not refer to the anti-icon iconoclasm of c. 800. Only if the two movements had behind them different, even contradictory, motivations could the iconoclastic Emperor Constantine V Copronymus (741–75) have commissioned a portrait of his favorite charioteer to replace a fresco representing the Sixth Ecumenical Council.22

The idea that iconoclasm indicates a general hostility to representation, then, must be scrutinized. The ancient iconoclasm was a hostility to the representation of transcendent persons or events. As such, it could encourage a representational art confined only to mundane subjects as well as discourage representation at large, or even all art. In more modern terms, the split is between those who acknowledge the capacity of art to deal with transcendent, abstract or otherwise extraordinary matters, and those who want pictures of the appearance of the real world (or none at all). It is no accident that the Russian Suprematists, once the Russian icons were rediscovered by modern art, should have advanced an art that was as abstract as possible yet with metaphysical, even apocalyptic, overtones that before only the most religious art ever had.

No wonder even the religiously attuned icon revivalists in Russia should have despised the disruptive West European “realistic” influence on Russian icons in the 17th and 18th centuries. For Prince Eugene Trubetskoi, for instance, realistic religious painting was gross “biologism,”23 just another example of what struck Trubetskoi as “the dreary spiritual meshchanstvo (genteel petit-bourgeois vulgarity) that has engulfed the modern world.”24 For Trubetskoi “having a religious theme . . . does not suffice to make . . . an icon an object suitable for liturgical use. Its mode of expression must be spiritual, that is, such as to make it anagogic, pointing to a reality beyond the physical which is why expressive “distortions” may even be desirable. In icons “mountains, trees, buildings and so on” are to be “schematic, abstract”; besides, the mundane is transcended further “by reducing space to a minimum, and by suppressing perspective and physical light.”25 Some of the internal iconographical logic of Orthodox icon painting survived the transformation of sacred “communal” icon art into secular-communal Revolutionary art, as, for example in the case of the color red, which, in the icons, stands for Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom, i.e. the Creator),26 just as in Lissitsky’s famous street poster, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919–20, it stands for the thrust of the new order coming forcefully into being.27

The iconic tendency in Malevich’s work is apparent well before he turned to abstraction. The picture called Peasant Women at Church, 1911 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), has cruciform subject matter, in that it interrupts and freezes the women’s making the sign of the cross (as in the robotic images of Léger) at the moment of completing that act in the Orthodox fashion. Nevertheless, that is still a picture of something cruciformal. For the iconic we can turn to images probably painted within about the next year, to such paintings of single, schematized heads as the bearded Head of a Peasant and the also bearded face of a man called The Orthodox, both now lost.28

One may wonder just what sort of transformation Malevich’s view of religion actually underwent with the Russian Revolution. According to his brief (and funny) 1923 “Autobiography,”29 Malevich was not brought up in a religious home, although his father liked to have priests, Catholic and Orthodox, to dinner. The Maleviches did have icons in the house, although Kasimir claims that “it would never have occurred to anyone to see ordinary faces of people in the icons or the color in them as the means of depicting them.” However, when he denies that the icons he saw as a boy would have influenced him artistically, it is clearly because what he was looking for as a youth was naturalism in painting. It is difficult, given the light tone of the text, to tell whether, by the very slackness of the family’s religiosity, all the more of the ethnic imprint of Russian Orthodoxy remained with him than might have happened if he had had to make any appropriate ideological adjustment at all. Apparently, in light of such other writings as “On the Subjective and Objective in Art or on Art in General” (1922), Malevich placed belief in God in a subjective sphere, as not open to outside verification. Yet there is in his own esthetics a rich dialectic between the concrete and the ideal, so much so that from the Suprematist point of view the positivism of Western European Constructivism is inadequate. Malevich did design the cover of a book called God Is Not Dead: Art, Church and Factory (Vitebsk, 1922), which, needless to say, would not have supplied much in the way of devotional reading, but which does show the survival of a frame of reference.30 Even that, however, does not explain why numerous drawings show motifs that are not only cruciform but specifically religious: a Crucifixion, Golgotha, of 1911, plus a Figure with Outstretched Arms in the Form of a Cross, a Crucifixion drawing entitled Three Masculine Figures: Golgotha, and the sketch of a figure at two graves with crosses, Praying Peasant, the last three all from 1933.31

According to Valentine Marcadé, who considers Malevich’s involvement with the Russian peasant paintings called lubki, and who discusses Malevich’s pictures of a single face schematized into an oval with the features condensed into a cross (beneath one such head is written “Mystical, religious turning-point of form”), the main issue for Malevich was empathy with the peasantry.32 We might even say that his recourse to Christian imagery was in this regard Tolstoian, however purged of theology. Malevich did, rather megalomaniacally, want to be buried with his arms outstretched in a crucifixion posture (he wasn’t), which would have amounted to blasphemy if he had been religious,33 yet it does not seem adequate to say that “the cross with six ends that he devised can be called neither Orthodox nor Catholic,”34 since a six-ended cross is distinctly Orthodox. Marcadé elaborates, “For the artist it serves as an emblem of Christianity and the peasantry, denoting the idea of martyrdom befalling the lot of the guiltless guilty, of the ‘humble of this world,’ ” yet he still notes, openendedly, “how many times Malevich uses the adjectives ‘mystical,’ ‘Orthodox’ and ‘religious’ in his sketches” as evidence of an “organic tendency towards a metaphysical interpretation of nature.” One way or another, it seems impossible not to regard paintings like several mature Suprematist Paintings, painted after 1920, as modern icons of crosses, or, at least, as completely abstract paintings whose pure abstraction involves capitalizing on the icon as a prototype of the depicted ideal and on the cross as a ready-made, quasi-abstract sign.

Towards the end of Eisenstein’s film October (1927), when the people burst into the Winter Palace and are amazed by what they see, there is a significant reference to Russian icon painting. The rich icons that the mob finds belong to the life of decadent luxury and irresponsibility that the mob discovers in the palace, but Eisenstein presents this truism and then qualifies it, first by eliciting disappointed honor before ignoble venality: brassieres hanging from a cue-rack by the emperor’s pool table. Then we see a commoner discovering an Orthodox icon. He renders it something between a bow and a nod of recognition, reserving hostility for a different, insipidly pseudo-religious picture, much larger than the icon, showing Christ guiding the imperial family. All this happens in almost an instant, but, while the more crudely polemical point is not interrupted or confounded by the appearance of the icon, a subtler point is made about the disgust elicited, in comparison with the icon, by the sight of the naturalistic painting that appeals to spirituality to endorse oppression. Could Malevich’s cruciform and iconic imagery be similarly complex?

The imagery of the Orthodox icon seems to have retained significance throughout the first Soviet generation in Russia. A writer could still speak in terms that almost transparently derive from the ancient Russian icon as a paradigm of artistic worth in 1936, claiming that an artist’s work shows “a tendency to monumentalism, decorativeness, and stylization which strengthens his art as the reflection of a future life.”35 One convincing iconic presentation of the cross motif in recent Soviet art is a stage design by Lev Nusberg (b. 1937), who leads a group called “Dvizhenie” (Motion), involved with reviving the Russian abstract tradition with modern Western influence. Nusberg seems aware of iconicity, in at least a generalized Constructivist form, since he has described the principle of axial symmetry that dominates his design in iconic terms, as heightening “the ornamental character of the work, as being symbolic of man’s relations to infinity.”36 It is as if the figures of speech grew weaker with each generation.

If Russian Suprematism was most responsible for exemplifying iconicity on behalf of the modernist cause, other early modern movements did make contributions. A pertinent work from the time of the First World War is the Dadaistic wooden collage 2 det Bud (The Second Commandment), 1918 (Staatens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen) by the Danish artist Wilhelm Lundstrom. The “bud” of the title incorporates a pun, since this word can mean either “morsel” or, alternatively, “commandment”37—as, of course, in the sense of not making “a graven image, or any likeness of anything . . .” (Exodus 20: 4). The piece has a certain wit, since it is built up of (not carved into) wood, and, in the high Cubist fashion, it has only numbers and letters for motifs and so cannot be accused of being graven or representational.

If Constructivism, despite its stylistic affinity with Suprematism, seems to have proven itself quite undialectically materialistic, Expressionism was perhaps the modern movement most open to religious imagery (hence it stood in the way of the Nazi paganization program). although out of an illustrative impulse that was not always iconic. The German Expressionists turned frequently to religious themes, especially in their graphics,38 which is important for the development of postwar Expressionism as well as for the issue of modernized iconic content. Jawlensky’s 1922 suite of six lithographic Heads, curiously enough, turns from the more to the less iconic; at least the heads start out closer to having a cross framed in an oval meet the iconic image of a face half way.39 Otherwise, the German Expressionists turned often to the woodcut, which starts with a literally graven image that is then reversed or “reflected” into a second, nongraven and definitively flat image.

If in France, Chagall, as a Jewish artist, dealt astutely and sympathetically with Christian transcendental content, Rouault’s personal Expressionism was devoted to Christian themes projected in psychological terms. Take his Street of the Lonely, 1922 (Museum of Modern Art), where a pair of industrial smokestacks is set directly above a pair of figures far down “Lonely Street.” There would be no reason to read the twin verticals of the smokestacks as particularly cruciformal, or even to think of Barnett Newmanin relation to them, except that in Rouault’s Christ in the Suburb, painted two years earlier (Ishibachi Museum, Tokyo), we find one such smokestack paired with a sun (or moon) in a similarly gloomy sky, with the sun above Christ and the smokestack above two children:40 there it must carry symbolic overtones of some kind, since its pendant, the sun, obviously forms a halo motif over Christ.41

Constructivism put a premium on cruciformal systems, although we must be careful to reserve Suprematism, with its “existential lyricism and highly expressive quality,”42 in a separate category. All sorts of cruciformal constructions can be found in Constructivist sculpture as well as in painting. In a rather Andre-like wooden Construction, c. 1920 (Centraal Museum, Utrecht), by Gerrit Rietveld, for example, three square-ended beams intersect in a kind of three-dimensional Greek cross that is perfectly regular in form even though it is asymmetrical from any side. Moholy-Nagy would seem to have been the single famous practitioner who most sought to denature the cross form as a symbolic motif in painting. In his A x 1, of 1923, we find a Latin cross not only rotated obliquely off the vertical (which is typical of Malevich) but also upside down. A set design by Moholy, for the second set for Hasenclever’s play Menschen (1923), uses a repeating pattern of white “negative” Latin crosses on a dark ground for a decorative backdrop, with at least one of the stage props also in the form of a Latin cross.43

The logic of treatises like Kandinsky’s Point-Line-Plane (1926) or Klee’s less discursive Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925), is not out of touch with Renaissance tradition. In the De Pictura, written in 1435, Alberti set down that “the first thing to know is that a point is a sign which we might say is not divisible into parts. I call a sign (signum) anything which exists in a surface so that it is visible to the eye” (l.2). Alberti had to stress pure geometry in order to earn for painting the social standing of a liberal art: in the Bauhaus context, the two modern books are just as emphatically modern for being “scientific” in style. It is interesting that as an example of what he meant by the distinction between figurative art and abstraction, Kandinsky should in 1926 have referred to a famous print of the head of Christ as an example of smothering points in figuration.44 There the iconic tradition diminishes beyond recognition.

The invocation of the icon on behalf of modernism could be quite calculated. Naum Gabo, in his 1959 Mellon Lectures, published as Of Divers Arts (1962), juxtaposed Malevich’s wonderful Eight Red Rectangles,45 c. 1914 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), with a detail of the head and shoulders of a Church Father from the great fresco icons of the Church of the Assumption at Novgorod, stating: “The nonobjective ideology proclaimed by the Suprematists in 1915 is the consequence of the rejection of Cubist experiments, but an art historian will not fail to see the real and complete influence that the concepts of Russian art—of the icons as well as Vrubel—had on the mentality and conscious vision of that group of artists in Russia.”46 Gabo was also interested in the working procedures of the icon painters, as they seemed relevant to the Constructivist ideal of a working artistic collectivity: “. . . each outstanding artist left a set of patterns which the Church canonized, but these patterns were only tracings of the silhouettes of the figures and their place in a fresco or an icon; all the other elements in a composition were left free for the individual imaginative and artistic ability of the team of masters who executed it. In addition, the silhouettes themselves were not immutable.” Most importantly, working within what was given by such guidelines meant that “as in [the artist’s] folk art, every line in his icon or fresco, every shape and color, was transformed from a detail into a theme.”47 Gabo’s juxtaposition of the icon detail with the painting by Malevich is not simply an attempt to reveal how the flat forms of an icon may be read as surprisingly abstract. More than that, he implies that great art involves some sort of distillation, and that an element revealed in one work of art can, isolated for study and development, inspire a new entirety, with that process open to subsequent repetition.

It seems to have been up to America to transcend the categories of spirit and matter which Expressionism and Constructivism had divided between themselves. If Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of crosses are too pictorial to be considered structurally “cruciformal,” as presentational images of crosses they nevertheless have iconic properties that relate to certain present-day painting as well as to her other less apparently iconic paintings. O’Keeffe has commented on the distinction in mood and inspiration that she found between the somber outdoor crosses of (sunny) New Mexico, and the cheerful gaiety of those in (bleak) French Canada.” In some of her cross paintings, especially where the cross is approached closely enough to be cropped by the framing edge of the canvas—works such as Black with Red Sky, 1929—there is an architectural quality, if not anything specifically Constructivistic in design (O’Keeffe is too involved with Nature for that). One recalls Paul Strand’s architectural photographs taken in New Mexico around the same time, photographs like Ranchos de Taos Church, New Mexico, 1931. It is noteworthy that, in the autobiographical “Chronology” that Ad Reinhardt compiled for his exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1967, where the painting of only a few paintings rated mention (Malevich being the only artist with two works), noted in the entry for 1929: “Georgia O’Keeffe paints Black Cross, New Mexico.”49 O’Keeffe’s combination of architectural and cruciform inspirations into an abstract iconic image relates, in our time, to Lucio Pozzi’s Mosna, painted (in Italy) in 1963, where the bulging planes recall O’Keeffe’s combinations of Taos adobe architecture and cropped cross images.

Clyfford Still’s Painted in 1937 in Pullman, Washington is a somber Surrealistic landscape showing what might be called a biomorphic pessimism in the bony forms that inhabit the scene (different from, but parallel to, the biomorphic lyricism of O’Keeffe’s desert bones). This is iconic less in a rarified sense that might apply to later works by Still than in its being an image, an invented picture, an image of something held up as evocative or symbolic. How different is the initial refinement of a markedly similar configuration in Gary Stephan’s He Was Transformed, 1978. This painting has a heavy, firm, abrupt abutment, where dark and light push up against one another in the upper middle, which amounts to an “internal edge” within the configuration that is as physical as the outside edge of the canvas. The title alone, which could easily have been used by an artist of Still’s generation in a mythopoetic sense, now almost seems, in a broader way to be sure, to suggest transfiguration as the preeminent theme of the Orthodox icons, where it has everything to do with the nature of appearance and of representation.

In 1941, Robert Motherwell painted a precocious work consisting almost entirely of vertical stripes, Little Spanish Prison, What might seem like a hesitant inflection of that painting is a vital detail: the interruption of wavering vertical bands by a short dark horizontal of about the same width, near the upper left-hand corner. This stripe is in analogy with, but also in opposition to, all the others. It starts at the boundary between two stripes but then continues beyond the opposite edge of a third and into a fourth, affirming the shared edges of the vertical stripes and violating them at the same time. From Motherwell’s Little Spanish Prison it is but a short step to Frank Stella’s Coney Island, of 1958, where the whole surface is covered with regularly alternating stripes, interrupted by a dark black vertical rectangle. Both systems begin and end with a half-stripe, and the dark zone that interrupts the rhythm of an otherwise relentless march of stripes (whether vertical, as with Motherwell, or horizontal, as with Stella), extends from the abutment of two stripes to the middle of a stripe; furthermore, at the end left “open,” we find the dark exception to a light rule in both cases. Such negative figuration as these interruptions is not a flaw in some otherwise perfect march of stripes. It carries iconic implications of frontality and of the direct purveying of some elemental motif to our apprehension, with the rest of the surface acting as an interdependent field.

Jasper Johns in the mid-1950s, with his paintings of the American flag, announced an iconicity in regard to painting itself, in comparison with which even Warhol’s clever and highly poetic resort to iconic motifs of popular culture is less profound. The Johns flags too are configurations in which a field of horizontal stripes is interrupted by a rectangular zone, the “field” of the stars. Johns’ flags are definitively iconic in consisting of images of an image, and an emblematically abstract one at that. They also combine an iconographic obviousness with an artistic anonymity, “anonymity” that, in turn, renders up, in contradiction, a heightened personalism. That Johns never painted the flag after it was altered (twice) from its 48-star classic perfection lends these paintings of a supposedly timelessly abstract configuration an ironic, even Nietzschean, lyrical pessimism.50

In Stella’s Astoria, painted in 1958, we find a subtle reduction of the Coney Island scheme. Here the stripes, still all horizontal, are all light, with black showing through between them. Now, as in Stella’s stripe paintings and Johns’ flags, we begin and end, at top and bottom, with a complete stripe. And although we also find a rectangle interrupting the whole, that form, slightly off-center, consists not of a solid dark interruption but of a further lightening of that part of the canvas, stripes and all. The two paintings by Stella can be seen in progression as, first, the proposition of an iconic state, with negative interruption of the field performing the role of an ironized or negated image, and then, in Astoria, as the dissolving of such an iconic property into the whole. If Stella’s classic phase depended on cruciformal structures in its affirmation of structure, iconic properties later arose in the reliefs, where zones of regular stripes are parts of a variegated whole (like the cross presented within an icon), and where curvy sheet-metal protrusions might even be compared with the metal rizas covering all but the faces in the old Russian icons.

Robert Ryman’s Windsor—20, 1966, reduces the same principle further, at a time when Stella had abandoned parallel stripes. Ryman presents us with an icon of painting itself, where iconicity in Stella led, by comparison, to the generation of ever new systems of inflection. Perhaps only now, ten years later, can we readily comprehend that Ryman, while broadly advancing the cause of reduction, was at the same time enshrining the stroke, the manual touch—something that disappeared from Stella’s work only to be revived, in caricatural exaggeration, later. Hence the inspiring importance of Ryman’s enduring inventiveness to painters today. Another important manifestation was the ironic importance that touch came to show, in the early 1970s, in drawings by sculptors, even sculptors working principally in Conceptual modes. Richard Serra’s drawings kept touch an urgent matter, while in the drawings of Mel Bochner, and even Bruce Nauman, touch had an eminence that is surprising, given the distance of their work from conventional sculpture, let alone from painting.

Even in art of the earlier 1970s that challenged received categories of painting and sculpture we can find the Stella-Ryman stripe, as in a 1972 project by Richard Long at the Museum of of Modern Art, where a Stella-esque rectangular spiral, a concentric meander of muddy footprints, related, however ironically, to Ryman’s painterly stripes (a comment on high culture made in natural terms). The painterliness that showed itself in “stripe” painting during these years is similarly interesting. Allan McCollum laid down very painterly white stripes on an unstretched ground, the whole hanging limp as a drape. Meanwhile, Ed Moses’ unstretched paintings of the time were reflexive both in theme—in their ready-made inspiration by already “abstract” Navajo blankets—but also in construction—since, like Navajo blankets, they comprise banks of parallel drawn lines gathered into symmetrical blocks.51 If, by the way, painting on limp canvas seems too removed from the givens of panel painting to be considered iconic, we have only to think of the “Veronica’s Veil” as an iconic prototype, that legendary imprint of Christ’s face left on the handkerchief offered him by St. Veronica in the event commemorated as the Sixth Station of the Cross,52 or of the specifically Russian legend and image of the “Icon Not Made by Human Hands.”

In the course of the 1970s much hovering doubt about the efficacy of painting has gradually dissipated. For Alan McCollum to produce recent works that are iconic enough to be considered images of the image of painting must be a symptom of confidence regained: his Untitled No. 783, 1978, where monochrome paint covers “frame,” “mat” and “field” alike in a web of brushstrokes, he even refers to as an “icon.” Certain older artists were vital in keeping faith in painting alive. Ralph Humphrey, for instance, is important to younger artists not only for his structural involvements with the format but, equally, for his often utterly rabid painterliness, which may have at least encouraged several younger painters who emphasize “thick” paint, especially those whose formats are not as eccentric as they might once have seemed. Rodney Ripps’ cornucopious outbursts of color painted on the tips of bunched artificial leaves dwell on the substance of paint, where the 17th-century floral still lifes that they otherwise resemble were caught up with the stroke as a pun on the depicted petal. Martha Diamond’s rich impastos float a form of ultimately landscape origin in a swirling field of strokes, those outside the form being rigorously equated with those inside it. Marilyn Lenkowsky’s canvases warp out from the wall like the painted surfaces of vessels: her Giant, 1978, claims the corner of a room in a way that goes back to the original hanging of Suprematist paintings, in imitation of icons hung across a corner, between two adjacent walls.

Lucio Pozzi, whose Mosna we have already juxtaposed with O’Keeffe, has, over the last few years, developed a highly analytic but rigorously intuitive approach to the materials and procedures of painting, particularly in painting—iconically—on wood. He has made small paintings on a single piece of wood cut into two unequal lengths and then heavily stroked with layers of color, one piece painted with only longitudinal, and the other with only transverse, strokes; these pairs of elements then hang side by side, like Keith Milow’s Cross That Doesn’t Cross. Pozzi has recently produced a series of paintings in which a sizeable oblong of plywood is painted a different pastel color on each side, then cut obliquely (which is much more Suprematist than a perpendicular cut) and assembled by flipping one over the other, crosswise.

Pozzi had already painted a cross, in an untitled painting of 1961, by overlapping a wide horizontal band of paint over a wide vertical one, both extending from edge to edge of the canvas. This painting is more iconic than Jake Berthot’s otherwise comparable 1972 painting called Rib, where the crossing members seem more like separate beams, although the canvas is literally flat. A drawing by Stuart Hitch, from 1978, now recapitulates the Pozzi configuration, extending its dialectic of opposition by pairing this cross motif with a pendant drawing of similarly crossing/intersecting forms that are, instead, in an “X” (or St. Andrew’s) cross arrangement. Taken together, the two drawings relate integrally, like the top and bottom of the ancient Frankish gravestone. In Hitch’s large painting Durango, 1977, a wide yellow vertical bar crosses in front of red and blue zones that abut horizontally, in a cruciform arrangement that posits an analogy between a colored band and a shear between abutting fields.

It was astute of Barbara Rose to refer to the black cross paintings of Reinhardt as “icons without an iconography,”53 although when Thomas Merton referred to the small one that Reinhardt gave him for his monastic cell as an “icon,”54 he obviously implied that it was, in fact, an icon of something. Today, when new painting tends, often enough, to display a precocious sophistication, the issue of whether Malevich’s or Reinhardt’s crosses are intended to be crosses seems trivial beside the issue of acknowledging the capacity of painting to be as transcendental as whatever might commonly be considered holy. In Reinhardt’s time, even theology could comprehend that. The Dutch theologian Gerardus van der Leeuw, in whose work Mircea Eliade was interested, argued that only art that is totally abstract can now have spiritual value, in imagery that practically evokes Mallarmé: “The art of representation carried through to its conclusion is a valley without a view, a house without windows. It is a failure as holy art, unfruitful as art.”55 That is something that the ancient icon painters and Malevich and Reinhardt would all have understood, and that also pertains to painting now.

Joseph Masheck



1. Cyril Mango, ed., The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312–1453: Sources and Documents (Sources and Documents in the History of Art), Englewood Cliffs, N.J., n. d., p. 257.

2. Joseph Masheck, “Cruciformality,” Artforum, Summer 1977, pp. 56–63; “Hard-Core Painting,” Artforum, April 1978, pp. 46–55. Apparently it hasn’t been obvious to all that my concern with “cruciformality” serves as a means of access to specifically esthetic issues in painting now, the question of the transcendental meaning available to abstraction in particular. If I were interested simply in modern Crucifixions I would deal with such follies as Ottone Rosai’s L’uomo crocifisso, 1943 (Collezione Vaticana d’Arte Religiosa Moderna), a Crucifixion with the corpus dressed in slacks and sport coat. Or else I would discuss equally tacky art at the “hip” extreme, such as Reesey Shaw’s sophomoric photograph of herself (?) crucified, but only with rope (illus. in an Artforum advertisement, February 1978), a work that saves itself from blasphemy by what used to be called “invincible ignorance,” and that relates to an etching by Felicien Rops of a “voluptuous, unclad” woman replacing the body of Christ on the cross before an ascetic monk, which moved Freud to comment that Rops “seems to have known that the thing repressed proceeds, at its recurrence, from the agency of repression itself” (Sigmund Freud, “Delusion and Dream” [1907], trans. Harry Zohn, in Freud’s Delusion and Dream and Other Essays, ed. Philip Rieff, Boston, 1956, pp. 25–121, here p. 56.)

3. Illus., Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, trans. Janet Seligman, Greenwich, Conn., 1972, Vol. II, pl. 395.

4. David and Tamara Talbot Rice, Icons and Their History, Woodstock. N.Y., 1974, describing the Head of Christ side as a Veronica’s Veil device, acknowledge a date of “as early as the second quarter of the twelfth century,” and, for the Adoration of the Cross side, the end of the century; pp. 127–28, with pls. 95a, 95b, respectively.

5. B. A. Uspensky, “ ‘Left’ and ’Right’ in Icon Painting,” from Semeiotike: Sbornik statej po vtoricnym modelirujuscim sistemam (Tartu), 1973, pp. 137–45, trans. Ann Shukman, in Semiotica pp. 33–39. Thanks to Howard Buchwald for a copy.

6. Especially Margaret Betz, “The Icon and Russian Modernism,” Artforum, Summer 1977, pp. 38–45.

7. As in a related drawing cased The Two Sisters, representing the encounter of a nun and a prostitute in a hospital, which probably depends upon the sculptured Visitation group in the south porch of Chartres cathedral; Anthony Blunt and Phoebe Pool, Picasso: The Formative Years: A Study of his Development, New York, 1962, caption to pl. 109.

8. On such themes in Picasso’s painting at this time, see Theodore Reff, “Themes of Love and Death in Picasso’s Early Work,” in Paul Elek, ed., Picasso 1881–1973, London, 1974, pp. 13ff.

9. Interestingly, Barr left his remark on the pictorial iconography of La Vie hanging: “Obviously allegory is intended”; Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, repr. 1974, p. 26.

10. On both works, Hans Konrad Rothel’s introd. to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum catalogue Vassily Kandinsky: Paintings on Glass (Hinterglasmalerei), New York, 1966, esp. p. 10.

11. August Macke, “Masks,” in Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, eds., The Blaue Reiter Almanac (Documents of 20th-Century Art), ed. Klaus Lankheit, trans. Henning Falkenstein et al., New York, 1974, pp. 83–89. esp. p. 85; W. Rozanov. “Quotation,” ibid., pp. 187–89.

12. Illus, in the Galerie Gmurzynska catalogue Kasimir Malevict: zum 100 Geburtstag, Cologne, 1978, p. 89. In this cross the middle crossbar is tilted slightly to the upper right (not the foot-rest). On Jawlensky, cf. Walter Gaudnek, “The Religious Archetype in Ontomorphic and Polymorphic Art,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review, XXV/3 (Spring 1970), pp. 311–18, here p. 313: “When Jawlensky in many of his paintings transfigures elements of the human face into many-leveled cruciforms, he communicates in a priestly manner a cosmic and spatial transformation of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Death.”

13. The Quinisex Council, Anthony Cutler, Transfigurations: Studies in the Dynamics of Byzantine Iconography, University Park, Pa., 1975, p. 71, with ref. to J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio . . ., Florence, 1759–98, Vol. XI, col. 976.

14. Constantine Cavarnos, Orthodox Iconography, Belmont, Mass., 1977, p. 13. Cavarnos also points out that in the 14th century the Eastern church, too poor from having had to deal with crusaders and Ottomans, could not afford mosaic decoration and, so, turned to fresco. Despite the importance of Theophanes the Greek’s Novgorod and Moscow frescoes for the subsequent development of Russian painting, fresco never really flourished in Russia, where panel painting was primary (pp. 16–18). This is noteworthy, considering that “the earliest icons were made largely for private ownership” (Kurt Weitzmann, The Icon: Holy Images: Sixth to Fourteenth Century, New York, 1978, p. 11), because it invalidates the opening sentence of Clement Greenberg’s influential essay “The Crisis of the Easel Picture” (1948): “The easel painting, the moveable picture hung on a wall, is a unique product of the West, with no real counterpart elsewhere” (in his Art and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston, 1965, p. 154).

15. Second Council of Nicea (or Seventh Ecumenical Synod), decree “Concerning the Holy Icons,” excerpts from Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum (Note 13), Vol. WIII, cols. 129, 132, 377, 380, trans. Cavarnos in his Orthodox Iconography (Note 14), pp. 51–54. This text includes the single most quoted statement in history in favor of icons: “. . . In the same way as to the precious and life-giving Cross and to the holy Book of the Gospels and to the rest of the sacred objects, so to these also shall be offered incense and lights, in honor of them, according to ancient pious custom. For the honor which is paid to the icon passes on to that which the icon represents, and he who reveres the icon reveres in it the person who is represented” (ibid.). However, this defense, it is not generally recognized, cuts two ways: it grants painting equal honor with verbal revelation, but it locates its value behind its surface. as it were. instead of in the materials which it mobilizes and transcends. The artist, in other words, gets no credit at all, or else the same credit as a priest reiterating Holy Writ.

16. Josef Strzyggowski, Origin of Christian Church Art: New Facts and Principles of Research, trans. O. M. Dalton and H. J. Braunholtz, Oxford, 1923, repr. 1973, p. 143.

17. Jacques de Voragine, La Légende dorée, trans. Theodor de Wyzewa, Paris,1923, ch. xxxiii (September 14th, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross), pp. 518–30. The translator would no doubt have been fascinated by the fact that the emblèmes has been displaced by le signe (his words).

18. A. A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire 324–1453, 2nd English ed, Vol. I, Madison, Wis., 1958, pp. 289, 299.

19. Meyer Schapiro, “On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art” (1947), in his Selected Papers, Vol. I, Romanesque Art, New York, 1977, pp. 1–25, here p. 6.

20. Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought And Art in France and the Netherlands in the Dawn of the Renaissance, Garden City, n.d., p. 200.

21. Schapiro, “Aesthetic Attitude” (Note 19), pp. 6–7.

22. Vasiliev, Byzantine Empire (Note 18), p. 299.

23. Evgenii Nikolaevich Trubetskoi, “A World View in Painting” (1915), in his collected Icons: Theology in Color (!), trans. Gertrude Vakar, Crestwood, N.Y., 1973, pp. 13–39, here, e.g., pp. 21. 29, 36. Trubetskoi especially admires in (classic) icon painting the way “the dominance of the architectural lines over the human form expresses man’s subordination to the communal, the preponderance of the universal over the individual. Man here ceases to be a sell-contained person and submits to the overall design” (pp. 26–27; italics in original). Obviously, such an ideal of community, here expressed by a displaced aristocrat, could function as an instrument either of liberation or of oppression; on both implications of what is a recognizable Russian Symbolist viewpoint, see James West, Russian Symbolism: A Study of Vyacheslav Ivanov and the Russian Symbolist Aesthetic, London, 1970, esp. pp. 134–37.

24. Trubetskoi, “Two Worlds in Old-Russian Icon Painting” (1916), in his Icons (previous note), pp. 41–70, here p. 66, speaking of architecture. Trubetskoi, who thinks that such “impoverishment of the spiritual life is rooted in the complacency that results from increased material prosperity” (p. 67), makes a remark that, despite the political transparency of his position, has nearly Suprematist overtones: “. . . Our icons reflect the struggle of two worlds and two perceptions of the world that fills the history of mankind. On one hand, we have the flat perception that reduces everything to the earthly plane, on the opposite side, the mystical perception, which sees in the world and above it a great multitude of spheres, a great variety of planes of being—and knows it is possible to pass from plane to plane” (p. 60, italics in original). The third essay in this fascinating book was published during the Revolution: “Russia and Her Icons” (1918), pp. 71–98.

25. Cavarnos, Orthodox Iconography (Note 14), p. 37 (italics in original), with ref. to André Grabar, Byzantine Painting, Geneva, 1953, p. 39, and P. A. Michelis, An Aesthetic Approach to Byzantine Art, London. 1955, pp. 116–17, 157. Davarnos likes the idea that not everything in a traditional icon was fixed by formula, although in his reasoning he shows his true colors, stating as “the basic idea of true iconography . . . that everything in the icon should be reminiscent of a realm different from the material world” (p. 36; italics mine). He does refer to L. Ouspensky for support on his concept of “a spiritual realm and transfigured men,“ but he fails to notice the difference between that position and nostalgic escapism.

26. Trubetskoi, “Two Worlds” (Note 24), p 51.

27. On the iconography of Lissitzky’s poster, see Alan C. Birnholz, “Forms, Angles and Corners: On Meaning in Russian Avant-Garde Art,” Arts Magazine, February 1977, pp. 107–09, which also takes an interestingly cruciformal approach toward Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: Expressing the Feeling of Fading Away, c. 1916–17.

28. Troels Andersen, Malevich: Catalogue Raisonne of the Berlin Exhibition, 1927: Including the Collection in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, with a General Introduction to his Work, Amsterdam, 1970, cats. 30, 31, with illus. on pp. 87, 88, respectively.

29. Trans. John E. Bowlt, in the Gmurzynska catalogue Malevich (Note 12), pp. 11–19; with commentary by Szymon Bojko, p. 20.

30. Cf.: “The harmony of God is within me and therefore my world is perfect”; or, “ ‘Appearances’ are destroyed but not the essence, which by man’s definition is God; it is not destroyed by anything, and if the essence is not destroyed, nor is God. Thus God is not cast down.” Kazimir Malevich, Essays on Art 1915–1933, New York, 1968, pp. 217, 223, respectively.

31. Illus. in the Gmurzynska Malevich catalogue (Note 12), pp. 115, 116, 90, 106, respectively.

32. Valentine Marcadé, “The Peasant Theme in the Work of Kazimir Severinovich Malevich,” ibid., pp. 94–119.

33. One recalls Nietzsche, at his pottiest, signing letters “The Crucified One.” Also, it was Nietzsche who had pointed to “nihilism à la Petersburg (meaning the belief in unbelief, even to the point of martyrdom)”, Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (La Gaya Scienza) (2nd ed., 1887), trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann, New York, 1974, sect. 347, p. 289.

34. Marcadé, “Peasant Theme” (Note 32), p. 114.

35. A. S. Galushkina, K. S. Petrov-Vodkin, Moscow, 1936, p. 8; I am grateful to my former student, Dolores Capece, for this information. Paintings that relate to the icon tradition are still being painted in Russia today, although, ironically, they would appear to suffer from an ignorance of Suprematism and, hence, lack contemporary interest. Margaret Betz has shown me two such works, from Paul Sjeklocha and Ignor Mead’s Unofficial Art in the Soviet Union, 1967: Glazunov’s Drawing (Head of a Saint in the Manner of Rublev), 1963 (fig. 49 on p. 145) and Kharitonov’s Crucifix, 1962 (fig. 72 on p. 183). In the Crucifix a broad-beamed cross that might have underpinned the overall pictorial structure is without any such rationale, and a halo over Christ’s (?) head, while tilted, à la Suprematism, is seen projected in space as an oval.

36. Willy Rotzler, Constructive Concepts A History of Constructive Art from Cubism to the Present, New York, 1977, pp. 181–82; the (untitled) work is cat. no. 433, with illus. on p. 182.

37. Herta Wescher, Collage, trans. Robert E. Wolf, New York, n. d., p. 50. with color pl. on p. 55.

38. For illus. of many such works by Kokoschka, Kubin, Schmidt-Rottluff, Schreyer, Capendonk, Barlach, Mastereel, Pechstein and others, see Orrel P. Reed, Jr., German Expressionist Art the Robert Gore Rif kind Collection: Prints, Drawings, Illustrated Books, Periodicals, Posters (catalogue of the Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, exhibition), Los Angeles, 1977.

39. Ibid., cat. 211, with illus. on p. 159.

40. Both works illus. in Horton and Hugh Davies, Sacred Art in a Secular Century, Collegeville, Minn., 1978, fig. 39 on p. 68, and fig. 40 on p. 69, respectively. The authors do not notice this formal connection, which must prove that an awareness of the iconography of abstract form has nothing necessarily to do with religious earnestness.

41. This the two Davies do notice (ibid., p. 69).

42. Andrei B. Nakov, “Suprematism After 1919,” in the Annely Juda Fine Art catalogue The Suprematist Straight Line: Malevich, Suetin, Chashnik, Lissitzky, London, 1977, pp. 4–36, here p. 36.

43. Illus. Henning Rischbieter, Art and the Stage in the Twentieth Century: Painters and Sculptors Work for the Theatre, New York, 1969.

44. Wassily Kandinsky, Point-line-plan: contribution à l’analyse des elements picturaux (1926), trans. Suzanne and Jean Leppien, Paris, 1970, p. 61.

45. Now called Suprematist Painting: Eight Red Rectangles and dated 1915; see Andersen, Malevich (Note 28), cat. 47, with color pl. on p. 71.

46. Naum Gabo, Of Divers Arts (The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) (Bollingen Series, XXXV/8), Princeton. 1962, p. 172, with pls. 71, 72. Again: “. . . To the Russian consciousness a work of art was first and foremost a social phenomenon. It was valid for its social utility, spiritual as well as material; spiritual, in that it had to perform the function of a link between man and the Divine Universe, and thus be accessible to all and not only to a privileged few” (p. 146).

47. Ibid., p. 145.

48. See Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1977, unpaginated. caption to pls. 67-68. Isamu Noguchi’s marble sculpture, Cross Form, 1958 (Neuberger Museum, Purchase, N.Y.), is a Greek-cross counterpart in sculpture of the bulging planes of Strand’s Taos architecture and the cross forms of O’Keeffe’s and Pozzi’s paintings, and it shares with the paintings a romantic voluptuousness that is not Constructivistic. John Mason’s giant ceramic Greek-cross sculptures of the 1960s expressively romanticize this otherwise conceptual form still further.

49. Ad Reinhardt, Art-as-Art: The Selected Critical Writings of Ad Reinhardt (Documents of 20th-Century Art), ed. Barbara Rose, New York, 1975, p. 5. Strand’s photos relate to such O’Keeffe paintings as A Fragment of the Ranchos de Taos Church, 1929, and Ranchos Church, 1930, illus. O’Keeffe, O’Keeffe, (previous note), pls. 62, 63.

50. “The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit—the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is exploited, and the plough share of evil must come again and again.” Nietzsche, Gay Science (Note 33), sect. 4, p. 79.

51. Joseph Masheck, “Ed Moses and the Problem of ‘Western’ Tradition,” Arts Magazine, December 1975, pp. 56–61.

52. Consider Schlegel’s comments on an “old German” painting of Veronica’s Veil “designed according to the traditional Byzantine type.” “The head alone, thus separated from all connection with the body, and left in miraculous and shadowy outline on the holy handkerchief, occupies exactly the middle place between a symbol and an actual picture.” Friedrich von Schlegel, Description of Paintings in Paris and the Netherlands in the Years 1802–1804, Letter III in his Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works, trans. E. J. Millington, London, 1881, pp. 85n–86n.

53. Barbara Rose. “Editor’s Note,” in her ed. of Reinhardt’s Art-as-Art (Note 49), p. 82.

54 Joseph Masheck, ed., “Five Unpublished Letters from Ad Reinhardt to Thomas Merton and Two in Return,” Artforum, December 1978.

55. Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art, trans. David E. Green, New York, 1963, p. 179. Eliade, who contributed the preface to this book. discussed Van der Leeuw with Rudolf Bultmann in 1965; Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal, 1957–1969, New York, 1977, p. 263, entry for April 19, 1965.

I am grateful to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for supporting this and related investigations.