Seeing and Hearing the ‘Beyond’: Art, music, and mysticism in the long 19th century

Day: Saturday 7 April


Michelle Foot (University of Edinburgh)
Corrinne Chong (Art Gallery of Ontario)

Session Abstract

This interdisciplinary session explores the dialogue between art and music in addressing the subject of mysticism in the long 19th century (1789–1918). To counteract the positivist current that gained momentum during the period, artistic circles gravitated towards mystical means that initiated the beholder and listener into truths that transcended the world of external appearances. The papers in this session gauge the scope of different interpretations of mysticism, and illuminate how an exchange between art and music may unveil an underlying stream of metaphysical, supernatural and spiritual ideas over the course of the century.

The multiple facets of mysticism manifested across a diverse range of styles, aesthetics, and movements. As esotericism saturated America, Europe and Britain, the Romantics and Symbolists responded to mystical beliefs expressed in Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism, Theosophy and Occultism, while drawing on exposures to Eastern religions.

Reinterpretations of pagan mysticism prompted the rediscovery of Folkloric primitivism. Meanwhile, Catholic and evangelical revivals, alongside renewed interest in Medievalism, revitalised Christian themes. In practice, the proliferation of occult revivals at the fin-de-siècle permeated the thematic programmes of artists and composers. Wagner’s operas underscored the link between music, myth, and mysticism through the synthesis of the arts: the Gesamtkunstwerk. Subsequently, Syncretism in mystical philosophies was paralleled by formal correspondences in the visual arts, especially in their ‘rhythmical’ qualities. Synesthesia would instigate the development of abstraction.

Our selection of interdisciplinary papers extends on these ideas by investigating how the interconnectedness between art and music was able to evoke and be inspired by mysticism.

Speakers & Papers

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff (Finnish National Gallery) Between Sounding Canvas and Visual Music – From Sibelius to Kupka

Georgia Volioti (University of Surrey) Mystical Affectivities in 19th-Century Visual Art and the Performativity of Grieg’s Kulokk Song

Spyros Petritakis (University of Crete) Dismembering George Frederic Watts’s ‘Mesmeric Dolls’: Music and Theosophy in the painter’s late works

Tobias Plebuch (Uppsala University) The Seduction of Myth: Georges Kastner’s Les Sirènes (1858)

Caroline Potter (University of London) ‘En blanc et immobile’: Erik Satie, mysticism and whiteness

Barbara Swanson (York University, Canada) Divine Mysteries and the Total Work of Art: Beyond a musical score in Natalia Goncharova’s Ideal Liturgie

Jadranka Ryle (University of Manchester) Feminine Abstraction: Parsifal and music in the painting of Hilma af Klint

Susan Bagust (Royal Musical Association) Spiritual Monism and the Collapse of Form and Content in Early 20th-Century Expressionism in Painting and Music