BERNARDINO DEL BOCA TIMELINE
1919: Bernardino del Boca was born in Crodo, Italy.
1921: Del Boca moved to Novara with his family. There, Del Boca received his first education. The partner of his grandfather Bernardo introduced Del Boca to Theosophy.
1932: Del Boca attended the international boarding school, Institut Le Rosey, in Lausanne (Switzerland).
1935 (May): Del Boca enrolled into the Brera Art High School (Liceo artistico di Brera) in Milan.
1937 (April 29): Del Boca joined the Theosophical Society.
1939: Del Boca held his first solo exhibition. He graduated from Brera Art High School. He founded an underground Theosophical group, “Arundale,” in Novara.
1941: Del Boca held an exhibition in Domodossola, and was part of the Thirteenth Exposition of Figurative Arts of the Fascist Unions in Turin. He performed his military service first in Verona, then in Florence.
1945: Del Boca revived the Theosophical group “Arundale.”
1946: Del Boca left Italy for Siam (present-day Thailand).
1947: Del Boca worked as an architect and interior designer in Singapore. In October, he received his “second Buddhist initiation” on a mysterious island of the Linga archipelago (Nawa Sangga).
1948 (September 26): Del Boca held a shared exhibition with artist and naval war hero, Commander Robin A. Kilroy, at Queen Victoria Memorial in Penang, Malesia. He published his first novel, Nightly Face.
1949: Del Boca published Nawa Sangga. He left Singapore for Italy.
1951: Del Boca took part in a collective exhibition in the Broletto di Novara, Italy.
1952: Del Boca taught Art at the Ferrandi high school in Novara.
1959: Del Boca took part in an economic and trade mission to West Africa as representative of the National Institute for Geographic Research and Cartographic Studies (Istituto Nazionale per le ricerche geografiche e gli studi cartografici).
1961: Del Boca published an anthropology manual for university students, Storia dell’Antropologia.
1964: Del Boca contributed to the encyclopedia Il Museo dell’Uomo.
1970: Together with Theosophist and publisher Edoardo Bresci, Del Boca founded the journal L’Età dell’Acquario – Rivista sperimentale del Nuovo Piano di Coscienza.
1971: Del Boca published La dimensione umana.
1975: Del Boca published Guida internazionale dell’Età dell’Acquario.
1976: Del Boca published Singapore-Milano-Kano.
1977: Del Boca published La quarta dimensione.
1978: Del Boca retired from teaching at secondary schools. and moved in with his sister Aminta to Alice Castello, in Piedmont.
1980: Del Boca published La casa nel tramonto.
1981: Del Boca published La dimensione della conoscenza. He started a fundraising campaign for creating a series of Aquarian communities he called “Villaggi Verdi” (Green Villages). He published La dimensione della conoscenza.
1985: Del Boca published Iniziazione alle strade alte.
1986: Del Boca moved in to the first (and only) Villagio Verde ever to be established, founded in San Germano di Cavallirio. He published Il segreto.
1988: Del Boca organized a series of collective trips (which would also involve the residents of Villaggio Verde). Among their destinations: Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, and Bhutan. He published Il servizio.
1989: Del Boca published Birmania un paese da amare.
1990: De Boca continued to offer conferences and talks at the Villaggio Verde, and he edited and contributed to L’Età dell’Acquario.
2001 (December 9): Del Boca died at the hospital of Borgomanero, Novara (Italy).
The artistic production of Bernardino del Boca was, for the most part, neglected until the 1960s, when the “visionary feature” of his art (Mandel 1967) was analyzed for the first time. Only through a series of recent publications, conferences, and posthumous exhibitions (Tappa 2011; Fondazione Bernardino del Boca 2015, 2017) have del Boca’s artworks been thoroughly studied and promoted. One of the reasons for his being scarcely known was connected to the fact that del Boca held only a few exhibitions during his lifetime.
Besides his polyhedric personality (he was a painter, a Theosophist, an anthropology scholar, an advocate for sexual liberation), del Boca was known for founding and constantly collaborating with the publisher L’età dell’acquario (“The Age of Aquarius”). A journal with the same name (i.e., L’età dell’acquario) was founded and directed by del Boca, who also illustrated several of its issues. Although as an artist del Boca was mainly known to the general public as a book illustrator, his artwork had a crucial impact on both Theosophical and New Age milieus in Italy in the 1970s.
Bernardino del Boca was born on August 9, 1919 in Crodo (Piedmont) to Giacomo del Boca and Rosa Silvestri. His family owned mountain springs (the Fonte Rossa springs) and spas in Crodo. Based on the noble lineage of his family, del Boca claimed the titles “Count of Villaregia” and “Count of Tegerone” (Del Boca 1986; Giudici 2017). The adoption of aristocratic titles had two implications within his production: on the one hand, he signed some of his artworks and novels with the pseudonym “Bernardino di Tegerone,” on the other hand the theme of “seeking the origins” would constantly characterize his art.
According to a 1941’s newspaper review of one of his exhibitions, del Boca inherited his artistic abilities from one of his ancestors, who happened to have been an amateur painter at the court of King Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia (1666–1732) (“Ida” 1941). Therefore, del Boca’s family origins were intertwined with his artistic dimension. Further proof of this is given by an anecdote of his life. His grandfather Bernardo del Boca (1838–1916: his nephew was named after him), after the death of his wife, entered into a relationship with a Hungarian princess of the noble family of Esterházy (whose name I could not find). The princess introduced (Bernardino) del Boca to Spiritualism and Theosophy, in addition to bringing him with her on several trips around Europe (del Boca 1986). While in Nice with the princess, del Boca made the acquaintance of the second wife of Khedive Abbas Helmi II of Egypt, Princess Djavidan Hanem (née May Torok von Szendro, 1877–1968), who suggested that he keep a journal. This event played a crucial role in the life of del Boca, since writing his journal represented his introduction to the “universal aspects of human culture” (del Boca 1986). More specifically, the theme of “seeking his origins” involved a genealogical dimension as well as a spiritual one. This was a crucial component in his future artistic production.
Despite his noble lineage, del Boca and his family had to move to Novara due to financial problems in 1921. In order to cope with the financial needs of the family, del Boca’s mother, Rosa, took over the restaurant and coffee shop of the local movie theatre, called Faraggiana. In Novara, del Boca also received his first education: he had excellent skills in drawing, but he did not excel in other subjects (Giudici 2017). However, del Boca’s educational path went beyond the ordinary when, in 1932, he had the opportunity to study at a renowned international boarding school, the Institut Le Rosey, in Lausanne (Switzerland). What led del Boca to Switzerland was an unexpected event: a young American he knew. connected with the aristocrat Kent family, fell from a horse during a riding session. Given the fact that the institute fees for the young American had already been paid, while he was unable to move to Switzerland, del Boca attended that year at the Lerosey in his stead (Giudici 2017). The acquaintances del Boca made at Lerosey were also interesting: his roommate was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), who later became the Shah of Iran, and del Boca also became a close friend of the future monarch of Siam, Ananda Mahidol (1925–1946).
By the mid-1930s, del Boca had already travelled to the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Switzerland. During these trips, he visited, along with the princess, several personalities who were also connected to Theosophy. Among these, it is worth mentioning the acquaintance of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986), who held a series of lectures in Alpino and Stresa, in Piedmont from June 30 to July 9, 1933 (Krishnamurti 1934 del Boca 1991).
Besides his enthusiastic attitude towards international travels and exploration (a feature that thoroughly characterized his personality and production), del Boca was eager to develop his artistic potential. He noted in his journal (on May 20, 1935), “my biggest dream is to enter the Brera Academy” (del Boca 1933-1935). A few weeks later, del Boca would enroll in the Brera Art High School (Liceo artistico di Brera) in Milan. At the time, the latter shared the same palace (a former Jesuit college) with the Brera Fine Arts Academy (Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera) and the School of Craft and Nude Art (Scuola degli Artefici). It happened that the same teachers taught both at the Academy and the Art High School (Giudici 2017) where del Boca studied. Among the Academy teachers that influenced del Boca, the names of painters Felice Casorati (1883–1963) and Achille Funi 1890–1972) deserve to be mentioned.
Del Boca’s stay in Milan represented a further step in the evolving path of both his artistic and spiritual dimensions. Besides his artistic formation, the turning point which characterized del Boca’s life in this period is connected to a specific factor: his involvement in Theosophy. In the 1930s, del Boca constantly corresponded with Tullio Castellani (1892–1977), who was the general secretary of the Italian Theosophical branch at the time. By the time he moved to Milan in 1935, del Boca had already asked Castellani to join the Theosophical Society (del Boca 1937–1939). However, his involvement in the Society came about gradually: his introduction to Theosophical doctrine had come at a very young age, and del Boca’s first significant experiences within the Theosophical milieu would happen in the late 1930s.
In 1936, del Boca took part in the Fourth World Congress of the Theosophical Society in Geneva serving as secretary to Tullio Castellani’s wife, Elena Castellani, Countess of Colbertaldo. Following that event, Castellani suggested del Boca get in touch with an artist who was mainly active in Milan at the time, Felix de Cavero (1908–1996). De Cavero also presided over one of the main Theosophical groups in Milan, namely the “Gruppo d’Arte Spirituale” (Spiritual Art Group) (Girardi 2014). Del Boca and de Cavero spent their whole first meeting talking about art and painting techniques (del Boca 1937–1939): de Cavero expressed his preference for watercolor techniques, given their “spiritual” features.
On April 29, 1937, del Boca officially joined the Theosophical Society of Milan (Società Teosofica di Milano) by entering the Spiritual Art Group. For the same group, del Boca compiled a “Manifesto d’Arte Spirituale” (“Spiritual Art Manifesto”), which included seven points. Some of the points were devoted to the improvement of the spiritual conduct of the members of the Art Spiritual Group. To list three significant points: “Independence and individual freedom are necessary conditions for every artistic production” (no. 2), “No one is a disciple, no one is a master” (no. 4), “The authorship of artistic creations and statements must be absolutely preserved” (no. 5) (del Boca 2004).
In November 1937, based on del Boca’s active role and support for the cause of Spiritual Art, Castellani decided to promote an exhibition of his works (del Boca 1937–1939). While it seems that no traces or documents related to this event have survived, a list of fifty artworks testifies to the achievement of this first solo exhibition of Bernardino del Boca. The exhibition was held at the cultural circle Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (the Fascist regime’s youth organization) in January 1939, in Borgomanero, and included a series of oil, watercolor paintings, and ink artworks (Giudici 2017). Although most of the exhibited artworks were landscapes, in the early 1940s del Boca’s artistic production specifically focused on portraits. Starting with his first samples of portraits, it is possible to discern some peculiar features which characterized del Boca’s art.
The representation of religious subjects, like in the case of Madonna con bambino, [Image at right] was strongly influenced by a “classicist” use of colors and shapes. How the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus were depicted not only recalled the female figures of Piero della Francesca (1415ca.–1492), but also evoked the reinterpretations of the same subject by del Boca’s Milan teachers, including Funi and Casorati. In addition, the painting bears a further peculiar trait: the Infant Jesus holds a volume where the following sentence is displayed “Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark. And it has the nature of infinity.” The passage was borrowed from The White Doe of Rylstone (1569) by the English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850). The combination of the verse and the figure of the Infant Jesus shed a new perspective on the subject. The emphasis is put on the thanatological dimension of the group of elements, rather than on their purely religious meanings. The figure of the Infant Jesus has a double meaning: it reminds us of the transience of life, as well as the status of innocence.
These two features (i.e., innocence and transience), along with others, later flowed into a recurring leitmotiv of del Boca’s artistic production, also known as “archaic candor” (Tappa 2017). Some characters from del Boca’s paintings and drawings were reminiscent of Romantic and Medievalist reinterpretations. The delicate and pale traits of the young couple in Thou and I [Image at right] revealed del Boca’s interest towards the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. More specifically, del Boca highly appreciated Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), as well as the earlier painter Bernardino Luini (1482–1532). whose “essential and simplified” style expressed the search for primeval features and values in his paintings (Shield 1982).
According to del Boca, the aesthetic features and the faces of characters within Pre-Raphaelites artworks were to some extent revelatory of the dimension of the soul. Therefore, del Boca acknowledged in this Pre-Raphaelite style a spiritual inclination or feature. Even the classical combination of essential figures and words including literary quotes in del Boca’s ink drawings had a spiritual meaning. Although it bears some similarities with the way the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) borrowed sentences from the production of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the purpose of including quotes in del Boca’s artworks was different. In Thou and I, del Boca included a quote from a poem of American folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903), “Thou and I in spirit land one thousand years ago, watched the waves heat on the strand, ceaseless ebb and flow, vowed to love and ever love, one thousand years ago.” The reference to the feeling of love (and its eternity) in the poem and in the painting is not a mere stylistic exercise, but an expression of the artist’s spiritual vision. Del Boca channeled Pre-Raphaelite style into the spiritual characterization of the two lovers (which is the expression of their “archaic candor”). In addition, Leland’s poem is crucial to envisioning a spiritual dimension of the artwork, both for its content and author. Del Boca was aware of the connection of Leland with Western Esotericism and his influence om neopaganism, through his research on witchcraft in Italy (Leland 1899). Therefore, the American folklorist was included by del Boca in the list of “pioneers” endorsing a specific spiritual vision.
Although del Boca developed his spiritual vision of art throughout all his life, there are some crucial steps that need to be stressed. In his biographical work, La casa nel tramonto (1980), del Boca mentioned a recurring dream he had. He found himself in a secret room in a mysterious house in front of a veiled painting. Once the painting was unveiled, he discovered that it was a portrait of himself at seventeen, surrounded by several objects and characters. In Autoritratto con giovani [Image at right], del Boca reproduced the painting he dreamt of. An idealized version of the artist at seventeen is accompanied by two young men who symbolize respectively life (the blonde boy) and death (the boy with dark hair). In front of him, an hourglass (where Medusa’s head and a curled-up Adam are included), a key, and an opened book (where four ancient tokens, a lithography from Cesare Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene, and long quotation from Ashley Montagu’s The Origins and Meaning of Love are displayed) are located on the table, and a hill scenery and a statue of Aesculapius (both reminders of Greek mythology) stand at his back. This was the only self-portrait that the artist ever produced. The painting was highly symbolical in all its aspects. According to del Boca, boys between the ages of thirteen and seventeen tend to develop themes whose evolutive value for their consciousness is unique (del Boca 1980). Given this insight of his esoteric perspective, it makes sense to associate the figurative dimension of the “archaic candor” of del Boca’s characters to an initiatory feature. The key symbolizes the connection between two dimensions, the oneiric one and the beyond.
The rest of symbols and elements in the painting are connected to two main themes: love and beauty. The quotation from Montagu’s work (as well as a small figure pasted on del Boca’s breast, which represents the embrace of Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Inferno) recalls the multifaceted nature of love. The references to Greek mythology (i.e., the hill scenery and Aesculapius statue) allude to a classical conception of beauty. Throughout all his life, del Boca studied and researched myths from all over the world. He concluded that the canon which underlies the classical mythology was limited and outdated, when compared to other mytho-symbolical visions. The whole conception of del Boca’s spiritual art was focused on the “pure fire of beauty.” Although del Boca entirely approved of the ancient Greek motto καλὸς κἀγαθός (“beautiful and good”), he also perceived a limitation inherent in its classical formula. According to del Boca “Beauty (with all its countless and inexpressible expressions of harmony and elegance) has the purpose, along with Truth and Goodness, to lead humans towards the invisible world of the Deva” (del Boca 1986).
This is where del Boca’s conception of spiritual art crossed paths with Theosophical doctrine. This was not just a mere declination of the Theosophical motto “There is no religion higher than truth,” but an illustration of how the artist developed a peculiar way of perceiving and approaching the divine reality by means of his own soul. Del Boca called this methodology “Psicotematica” (“Psychothematic approach”). Although del Boca developed this original approach by himself, Theosophists like Annie Besant (1847–1933) and Laurence J. Bendit (1898–1974) played no minor role in its conception. More specifically, del Boca translated Bendit’s work, Lo yoga della bellezza (The Yoga of Beauty 1969), and wrote a long preface to its Italian edition. In this introduction, del Boca stated that, “the Yoga of Beauty is the conscious search for the Spirit through development of the way of the heart” (Bendit 1975). He also stressed that the artistic conception of beauty is not limited to its hedonistic/aesthetic factor. Del Boca’s original search for his origins had morphed into a Theosophical quest for the “Truth behind the veil.” According to del Boca, to reach this spiritual achievement (i.e., the development of the way of the heart), a preliminary artistic education was necessary.
Once del Boca graduated from Brera Art School in 1939, he decided to enroll in academic courses both of Paleontology and Anthropology in Lausanne (Switzerland) and of Architecture in Milan. Unfortunately, no record of del Boca’s studies in this period has been found. Thus, it is uncertain for how long, and where exactly, he attended college. However, both anthropological and architectural studies proved to be incredibly useful for del Boca in his later experience around the world. Meanwhile, in Italy, the advent of Fascism imposed serious restrictions on the Italian section of the Theosophical Society. In January 1939, the Prefect of Genoa decreed the dissolution of the Society in Italy. However, the Italian members of the Theosophical Society continued to operate underground. Even though disguised as a “Centro di Cultura Spirituale” (Centre of Spiritual Culture), del Boca founded in Novara the Theosophical group “Arundale” (Girardi 2014). In 1941, after taking part in a couple of exhibitions, del Boca was recruited for his military service in Verona first, and Florence then. Here he made the acquaintance of the Italian Theosophist Edoardo Bresci (1916–1990), who later became the publisher of most of del Boca’s works.
In May 1945, del Boca revived the Theosophical group “Arundale.” At the same time, Colonel Aurelio Cariello founded the group “Besant” in Novara. These two groups would later merge into the group “Besant-Arundale” in 1951, which del Boca would preside over from 1962 to 1989. In 2000, del Boca would be nominated President of yet another Theosophical group, “Villaggio Verde.”
On November 27, 1946, del Boca left Italy for Siam. He moved first to Singapore, then to Bangkok. He earned his living as a portraitist, one of his first commissioned portraits being of the daughter of the Thai Minister for Justice, Luang Dhamrong Navasvasti (del Boca 1986). Meanwhile, the Italian General Consul in Bangkok, Goffredo Bovo, was informed that del Boca could serve as honorary consul for Italy in Singapore. Thus, del Boca moved back to Singapore, where he started his honorary diplomatic career. There, he also worked as an interior designer and portraitist: he portrayed a prominent lawyer and one of “Malaya’s foremost legal authorities,” Sir Roland Braddell (1880–1966). Besides Braddell and his wife Estell, del Boca also became friends with the Duchess of Sutherland, Millicent Leveson-Gower (1867–1955), and the Bishop of the Theosophically oriented Liberal Catholic Church, Sten Herman Philip von Krusenstierna (1909–1992). He decorated the office of the British Overseas Airways Corporation at the Raffles Hotel. While he was performing his service as consul, del Boca was nominated Italian representative of the World University Roundtable. The latter was an educational network (whose courses and teachers were strongly influenced by Theosophy and, later, New Age theories) created by John Howard Zitko (1911–2003) with other members of a steering committee in Tucson (Arizona) in 1947.
In the same period, del Boca’s artistic production included a further technique, collage. During his stay in Singapore, having traveled extensively throughout South-East Asia (del Boca 1976), an episode marked another turning point in his life: on October 21, del Boca left Singapore to join the monks of the Temple of Han for three days [Image at right]. According to del Boca, the temple was located on the mysterious island of Nawa Sangga (in the Lingga Archipelago), and there he received his second Buddhist initiation. The achievement of this initiatory step entailed a series of life tasks, including “service to anyone in need;” “the promotion of his art around the world;” “the collection of objects in order to magnetically charge them and locate them around the world as potential witnesses of a new era” (del Boca 1985).
The initiation on Nawa Sangga represented a further evolution of del Boca’s vision of spiritual art. Del Boca projected an archetype into the children and Javanese dancers portrayed in the series of drawings Dal tempio di Han [Image at right]. Their androgynous traits were connected (besides a spiritual feature) to the acquisition of a “new state of consciousness.” According to del Boca, this spiritual consciousness was the main path to the pure fire of beauty (del Boca 1981). Del Boca believed he had experienced a direct access to this hidden dimension of beauty, and this event radically changed his life and artistic production.
During his three-years stay in the Far East, del Boca started to experience some visual phenomena: sudden appearances of ultraviolet lights were the immediate manifestation of hidden energies. Del Boca named these energies “Zoit,” after the sound they produced whenever they appeared (Fondazione Bernardino del Boca 2015). The materialization of these energies was associated with a sort of telepathic contact. This extra-ordinary reception of “information, contents, and/or energies” was intrinsically connected to the psychothematic approach. Perceiving a hidden reality (whose main features were its omni-pervasiveness and unity) by means of these sudden perceptions was strictly connected to a new form of consciousness. In other words, the artist-initiate “consciously” (and instantaneously) realized to be part of a greater dimension. The continual flow of these energies into del Boca’s life also influenced his artistic production. The Italian artist drafted a lanceolate symbol to indicate the presence of the Zoit.
Both in the India ink drawing, Il Tao, and in the watercolor, Elementali e danzatore, it is possible to discern the reference to the Zoit, although its function differs between the two. In the drawing, del Boca draws an amalgam of symbols and faces in order to establish a connection with the observer; in the watercolor, the artist organizes this link between the inner and outer dimension of the artwork. The use of bright colors, along with the introduction of the Zoit symbols, defines the manifestation of the spiritual world. Therefore, the elemental-dancers of the paintings show del Boca’s psychothematic approach: the elementals are real and palpable (in the artist’s spiritual vision) as well as Zoit energies.
In addition, del Boca’s interest in world mythologies led him to further research a series of “invisible spirits of nature.” They included the Nat deities from Myanmar mythology, the Phi spirits from Thailand, Kami from Japan, Thien Tirong from Vietnam, and many other entities from the folklore of Cambodia, the Javanese islands, Siberia, etc. The representation of ghosts, spirits, deities, and fetishes, like in the case of Demone e feticci, involved del Boca’s Theosophical conception: he believed that, besides the great religions, local cults and primitive religions also had access to universal truth. [Image at right]
Del Boca traveled extensively during his three-years stay in the Far East, and one mythological system that greatly influenced his artistic production and conception was the Indian one. Although his travels played no minor role in the development of his mythological preferences, the main reason del Boca considered the Indian mythology superior to others was strictly connected to Blavatsky’s statements in The Secret Doctrine (1888) (del Boca 1981). Therefore, del Boca’s Theosophical conception further structured the theme of his “search for the origins” in his paintings. One of the main features that characterized his production from the late 1940s was a significant horror vacui (fear of emptiness), [Image at right] and every space of his artworks was filled with figures and symbols. This was also a further development of the participation in “the world of the Deva” which characterized the artist’s conception. In Coppia con pantheon induista it is possible to see how the “archaic candor” of the couple not only refers to a primeval spiritual value, but to a condition where the whole universe—which also includes the space or dimension between the painting and the observer—is populated by gods.
In October 1948, del Boca held two main solo exhibitions at the Raffles Hotel and the University of Bangkok. The following year, he held a shared exhibition with the artist and naval war hero Commander Robin A. Kilroy at the Queen Victoria Memorial in Penang, Malesia. Along with Kilroy, del Boca planned to establish an international artist club, which would host Malay and Chinese artists as well.
In the same year, del Boca published his first novel, Nightly Face. No exemplar of the novel has survived, but part of its content probably flowed into his later work, La lunga notte di Singapore (1952), where del Boca told the story of a homosexual aristocrat who initially feels guilty because of his sexual orientation but eventually embraces it. Del Boca won a novel-writing competition in Italy by submitting this text, only for local authorities to ban and confiscate the volume before its official publication, allegedly because of its “obscene content” (Giudice 2017).
Since his stay in Singapore, del Boca began to advocate for sexual rights and sexual liberation. He considered sexuality to be a source of spiritual energy, and therefore endorsed the liberation of sexual life (and its representation in art and literature) from any form of social control. To this end, he corresponded with several international supporters of sexual liberation, including the French jurist René Guyon (1876–1963) (whose text Éros, ou la sexualité affranchie (1952) del Boca later translated into Italian) and the American sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey (1894–1956). In the same year, Del Boca also took part the first International Congress for Sexual Equality (ICSE) in Amsterdam, and became the Italian representative of network that had organized it. He also published various articles in the periodical Scienza e sessualità, which was directed by the anarchist artist Luigi Pepe Diaz (1909–1970).
Before leaving Singapore in November 1948, del Boca collaborated with an architectural project, and was commissioned to paint twelve zodiacal panels for the nephew of the Chinese entrepreneur Aw Boon Haw (1882–1954). Unfortunately, del Boca had to sell and leave in Singapore most part of his production before his return, because it would have been too expensive to bring his artworks with him. Therefore, after founding the International Artists Association in Singapore, and completing a fresco for the Saint Anthony Convent, del Boca left Singapore aboard the ship Peonia on November 19. On his way back to Italy (he landed in Genoa on December 20), del Boca also stopped in Adyar, where he visited the general headquarters of the Theosophical Society [Image at right] and met its president, Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa (1875–1953).
He also constantly corresponded with another president of the Theosophical Society, John B.S. Coats (1906–1979) (Fondazione Bernardino del Boca 2015). The places del Boca visited played no minor role in his artistic production. The production of landscapes and maps—which was also connected with del Boca’s contribution to the anthropological field—involved the artist’s spiritualconception, as well. The “spiritual meaning” of Pianta del Quartier Generale della Società Teosofica ad Adyar was related to the personal involvement of del Boca in the Theosophical Society, while Paesaggio psicotematico [Image at right] showed another spiritual feature: a “psychothematic” approach underlying the structure and conception of the painting. The landscape offered some familiar elements in the life of del Boca (like the belltower of Novara on the left) in a dreamlike vision, where a bridge in the foreground served as trait-d’union between the nature and the town.
If on the one hand the visual metaphor of the bridge—for which, according to del Boca, he was inspired by the Russian Theosophist and artist Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947)—introduced an initiatory feature into the landscape, the rest of the painting implied a specific vision. According to del Boca, “the artist must create in the fifth dimension,” that is, the dimension of the soul. The latter exists beyond time and space, future and past. Therefore, the artist must plunge himself into the “continuo-infinito-presente” (“continual-endless-present”), in order to operate at the spiritual-artistic level. It could be said that the psychothematic approach pervaded the whole production of del Boca: from the creation of ethnographic maps to landscape paintings, the “vision of the soul” represented a necessary, preliminary step. Although he received several critiques for this heterodox vision, del Boca tried to integrate the psychothematic approach into academic disciplines, including anthropology. Strictly related to that, del Boca wrote an anthropology manual for university students, Storia dell’antropologia (1961), in which he tried to introduce some Theosophical considerations from the first and second volume of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine.
Thus, a dialogue between art and anthropology was not uncommon in del Boca’s production. Upon his return to Italy, del Boca held an exhibition at the Broletto di Novara, where his impressions on the South-Eastern Asian context—the travelled through Singapore, Siam (Myanmar nowadays), Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India—were documented both by his artworks and lyrics. In 1959, Del Boca took part in an economic and trade mission to West Africa as a representative of the National Institute for Geographic Research and Cartographic Studies (Istituto Nazionale per le ricerche geografiche e gli studi cartografici). Following this experience, Del Boca designed several cartographic maps for the encyclopedia of the same institute, Imago Mundi, and contributed to the Atlas of the De Agostini Geographic Institute.
In the 1960s, besides his teaching activity, del Boca contributed to several encyclopedic works and continued his work as an anthropologist. He became a member of the American Anthropological Association, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the International Human Rights League. He regularly lectured and visited several Theosophical groups in Italy (including those in Milan, Biella, Turin, Vicenza, and Novara). He also continued to travel to Asia. During one of these trips, he managed—thanks to the mediation of Jinarajadasa and the dean of the University of Poona—to make the acquaintance of Osho Rajneesh (aka Chandra Mohan Jain, 1931–1990).
In 1970, del Boca founded the journal L’Età dell’Acquario – Rivista Sperimentale del Nuovo Piano di Coscienza. The periodical was launched by del Boca and Edoardo Bresci, who, in the same year, also established a publishing house of the same name (i.e., L’Età dell’Acquario) to print the journal and publish other works by del Boca. As one can discern from the title of the periodical, the purpose of L’Età dell’Acquario was to prepare humanity for the advent of the Age of Aquarius. According to del Boca and Bresci’s version of the theory, every 2,155 years, humankind enters a new era of spiritual evolution. According to del Boca, humanity was about to see the end of the “Age of the Pisces” and enter the new Age of Aquarius. The precise date was identified with the year 1975 (del Boca 1975). The symbolism of the macro-historical cycles (which in fact was reversely applied within this sequence, given the fact that, on astrological basis, the zodiacal sign of Pisces should in fact follow that of Aquarius [Hanegraaff 1996]) pervaded the whole New Age phenomenon and was characterized in many cases by a Manichean division. The Piscean Age was connoted by a dark atmosphere, obscure and morbid features, and a global state of spiritual ignorance, while the Age of Aquarius was animated by a very auspicious enthusiasm and optimism about future developments.
Although the Piscean phase was often associated with the domination of the Judeo-Christian conception (the early church having adopted the fish as symbol of Christ), Christianity as a whole (and its related symbolism) was far from being negatively connotated by del Boca. In fact, the New Age phenomenon (which in its heterogenous nature and forms was far from being distinctively defined) was strongly influenced by Theosophical speculations. The Christian-oriented interpretation of the Theosophical doctrine by Alice A. Bailey (1880–1949) played a significant role in some of the branches/groups germinating from the larger New Age movement (Hanegraaff 1996). Within this macro-historical conception of recurring cycles, the advent or return of a golden age was not associated with the coming of a Messiah, but, referred to the establishment of a new spiritual race of humanity. Besides the references to Blavatsky’s theory of root races (where the mythical, primeval Lemurians might be associated with the future Aquarians), del Boca’s conception of a humankind freed from “fear, selfishness, ignorance, and pain” was strictly associated with the emergence of new forms of consciousness.
The main way for humans to access this new dimension, del Boca believed, is the psychothematic approach. Among those thinkers whose work and life were characterized by an Aquarian vision, del Boca included “Charles Fort, Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, George Oshawa, Herman A. von Keyserling, Albert Schweitzer, Wilhelm Reich, Nicholas Roerich, René Guyon, Ian Fearn, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, etc.” (del Boca 1975). In his Guida internazionale dell’Età dell’Acquario, del Boca offered a collection of hundreds of names (and addresses) of associations characterized by an “Aquarian” conception. In the list of associations were included the Theosophical Society and minor Theosophical branches (which also involved those inspired by Krishnamurti), Spiritualist organizations, new religious movements, occult and esoteric groups, yoga and astrological associations, and utopian movements as well.
Among the features that characterized the “active promoters” of the Aquarian vision, del Boca included “mental health.” This requirement may sound rather obvious, but if applied to del Boca’s artistic production, shows that one name stands out among others for its influence on this Italian artist, namely Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949). This Greek-Armenian philosopher maintained (through the mediation of his pupil Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947)) that the only form of authentic artistic production was “objective art.” This latter implied a conscious involvement of the artist, who should abide not by his mental dimension, but by that of the soul. Therefore, according to Gurdjieff every pure form of art, and all aspects related to its genesis, is “premeditated and definite” (Ouspensky 1971). In order to establish this set of circumstances for artistic creation, the mental dimension should be kept in check.
According to del Boca, the main factor relevant to the creation of objective artwork is linked to the “continual-endless-present.” In order to create, the artist must operate in the fifth dimension, where future and past are suspended. The preliminary condition for the genesis of a genuine (spiritual) artwork is the absolute focus of the artist on the immediate present. This requirement is strictly connected to the emergence of a new form of consciousness. In del Boca’s production the theme of a next level of consciousness is symbolized by the carriage [Image at right]. As it is possible to discern in the painting La carrozza, metafora dell’uomo, the carriage is a metaphor of the spiritual-existential situation of modern human beings: the passenger represents the soul, the carriage driver represents the mind. In the painting, the driver is personified by a thanatological character, the Grim Reaper. The metaphor exemplifies how the life of humans is at the mercy of the lunacy of the mind, as well as where the authentic source of consciousness lies. Del Boca also made recourse to Plato’s “Chariot Allegory” to explain how the artist-charioteer had to deal with opposite forces: one horse (i.e., the mind) leads the chariot in one direction, the other horse (i.e., the soul) steers elsewhere.
According to del Boca, all those he acknowledged as supporters of the Aquarian vision were involved in an active endorsement of the new level of consciousness. Among these, del Boca also included an artist whose visionary poems and paintings deeply influenced his own work, namely, William Blake (1757–1827). According to del Boca, an Aquarian vision underlies the whole production of this English artist. Although his work had been compared by critics to those of Blake (Mandel 1967), del Boca was afraid to “mirror himself” into the paintings of the English master (del Boca 1976). The main difference between del Boca and Blake lies in the different purpose of their visions. While in Blake’s vivid, nightmarish, prophetic paintings it is possible to find the extreme outcome of a spiritual quest, the characters painted by del Boca were supposed to take an active role in the new plan of consciousness.
Hence his representation of Sviatovida (which is the Italian transliteration of Световид) [Image at right], an ancient god of the Slavic peoples, in which del Boca filled the whole space not with the gargantuan body of the deity, but with all divine characters and events that characterized the spiritual history of humankind up to the advent of the Age of Aquarius. According to del Boca, he got to know this mythologic figure thanks to his meeting with a mysterious Russian man in Bangkok. The Russian gave to del Boca as a gift an illustration (which was later included into La dimensione umana (1988)) of the four-headed pagan god Sviatovida, torn from an eighteenth-century volume (del Boca 1988).
All aspects of del Boca’s spiritual art flowed into the painting of Sviatovida: the dense presence of the divine (horror vacui), the idealized faces and shapes of the portrayed characters (archaic candor), and the introduction of several mythological-religious entities are all patterns of a “psychothematic representation.” Besides the explicit reference to Blake’s Newton (1805) on the left side of the artwork, the thick symbolism of the painting creates a peculiar, unique pantheon of the Piscean era: the Indian goddess Kali holding the head of Ganesh, Buddha, a couple holding Chinese ideograms, Vishnu, the bird-god Garuda, the winged-horse Pegasus, and many others seminude figures revolve around the god who harmoniously rules over the universe. At the Slavic god’s waist, the Egyptian god Horus is holding a young man in his arms, while underneath, between Sviatovida’s legs, the Golden Calf dominates the lower part of the painting. Every aspect and section of the artwork was accurately selected to show the idea of a spiritual evolutive order. This representation of Sviatovida was used as the cover for the first issue of L’età dell’acquario.
The Aquarian vision, and journal, of del Boca addressed the spiritual needs of the younger generations (in the 1970s) as well as countercultural movements. Thus, besides his activity as a high school teacher and his several trips to Asia, del Boca founded the Aquarius Centre (Centro dell’Acquario) in Milan, where he regularly lectured and hosted various initiatives on astrology, the psychothematic approach, collage techniques, etc. He published several books with the publishing house he founded with Bresci, and he edited the journal L’età dell’acquario, until his final days.
However, the quest for the new plan of consciousness was not limited to the publishing level. In the 1980s, del Boca started to raise funds for the creation of a model community which might abide by the Aquarian vision. The Villaggio Verde was the kind of community del Boca had always wanted to promote, and in 1983 the foundation stone of the first “Green Village” was laid in San Germano di Cavallirio, near Novara (in Piedmont). In del Boca’s mind, this was intended to be the first community of a long series. Due to a number of circumstances, however, this remained the only Aquarian community Del Boca was able to establish. Del Boca moved there with other residents, and kept selling his paintings to financially support the community. He lectured every fifteen days and held collage technique workshops. On December 9, 2001, del Boca died in the hospital of Borgomanero, Novara (Italy).
**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.
Image #1: Bernardino del Boca, Madonna con Bambino / Madonna and Child (early 1940s).
Image #2: Bernardino del Boca, Thou and I (early 1950s).
Image #3: Bernardino del Boca, Autoritratto con giovani / Self-portrait with Young Men (mid-1970s).
Image #4: Bernardino del Boca, Dal tempio di Han / From the Temple of Han (1950s–1960s).
Image #5: Bernardino del Boca, Dal tempio di Han / From the Temple of Han (1950s–1960s).
Image #6: Bernardino del Boca, Pianta del Quartier Generale della Società Teosofica ad Adyar / Map of General Headquarters of Theosophical Society in Adyar (1949).
Image #7: Bernardino del Boca, Paesaggio psicotematico / Psychothematic Landscape (1974).
Image #8: Bernardino del Boca, La carrozza, metafora dell’uomo / The Carriage, Metaphor of Man (1970s)
Image #9: Bernardino del Boca, Sviatovida (1970 ca.)
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25 June 2021