Pieter Cornelis “Piet” Mondrian


1872 (March 7):  Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan (he would change his last name into “Mondrian” in 1911 ) was born in Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

1892:  Mondrian was admitted to the Amsterdam Academy of Fine Arts.

1894:  Mondrian’s fellow student at the Academy and friend, architect Karel de Bazel, joined the Theosophical Society.

1900:  Mondrian went through a religious crisis and abandoned the Calvinist faith of his family. He also read The Great Initiates by French Theosophist Éd ouard Schuré.

1901:  Mondrian painted The Passion Flower, a work in which some critics see religious influences.

1908:  Mondrian painted Devotion, a work he explicitly connected to Theosophy in his notebooks.

1909 (May 14):  Mondrian formally joined the Theosophical Society.

1911:  Mondrian completed his triptych Evolution, a powerful statement of Theosophical doctrine.

1912:  Mondrian moved to Paris, where he first stayed in a guest room provided by the Theosophical Society.

1914:  The journal of the Dutch Theosophical Society, Theosophia, rejected a long article by Mondrian on Theosophy and art.

1915:  Mondrian came under the influence of independent Dutch Theosophist, and founder of Christosophy, Mathieu Hubertus Josephus Schoenmaekers.

1918:  Mondrian rejected Schoenmaekers and returned to an orthodox “Blavatskyan” approach to Theosophy.

1921:  Mondrian wrote to Rudolf Steiner, founder and leader of Anthroposophy, but received no answer.

(ca.) 1930:  Mondrian started considering Neo-Plasticism as a new world spirituality superseding a ll religions and spiritual paths, including Theosophy.

1932:  Mondrian’s application to join Freemasonry was rejected.

1938:  Mondrian moved to London and asked his membership in the Theosophical Society to be transferred to the British branch.

1940:  Mondrian moved to New York, where he stopped being active in the Theosophical Society.

1941 (April 12):  Mondrian met in New York Charmion von Wiegand, with whom he would start a spiritual, personal, and artistic relationship.

1942:  With the help of von Wiegand, Mondrian started working at Victory Boogie Woogie, his last masterpiece and a summary of his mature ideas.

1944 (February 1):  Mondrian died in New York.


Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) [Image at right] was one of the founders of abstract art, and a Mondrian1painter of immense influence on the whole twentieth century modernistic art movement. He was a member of the Theosophical Society for most of his adult life, although in later years he came to regard his own brand of art, Neo-Plasticism, as a new global spirituality superseding all religions and spiritual schools, including Theosophy.

Dutch historian Carel Blotkamp argued that Mondrian is best understood as a man of the Belle Époque. In 1919, he wrote to a Dutch friend from Paris sharing his enthusiasm for the book Comment on devient fée (How to Become a Fairy) by French Rosicrucian novelist Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918). “You will find much of me in this work, Mondrian wrote; he takes inspiration from the same ancient sources (occult)” (Blotkamp 1984:14). It would be difficult to find a book more representative of late nineteenth century occultism, which by 1919 was largely perceived as outdated, but not by Mondrian.

Mondrian was born in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, on March 7, 1972 in a family of art teachers who subscribed to a strict variety of Calvinism. The painter’s first contacts with occultism and Theosophy occurred when he was a student at the Amsterdam’s Academy of Fine Arts between 1892 and 1897. Among Mondrian’s fellow pupils was Karel de Bazel (1864-1932), who went on to become a leading Dutch architect. De Bazel joined the Theosophical Society in 1894. In 1896, he became a founding member of its Vahana Lodge in Amsterdam, together with fellow architects Johannes Ludovicus Mathieu Lauweriks (1864-1932) and Hermanus Johannes Maria Walenkamp (1871-1933). Another prominent Dutch architect, Michiel Brinkman (1873-1925), became the chairperson of the Rotterdam Lodge in 1903 (Lambla 1999:8-9).

According to Mondrian’s friend Albert van den Briel (1881-1971), the painter experienced aroundMondarin2 the year 1900 a religious crisis that led him to abandon the Calvinist Protestantism of his parents. He studied with great interest the doctrines of Theosophy and of the book The Great Initiates written by French Theosophist Édouard Schuré (1841-1929), to which he continued to refer throughout his life (Seuphor 1956:53-54). Under the influence of a fellow painter, Cornelis Spoor (1867-1928), Mondrian in 1909 both manifested “a sudden interest in yoga” (Bax 1995:292) and finally decided to become a member of the Theosophical Society. He formally joined it on May 14, 1909 (Bax 2006:547).

Mondrian referred in his correspondence and notebooks to several of his paintings as related to Theosophy. They included theearly Devotion (1908), which depicts a girl’s spiritual awakening, and the 1911 triptych Evolution. Mondrian scholar Robert P. Welsh (1932-2000) found religious influences already at work in an early painting, Passion Flower, [Image at right] commonly dated 1908 but in fact, according to Welsh, painted in or around 1901. Although similar in style to Evolution, Passion Flower does not yet allude to Theosophy but to a Christian mysticism and symbolism. Welsh finds in Passion Flower a “still basically ethical or Christian content,” perhaps with a moralistic element, as the painter had heard thathis model had been “infected with venereal disease” (Welsh 1987:167).

Welsh also suggested that the triptych Evolution [Image at right] should be read in a sequence Mondarin3going from left to right and then to the centre, depicting the three stages of the Theosophical enlightenment (Welsh 1971:47-49).

In 1912, when Mondrian arrived in Paris, where he would read Cubism through Theosophical lenses, before moving to his own studio he decided to stay in a guest room at the headquarters of the French Theosophical Society (Blotkamp 1994:59). When he returned to the Netherlands, Mondrian kept a portrait of Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), co-founder of the Theosophical Society, hung on the wall of his studio in Laren (Seuphor 1956:57).

Mondrian’s theoretical writings are impossible to understand without considering their roots in Theosophy. The earliest effort to present his ideas on abstract art was a long article on Theosophy and art written in 1913-1914 and intended for the Dutch Theosophical journal Theosophia. The text was rejected as too complicated and has unfortunately been lost, but we know something of its content from two sketchbooks compiled in Paris in the same years. Here, we see that for Mondrian Theosophy could help reduce art to “great generalities,” colors and lines, capturing the essential beyond any representation or symbolism (Welsh and Joosten 1969).

Mondrian’s ideas were already grounded in Theosophy before he met, in 1914 or 1915, the controversial Dutch esoteric author Mathieu Hubertus Josephus Schoenmaekers (1875-1944), a former Catholic priest and Theosophist who had developed his own esoteric system known as Christosophy. Hans Ludwig Cohn Jaffé (1915-1984) insisted on Schoenmaekers’s crucial influence on the development of Mondrian’s mature worldview and art, and on the foundation in 1917 of the movement and journal De Stijl. The very term “Nieuwe Beelding’” translated into English as “Neo-Plasticism’” was coined in 1916 by Schoenmaekers (Jaffé 1956). In 1916, van Doesburg described Mondrian as “obsessed by the theories of Dr. Schoenmaekers” (Blotkamp 1994:111), but the obsession was short-lived. By 1918, the artist came to refer to Schoenmaekers as an “awful man” and to conclude that, if the former priest wrote anything valuable, he derived it from Blavatsky (Blotkamp 1994:111). She taught, Mondrian argued, that cosmic harmony, truth, and beauty were one. They might be reduced to two simple elements, one male, vertical, represented by the line, and one female, horizontal, represented by color and background (Bax 2006:234-39).

Theosophy was one among different elements that lead to Mondrian’s move from symbolism to abstract art, to his theorization of Neo-Plasticism, and to his co-operation and later break, in 1924-1925, with van Doesburg. This break is normally attributed to van Doesburg’s insistence in using diagonal lines, rather than simply horizontal and vertical, as Mondrian recommended. In fact, there was more. Although sympathetic to Theosophy, van Doesburg was not a member of the Theosophical Society. In the 1920s, he gradually came to criticize Mondrian’s “rigid” Theosophy (Blotkamp 1994:192) and what he saw as his friend’s increasing transformation of Neo-Plasticism from an artistic movement into a religion.

Michel Seuphor (1901-1999) argued that Mondrian’s religion went from Calvinism to TheosophyCatalogue no. SCH-1957-0071 0333329     Piet Mondriaan     Title: Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue Painting scan van neg juni2006and from Theosophy to Neo-Plasticism, which “absorbed” Theosophy and became a global spiritual worldview (Seuphor 1956:58). In fact, Mondrian saw Neo-Plasticism, particularly after his debates with the Dutch philosopher Louis Hoyack (1893-1967) in the 1930s, as a millenarian project for transforming the whole of society. He believed that, just as the Neo-Plastic way of painting had disposed of the old art and created an entirely new one, so Neo-Plasticism would end up destroying the old forms of state, Church, and family and creating new, simpler and better ones. Correctly read, his paintings were a manifesto for this brave new world. “The rectangular plane of varying dimensions and colors, Mondrian wrote, visibly demonstrates that internationalism does not mean chaos ruled by monotony, but an ordered and clearly divided unity” (Mondrian 1986:268). [Image at right]

Most Theosophists rejected these utopian ideas and did not fully understand Mondrian’s art. He came to the conclusion that the powers that be in the Theosophical Society were “always against my work.” His utopian vision of global reform had something in common with certain trends in Freemasonry. Yet, in 1932 he wrote to Hoyack that his request to become a Freemason had not even been considered (Blotkamp 1994:16).

Painful as they were, these rejections did not lead Mondrian to a break with Theosophy. When he moved to London in 1938, he duly asked the Theosophical Society to transfer his name to the local branch (Blotkamp 1994:16). It is also significant that in London his best friend was the painter Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981), a Christian Scientist. Although obviously different from Theosophy, the metaphysical Christianity of Christian Science did interest many Theosophists.

According to American painter Charmion von Wiegand (1896-1983), after he moved to New York in 1940 Mondrian was no longer active in the Theosophical Society. In fact, he “had gone beyond organizations or groups […]. To him, they represented limitations, a division in the total unity he sought to achieve.” Yet, von Wiegand maintained, he had not denied Theosophy but had made it “implicit to his life” (Rowell 1971:77).

Charmion von Wiegand is a very reliable source on Mondrian’s American years. Although her personal papers remain so far unavailable to scholars, those who knew her reported that she was more than a friend to the Dutch painter. Von Wiegand first met him on April 12, 1941 in New York (Hersh 1998:228) and started a close personal and artistic relationship that lasted until Mondrian’s death on February 1, 1944. Von Wiegand came from a family of Theosophists, and later became a pupil of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949), although she described herself at the same time as a Marxist. After Mondrian’s death, she became an important figure in New York’s Tibetan Buddhist scene (Introvigne 2014).

Mondrian also believed himself to be an “old soul,” i.e. in Theosophical jargon to have been “ reincarnated many times” (Rowell 1971:,80-81). Theosophy teaches that old souls are often misunderstood by their contemporaries. Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism was not appreciated by these Theosophists who believed that a Theosophical art should explicitly include Theosophical symbols or rely on “thought-forms,” i.e. shapes and colors of thoughts and feelings perceived by clairvoyant Theosophists and described by Theosophical leaders Annie Besant (1847-1933) and Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934: Besant and Leadbeater 1905). For many Theosophists, this was Theosophical art. For Mondrian, it was not (Blotkamp 1986:98): pure Theosophical art was indeed Neo-Plasticism.

Early interpreters insisted that Theosophy did not play a significant role for Mondrian. As late as 1990, Yve-Alain Bois wrote that happily “the theosophical nonsense with which the artist’s mind was momentarily encumbered” disappeared quite rapidly from his art (Bois 1990:247-48). This was not, however, Mondrian’s own position. In 1918, he wrote to Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931): “I got everything from The Secret Doctrine ” (Blotkamp 1994:13), referring to a book written by Blavatsky. In 1921, in a letter to the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Mondrian argued that his own brand of art, Neo-Plasticism, was “the art of the foreseeable future for all true Anthroposophists and Theosophists.” Disappointed at not having heard back from Steiner, Mondrian insisted in another letter to van Doesburg, in 1922, that “it is Neo-Plasticism that exemplifies Theosophical art (in the true sense of the world)” (Blotkamp 1994:182).

As mentioned earlier, this opinion was not shared by the leadership of the Theosophical Society in theMondarin5Netherlands, which led Mondrian to the persuasion that Neo-Plasticism went in fact beyond Theosophy and was capable of offering to the world a new religion. There is no reason, however, not to take Mondrian seriously when he repeatedly stated that Theosophy inspired him in his quest for a reduction of the universe to its primary components, horizontal and vertical straight lines and colors. [Image at right] Accordingly, it is also fair to state that, through Mondrian, the Theosophical Society greatly contributed to the birth of modern abstract art.

All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1 : Piet Mondrian.
Image #2: Piet Mondrian, The Passion Flower (1901)
Image #3 : Piet Mondrian, Evolution (1911).
Image #4: Piet Mondrian, Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black (1921).
Image #5: Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie (unfinished, 1942-1944).


Bax, Marti. 2006. Het Web der Schlepping. Theosofie en Kunst in Nederland van Lauweriks tot Mondriaan. Amsterdam: Sun.

Bax, Marti. 1995. “Theosophie und Kunst in den Niederlanden 1880-1915.” Pp. 282-320 in Okkultismus und Avantgarde: von Munch bis Mondrian 1900-1915. Ostfildern: Tertium.

Besant, Annie and Charles Webster Leadbeater. 1905. Thought-Forms. London: The Theosophical Publishing House.

Blotkamp, Carel. 1994. Mondrian: The Art of Destruction. London: Reaktion Books.

Blotkamp, Carel. 1986. “Annunciation of the New Mysticism: Dutch Symbolism and Early Abstraction.” Pp. 89-111 in The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, edited by Maurice Tuchman. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Bois, Yve-Alain. 1990. Painting as Model. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press.

Hersh, Jennifer Newton. 1998. “Abstraction, Spiritualism, and Social Justice: The Art and Writing of Charmion von Wiegand.” Ph.D. Dissertation. New York: City University of New York.

Introvigne, Massimo. 2014. “From Mondrian to Charmion von Wiegand: Neoplasticism, Theosophy and Buddhism.” Pp. 49-61 in Black Mirror 0: Territory, edited by Judith Noble, Dominic Shepherd and Robert Ansell. London: Fulgur Esoterica.

Jaffé, Hans Ludwig Cohn. 1956. De Stijl 1917-1931: The Dutch Contribution to Modern Art. London: Alec Tiranti.

Lambla, Kenneth. 1999. “Abstraction and Theosophy: Social Housing in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.” Architronic 8:1. Accessed from http://architronic.saed.kent.edu/v8n1/v8n104.pdf on 24 December 2016.

Mondrian, Piet. 1986. The New Art – The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian. Edited by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James. Boston: G.K. Hall.

Rowell, Margit. 1971. “Interview with Charmion von Wiegand.” Pp. 77-86 in Piet Mondrian 1872-1944: Centennial Exhibition. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Seuphor, Michel. 1956. Piet Mondrian: Life and Work. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Welsh, Robert P. 1987. “Mondrian and Theosophy.” Pp. 163-84 in The Spiritual Image in Modern Art, edited by Kathleen J. Regier. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.

Welsh, Robert P. 1971. “Mondrian and Theosophy.” Pp. 35-51 in Piet Mondrian 1872-1944: Centennial Exhibition. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Welsh, Robert P. and J.M. Joosten, 1969. Two Mondrian Sketchbooks, 1912-1914. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff International.

Post Date:
26 December 2016


Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona


1879 (September 24):  Raoul Ferenzona was born in Florence, Italy.

1880 (April 19):  Ferenzona’s father, a controversial political journalist who wrote under the pseudonym “Giovanni Antonio Dal Molin,” was assassinated in Livorno. Raoul would later change his last name to “Dal Molin Ferenzona” to honor his father.

1890 (ca):  Ferenzona was enrolled in a military college in Florence and subsequently in the Military Academy in Modena.

1899:  Ferenzona published in Modena his first book: Primulae – novelle gentili (Primulas – Gentle Tales), a collection of tales.

1900:  Ferenzona made his first artistic apprenticeship in Palermo under the guidance of the sculptor Ettore Ximenes.

1901:  Ferenzona was admitted to the Art Academy in Florence, renowned at that time for its nude art classes.

1902:  Ferenzona travelled to Monaco, where he became influenced by the works of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein. In Rome, he was introduced to sculptor Gustavo Prini and his circle.

1906:  Ferenzona travelled to London, Paris, The Hague, and Brussels.

1908:  Ferenzona’s closest friends, Domenico Baccarini and the poet Sergio Corazzini, both died from tuberculosis.

1911:  Ferenzona travelled through Prague, Graz, Brünn, and Seis am Schlern.

1912:  Ferenzona published Ghirlanda di stelle (Garland of Stars). He had two art exhibitions together with Frank Brangwyn in Vienna, Austria, and Brünn, Moravia.

1917:  Ferenzona attended meetings and events organised by the splinter Theosophical group “Il Roma” at the Theosophical League headquarters.

1918:  While he was staying in Bern, Ferenzona underwent a spiritual crisis. He left Switzerland and was sheltered in Santa Francesca Romana monastery in Rome.

1919:  Ferenzona published Zodiacale – Opera religiosa. Orazioni, acqueforti e aure (Zodiac – A Religious Work. Orations, Copper Engravings, and Auras).

1921:  Ferenzona published Vita di Maria: Opera mistica (Life of Mary: A Mystic Work).

1923:  Ferenzona published AôB – Enchiridion Notturno. Dodici miraggi nomadi, dodici punte di diamante originali. Misteri rosacrociani n. 2 (AôB – Nocturnal Enchiridion: Twelve Nomadic Mirages, Twelve Original Engravings, Rosicrucian Mysteries no. 2).

1926:  Ferenzona published a collection of poems and lithographies, presented as three “essays:” Uriel, torcia di Dio – Saggi di riflessione illuminata (Uriel, Torch of God – Essays of Illuminated Reflection); Élèh – Saggi di riflessioni illuminata (Élèh – Essays of Illuminated Reflection); Caritas ligans – saggi di riflessione illuminata (Caritas Ligans – Essays of Illuminated Reflection).

1927:  Ferenzona took part in the Second International Exhibition of Engravings in Florence.

1929:  Ferenzona had a solo art exhibition in Florence at Galleria Bellenghi, and some of his works were exhibited in Rome at the Mostra del Libro Moderno Italiano (Modern Italian Books Exhibition). He also published Ave Maria! Un poema ed un’opera originale con fregi di Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona. Misteri Rosacrociani (Opera 6.a) (Hail Mary! A poem and an original work with Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona’s friezes, Rosicrucian Mysteries, work no. 6).

1931:  Ferenzona exhibited at the Salon International du Livre d’Art in Paris.

1945:  Ferenzona illustrated the collection of poems by Paul Verlaine, L’Amour et le Bonheur.

1946 (January 19):  Ferenzona died in Milan.


Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona (1879-1946) [Image at right] was a prolific and multifaceted artist. He was a renowned painter, illustrator, and engraver/printmaker; he was part of the Art Nouveau movement. Although he used to call himself a “Pre-Raphaelite,” in fact Ferenzona’s work was more deeply influenced by Belgian and Czech Symbolism. Ferenzona was also an influential proponent of Theosophical and Rosicrucian ideas in the twentieth century artistic, literary and occult milieu.

Unfairly regarded as a minor painter and illustrator, he was rediscovered by critics in the 1970s (Quesada 1978, 1979) and hailed as one of the most creative and multifaceted Italian artists of the first half of the twentieth century. The famous Italian painter Gino Severini (1883-1966) in his autobiography described him as “an extremely lively, clever, little young man with French style moustaches. He defined himself a Pre-Raphaelite painter and did not want to hear the very word Impressionism […] Surrealism could have been his field” (Severini 1983:20).

Ferenzona was born in Florence, Italy, on September 24, 1879, to Olga Borghini and Giovanni Gino Ferenzona. The latter was a news correspondent for the national Italian daily Gazzetta d’Italia in Livorno. He wrote several articles, and a couple of novels, against Italian revolutionary general Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) under the pseudonym of Giovanni Antonio Dal Molin. Ferenzona Sr. was murdered on April 19, 1880 by a partisan of Garibaldi. Raoul was left orphan at age one, and moved to Florence together his mother and his brother, Fergan. Later, Ferenzona Jr. would add “Dal Molin” to his last name in honour of his assassinated father.

Raoul started a military career by enrolling first in a military college in Florence and then at the Military Academy in Modena. During the summer holidays, he wrote his first book, Primulae (novelle gentili). This is a collection of six short stories where, apart from mythical creatures, decadent characters, and dark cruel atmospheres, we find several autobiographical elements. One of the tales (“Somnia Animae”) has as a protagonist, Mario. He is a painter living in an attic and unable to truly love a real woman because he is in love with a figure of Judith portrayed in one of his paintings. It is amazing how the character of the painter closely resembles Ferenzona as he would become as an adult. The story also shows how important and prominent female figures and portraits were in his work.

More interested in the arts than in his military education and career, Ferenzona moved to Palermo in 1900 to pursue an apprenticeship under the well-known sculptor Ettore Ximenes (1855-1926). It lasted only a few months however, because Ximenes advised Ferenzona to pursue his studies on his own. Therefore, in 1901, Ferenzona moved to Florence and was admitted to the Art Academy. Here, he became roommate and friend of Domenico Baccarini (1882-1907), a native of Faenza and a promising young painter and sculptor. Both the friendship with Baccarini and the resulting connection with the cultural scene of Faenza were an important step in Raoul’s artistic and spiritual path.

In 1902, Ferenzona travelled to Munich. From then on, he dedicated himself primarily to graphic arts and painting. In Munich, the work of Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) and Albrecht Dürer (1471-1523) introduced Ferenzona to a new conception of art (Bardazzi 2002:12). The impact of Dürer on Ferenzona’s work was crucial, specifically for what concerned the use of certain printmaking techniques. Knowing that Dürer’s etchings represented or constituted part of an alchemical process (Calvesi 1993:34-38; Roob 2011:411, 430) exerted an immense fascination on the young Ferenzona and his work.

In 1904, Ferenzona moved to Rome with his friend Baccarini. In the Italian capital, they were both introduced to the circle of the sculptor Giovanni Prini (1877-1958). The circle included Italian artists who were at that time part of the movement known as Divisionism, including Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), and Gino Severini, as well as by representatives of Art Nouveau and Cubo-Futurism such as Duilio Cambellotti (1876-1960) and Arturo Ciacelli (1883-1966). Severini tells us that Ferenzona often quarrelled with Boccioni and Balla (Severini 1983:23) because of his Pre-Raphaelite conception of art (i.e. the primacy of dream, myth, and imagination over the inner world of the artist). This latter had a central role in French Impressionism, a movement that Ferenzona despised. In the same year, in Rome, Ferenzona also became friends with the poet Sergio Corazzini (1886-1907), and they collaborated in the journal Cronache latine.

In 1906, Ferenzona travelled through Europe, visiting Paris, London, Bruges, and The Hague. He tried to follow an ideal spiritual path and in the steps of his favourite Symbolist authors and artists: Félicien Rops (1833-1898), Robert Ensor (1877-1958), Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), Marcel Lenoir (1872-1931), Carlos Schwabe (1866-1926), Jean Delville (1867-1953), Jan Toorop (1858-1928), Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), René Laforgue (1894-1962), Francis Jammes (1868-1938), Albert Samain (1858-1900), and Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898). It is not a coincidence that most of these artists were interested in Rosicrucian movements and took part to Les Salons de la Rose+Croix (Pincus-Witten 1976:110-15) organised by Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918). Some were also members of the Theosophical Society. The overwhelming influence of Toorop on Ferenzona’s work is self-evident [Image at right]. The representation of the eternal feminine is recurring in Ferenzona’s paintings and engravings, and assumed both a Symbolist connotation and certain spiritual and esoteric meanings during the first decade of the twentieth century.

In 1907, Ferenzona lost both of his best friends: Domenico Baccarini and Sergio Corazzini. Both died from tuberculosis. In 1912, Ferenzona travelled again through Seis am Schlern, Klagenfurt, Graz, Prague, and Brünn, and in the same year he published Ghirlanda di stelle (Garland of Stars). The book, dedicated to his deceased friends, is both a collection of poems and an account of his past travels and experiences. Ghirlanda di stelle attests to a remarkable change in Ferenzona’s narrative style, both in visual arts and poetry. Poems, drawings, and engravings became part of the same narration. A new kind of narrative was emerging from Ferenzona’s work: rather than books of art, he wanted to produce an “art of the book.”

Between 1910 and 1912, Ferenzona visited several cities in Central and Eastern Europe, and also exhibited his works in Vienna and Moravia together with paintings by the British artist Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) (Bardazzi 2002:81). Exactly in the same time period, the Czech painter Josef Váchal (1884-1969) together with Jan Konůpek (1883-1950), František Kobliha (1877-1962), and Jan Zrzavý (1890-1977), founded the Sursum group, involved in both artistic and spiritual and occult activities (Introvigne 2017; Larvovà 1996). Váchal, who was obsessed with the figure of Satan (Introvigne 2016:233-34; Faxneld 2014), had dedicated his first series of watercolours to the Devil (Bardazzi 2002:15).

Even if Ferenzona’s stay in Prague in 1911 is well-documented (Ferenzona 1912:186-189), it is hard to prove that he got in touch with Váchal or any other member of the Sursum group there. Nonetheless, Italian art historian Emanuele Bardazzi observed that Ferenzona’s work “Gaspard de la nuit,” [Image at right] presumably referring to the protagonist of the novel of the same title by Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841), shows a strong influence of Vachal’s style (Bardazzi 2002:15-16).

In 1917, Ferenzona was in Rome, where his interest in the occult and Rosicrucianism flourished. He reportedly joined the circle of followers of the Italian esoteric master Giuliano Kremmerz (1861-1930) (Quesada 1979:19), but he was mostly active in Rosicrucian and Theosophical milieus. Ferenzona was invited in 1909 and 1910 to lecture on German Theosophist, and future founder of the Anthroposophical Society, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) (Bardazzi 2002:81), but it was between 1917 and 1923 that Raoul fully expressed his “occult” potential. In July 1917, Ferenzona exhibited eighty works together with some illustrations of American painter Elihu Wedder (1836-1923), at the headquarters in Via Gregoriana, Rome, of the Theosophical League, a splinter Italian group led by Decio Calvari (1863-1937) that had separated from the Theosophical Society. He also gave a lecture on “Apparizioni artistiche relative e concordanze supreme” (“Artistic relative appearances and supreme concordances”). Ferenzona started the lecture by arguing how particularly gifted artists have a natural attitude towards occult disciplines, followed by a critical analysis of artists who dabbled in the occult, such as William Blake (1757-1827), Elihu Wedder, Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), and many others. Ferenzona argued that a peculiar trait identified this kind of gifted artist, the presence of the “artistic appearance.” This is defined as “a magical fact resulting from all the combined (known and unknown) forces of the Cosmos that operate through the artist” (Ferenzona 1917:40). Ferenzona also gave another lecture in Rome in August 1918 on the origins of artistic inspiration. In the effort of tracing back to primordial civilisations the source of inspiration, Ferenzona introduced elements evidently inspired by Steiner’s Occult Science (Ferenzona 1918:40).

At the meetings of the Theosophical League, Ferenzona also made the acquaintance of another well-known figure of twentieth century Italian occultism (Evola 1963:28), Julius Evola (1898-1974). They would share both artistic and occultist experiences. In the early 1920s, together with Evola, Ferenzona joined Arturo Ciacelli (whose acquaintance Ferenzona had already made in Prini’s house) and his circle, “Cenacolo d’arte dell’Augusteo” (Art Circle of the Augusteum) (Olzi 2016:24-25). Amongst the activities of Ciacelli’s circle, there were an exhibition of Ferenzona’s paintings, a declamation of Evola’s poems, and a dance performance in the style of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, which was connected with the artistic movement Dadaism that Evola was part of at the time (Paoletti 2009:40-48).

The experiences he shared with Evola in both the modernist art and Theosophical fields changed (although temporarily) his vision of art and spirituality. Amongst the works of his early thirties, Ferenzona produced a series of paintings of Zodiac signs and Cosmos, which could be seen as the result of this experimental and temporary phase [Image at right]. In 1918, during a brief stay in Switzerland (first in Zurich then in Bern), Ferenzona suffered from a “spiritual crisis” that lead him to seek asylum in the Catholic monastery of Santa Francesca Romana in Rome. This event influenced the style of his successive works, as well as their conception.

Ferenzona’s popularity was not limited to Theosophical or modernist milieus. In November 1919, he started giving lectures every Wednesday, in the shape of an “Esoteric Course of History of Art and Spiritual Science,” in a studio in Via Margutta, in Rome. It is also attested that Ferenzona lectured on the same topics in other cities apart from Rome. In a letter dated April 12, 1919, Ferenzona accepted the invitation of Lamberto Caffarelli (1880-1963), a composer who was a member both of the Anthroposophical Society (Beraldo 2013:421-54) and of the Italian Gnostic Church (Olzi 2014:14-27), to give a lecture in Faenza. Attached to this letter, there was a programme with the titles of all lectures from his “Esoteric Course” held in Rome. Amongst the titles, one in particular draws attention: “I Rosa-Croce (1300/1910)” (The Rosicrucians, 1300-1910). Although the text of this lecture has not been found, in the correspondence between Ferenzona and Caffarelli there are several references to Rosicrucianism. In another letter sent to Caffarelli, Ferenzona first quoted a famous Rosicrucian book that was published in Paris in 1623 (Naudé 1623:27) and then proposed to create a new Rosicrucian brotherhood in Italy. According to Ferenzona, the most suitable place for the meetings of this brotherhood would have been the convent of Santa Croce of Fonte Avellana, near Potenza (Ferenzona 1920:5).

The project of the new Rosicrucian community never materialized, but Ferenzona’s lecture documents his occult interests at that time. Although Ferenzona was interested in all the artists and authors that took part in the Salons de la Rose+Croix, he admitted in a letter to Caffarelli (Ferenzona 1920:9) that he never had the chance to find a copy of Constitutiones Rosae Crucis et Spiritus Sancti Ordinis edited by Péladan, and as a consequence did not really know how the Rosicrucian order at work behind the Salons operated (Fagiolo 1974:129-36). At the very beginning of the same letter, Ferenzona stated that a “Rosicrucian should be sufficient unto himself.” This statement was not an apology for arrogance, but referred to a self-initiation independent of any organized structure or order. From the early 1920s, Ferenzona started naming and considering his illustrated books as “Rosicrucian Mysteries” and tools for self-initiation.

One of these “Mysteries” was conceived and published in the period Ferenzona spent “in-between Bern and Rome” at the end of World War I. In 1919, Ferenzona published Zodiacale – Opera Religiosa (Zodiacal: A Religious Book), a “book dedicated to God” whose content was a collection of twelve prayers, twelve copper engravings, and twelve tales. The number twelve had two meanings: twelve are the signs of the Zodiac, and twelve is a multiple of four, the number of the conditions to access the truth in the most renowned treatise written by French esoteric master Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) – “to know, to dare, to will, to remain silent” (Lévi 1861:110). These “four words of truth” serve as the conclusion of Zodiacale. The book includes twelve sections. Each section is introduced by a prayer (a brief poem), a copper engraving, and a tale. These narrative pieces are surreal tales populated by magicians, mad painters, enchanted puppets, alchemists, and psychics engaged in bizarre adventures. Zodiacale is both a magical and alchemical book. “The art of the book” of Ghirlanda di stelle becomes here the activation of an alchemical process. Each character in the book is a facet of the author’s self, and every engraving [Image at right] is a further step in a process of transformation. Like Dürer, Ferenzona proposes an opus alchemicum through his engravings. Through the cycle of the twelve zodiac signs, and through the poems and tales, both the author and the audience are invited to transcend themselves. Both Caffarelli and Evola received copies of this magical book from Ferenzona.

In 1923, Ferenzona published another book that included twelve engravings and twelve poems, AôB – Enchiridion Notturno. Dodici miraggi nomadi, dodici punte di diamante originali. Misteri rosacrociani n. 2 (AôB – Nocturnal Enchiridion: Twelve Nomadic Mirages, Twelve Original Engravings. Rosicrucian Mysteries, no. 2). As stressed in the title, this is the second of “Rosicrucian Mysteries” dedicated to Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). Poems and engravings [Image at right] work as initiatory tools that reveal the secret nature of magic.

Besides the Rosicrucian Mysteries, in 1926 Ferenzona carried on a side project with a series of three “essays of illuminated reflection,” These are Uriel, torcia di Dio (Uriel, Torch of God ), Élèh (Élèh), and Caritas Ligans (Caritas Ligans), three collections of poems and lithographies. The images are strongly influenced by the artistic movements known as Cubo-Futurism. Although the poems are dedicated to figures of the Jewish-Christian tradition, the influence of Theosophy is apparent in all three books.

In 1927, Ferenzona was one of the artists exhibiting at the Second International Exhibition of Engravings in Florence. The event was organised by art critic Vittorio Pica (1864-1930) and writer Aniceto Del Massa (1898-1975). Del Massa wrote several articles under the pseudonym of “Sagittario” (Sagittarius) (Del Ponte 1994:181) for the occult journal Ur edited by Arturo Reghini (1878- 1946) and Julius Evola. Del Massa was also a member of the occult-initiatory group of the same name connected with the periodical, “Il Gruppo di Ur” (The Ur Group). Coming back to Rosicrucian works, Ferenzona in 1921 and in 1929 published respectively Vita di Maria. Opera mistica (Life of Mary A Mystic work) and Ave Maria! Un poema ed un’opera originale con fregi di Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona. Misteri Rosacrociani (Opera 6.a) (Hail Mary! A poem and an original work with Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona’s friezes, Rosicrucian Mysteries, Work no. 6). Both of these books were collections of poems and images. Besides recurrent references to Medieval mysticism and Rosicrucianism, the importance and the role of femininity in these books is crucial [Image at right].

In the 1940s, Ferenzona illustrated several Italian classics, from Inni sacri (Sacred Hymns) by Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) to Idilli (Idylls) by Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). However, the illustrations realised for L’Amour et le Bonheur, a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), deserve a mention for their spiritual and esoteric meaning. An image that effectively expressed the conception of transcendence and spiritual realisation was his alleged self-portrait [Image at right]. It could be connected to the final sentences that seal the end of the book Zodiacale: “A NEW MAN […] A new religious man who is a lover of life and death, of natural and spiritual science, freed from desire, wise and manly, good, he uttered out loud to the four direction of the new Era the four action: to know – to dare – to will – to remain silent. And finally, this kind of authentic Christian was praised by the Almighty” (Ferenzona 1919:141). These words may perhaps serve as an epitaph for Ferenzona, who always regarded himself as a Christian esotericist. He died in Milan on January 19, 1946.

** All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Ferenzona, Autoritratto a pastello (1913).

Image #2: Ferenzona, Image d’autrefois (1909).

Image #3: Ferenzona, Gaspard de la nuit (1920).

Image #4: Ferenzona, Zodiaco (ca. 1930).

Image #5: Ferenzona, Scorpione, acquaforte per Zodiacale (1918).

Image #6: Ferenzona, A ô b Enchiridion notturno (1923).

Image #7: Ferenzona, frontispiece for Vita di Maria (1921).

Image #8: Ferenzona, illustration (possible self-portrait) for Verlaine’s L’Amour et le Bonheur (1945).


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Post Date:
3 March 2017