Max Ernst. (1891 - 1976). Antipope. 1941-42. Oil on Canvas. 63,30 in x 56,3 in Surrealism.
This painting of the Surrealist painter Max Ernst described sometimes of enigmatic and provocative is not a enigma for us although it is probable that it remains obscure for 98% of those which look at it. It treats image of the female sexuality perceived by the man. And of the consequences for this one. Of course it refers to the personal emotional situation of the artist at the time but as the unconscious one uses a universal language, that of the myth and symbol, one can decipher it easily and it has a universal range. As the horse is a symbol and a powerful prototype one first of all notes the 2 characters with head of horse. Equipped with an extraordinary vitality the horse symbolizes the aspect disciplined and completed instinctive forces, sometimes vital if it is white, sometimes morbid if it is black. Freud always underlined the bonds which link the libido, the sexual instinct, and the thanatos the instinct of death. On the left the female figure on red, sensual and acting color, has a face of horse surmounted by an owl and other night-birds representing with dimensions aggressive one and violent one of the female impulses, the female equivalent of male virility. It refers also as well as the lances to the image of the Greek goddess Athena, Minerve among Romans whose attributes are the olive-tree and the owl, warlike goddess, Athena is however recognized like the incarnation of the Reason, Equity and Wisdom. It is, moreover, the goddess of Arts, the Literature, Industry and the female Craft industry. Benevolent, she governs agricultural arts, made gift with the men of the plow and the manner learns to them of overcoming the wild animals. There are also references to its equivalent Scandinavian Wotan or Odin, Master of the gods, god of the War, also associated with the training, wisdom, poetry and the magic. On the right it is the little girl on pink which requires council of “ the antipope ”. The Church having always been opposed to an unslung sexuality and without taboo the title of work is thus explained. This antipope, dark figure, have 2 heads, a head of black horse which means death and a human head pointing out the image of Meduse whose head decorates the shield of Athena that Persee offered to her to have helped it to overcome the latter. The little girl, but also the woman listens to the 2 votes. The speech of the violent sexual instincts and the speech of wisdom and the reason, that of Athena. The image of the woman is ambivalent for the man it represents wisdom and maternity, calm and reason, but also in the violence of its major impulses and the force of its instinct it connects it to death. The man is always afraid that the impulses of the woman entirely do not absorb it. The central figure is a skeleton, a support, which awaits the decision and the choice of the little girl to take the appearance which is appropriate. It is natural that the image of the woman (put aside the antipope) is triple because there are 3 Nornes in Scandinavian mythology, of the divinities of the race of the Adzes. The three Nornes which corresponds to the 3 Parques Greek are Urd, Verdandi and Skuld. Respectively personifying the destiny passed, the destiny present and the future destiny, they are the supreme referees of the human and divine destinies and decide laws of cosmos. The painting is certainly distressing for the man and enigmatic for the woman who does not recognize her sexuality seen by the glance of the man.
The horizon is very low, the sky is immense. This gives much solemnity to the painting. Initially the glance goes up towards the left and this head of horse which intrigues. Then it locates the central figure and in the third time it moves to the extreme right-hand side. The point of view of the spectator is here. And the spectator has what to be astonished because the direction by work cannot be understood immediately. If you do not read the comment you have little chance to understand something there. Let us add that max Ernst studied philosophy and psychology with Bohn in Germany, and, pushed by his educational father in a school for deaf-mute it is interested very early in the forms of pictorial expression of the mentally ills. This artist knows exactly what it does.
One finds on the natural points of interest: on the left the adult woman sexually avid and on the right the dialog graft the child wife her instincts and her reason.
The silhouette in the center is on standby.
A little less the 2/3 of pictorial space is reserved for the sky, a little more of the third to the sea. The characters are not on ground but practically in water.
It is natural that the scene is located at the seaside. In the language of the dream water and the sea are before all the symbol of unconscious and the acknowledged goal of surrealism is to let speak the unconscious one with complete freedom.
The picture is built on the large ascending diagonal. The principal guiding lines go in this direction.
The horse is a psychic animal so much drawing that if it appears in dream it must be in full form and equipped with all its formidable capacities. The horse is essential, without him the man does not progress more. During millenia the horse has served the man for agriculture, its displacements and the war. A frightened horse, like here, announces an important psychic disordered state. Out this disordered state has place at a woman in red in catch with its instincts and its impulses… The female desire disturbs the artist so much that he almost sees it like a curse. The night-birds above the head could attenuate the things because Athena warlike Greek goddess of the reason and wisdom has for attribute the owl and Wotan or Odin in Scandinavian mythology often appears with a corbel on the shoulder. But the night-birds are predatory small mammals which they see and devour. The corbel adores the battle fields after this one and the man knows why. The birds have a close connection with death. It was believed a long time that the heart of the man left his body via a small bird. There are a corbel on the ground and an dead bird. The female impulses are reference to died and in the world of darkness is to say to which point they oppose the man.
This female silhouette is a support on standby result of the conversation of right-hand side. This skeleton of human general form to the strange bodies and the pointed bones as of the spines underlines the relationship between the human one and fish. It is natural when it is of deep and powerful unconscious contents and transformation that the unconscious one refers to fish. It is enough to remember legendary Jonas and of its stay in the whale to understand that which must undergo a transformation cannot escape the call the depths, sources of the life. The typically female animal and which represent as much at the man as at the woman the specifically female aspects is the cat and it is absent here. This vision is that of a man.
All that is on the ground refers to death. A night-bird, a corbel, an dead bird, a crab coming to nourish itself of this corpse. All this is very aggressive. With the top one can see the shape of a child (see zoom) who also seems to him dead. Here the woman in her maternal dimension does not exist.
The form of the antipope is double, the black shape with head of horse with loops in the shape of demons in the hair. Death and evil. A form marinades on the left with a squid of the algae and long fish in the hair which evokes powerful instincts coming from the depths but also Meduse.
Meduse is one of the 3 Gorgones, like his/her sisters Sthéno and Euryalé, it is a winged monster whose head carries a mass of snakes as a hair.
Jellyfish terrorizes the men, and whoever crosses its glance directly is changed into stone statue. But, mortal, Meduse will find the death of the hand of Persee. This one, armed by Hermes and the arm guided by Athena, slices the head to him. It offers then this trophy to Athena, which in flowering ash its shield.
Blood spouted out of the throat cut of Jellyfish and fallen in the sea, emerge the winged horse PEGASE and the Chryasor warrior, that Gorgone conceived its connection with Poseidon. Here Nothing good engaging for a man !
The scene is enlightened back of the character equipped with red in the foreground.
Colors : Contrast between complementary colors.
Similars Picture :
Max Ernst. The Forest. 1927.
Max Ernst. Europe After the Rain. 1942.
Max Ernst. The Temptation of Antony Saint. 1945