NATIONAL CATHEDRAL, WASHINGTON, DC
This is a detail of Ex Nihilo, a frieze of subtle and extraordinary power created for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, by Frederick Hart, who intuitively employed the logarithmic spiral so effectively in organizing his composition.
In 1974 the sculptor, then thirty-one years old, was awarded the commission for three friezes in the cathedral's west facadeit is perhaps the most significant religious sculpture of the twentieth century. In architectural terms, the description of the sculptural program comprises the three portal tympana, each supported by a central column figureone of Saint Peter, another of Adam, and a third of Saint Paul. A carving representing the creation of humans, Ex Nihilo, was to be located in the central portal and the creation of day and night, respectively, in the two flanking portals.
Harts friend, the author Tom Wolfe, described the frieze as depicting mankind emerging from the swirling rush of chaos.19 Swirling rush is indeed an appropriate description for that maelstrom of eight bodies seemingly issuing forth spontaneously from bedrock. But perhaps the inspiration for the composition was in the subliminal messages we receive from nature and its patterns in sunflowers, hurricanes, and chambered nautiluses. The cross-section of the chambered nautilus could be digitally overlaid on Ex Nihilo, Harts masterpiece. In organizing the composition a "best fit" can be made with the curve passing through the elbows of at least five of the figures.
Born in 1943, Hart, at just fifty-four, suffered a stroke in the right hemisphere of his brain, leaving him partially paralyzed on the left side, and at least temporarily curtailing his prodigious pace. Even though he was a right-handed sculptor the damage to the emoting, nonverbal side of the brain had put limitations on his ability to perceive objects in space, although he was still able to conceptualize, formulate ideas, process the sensual underpinnings of those ideas, and create an expression of those ideas in a newly created image.21 With heroic will and intensive physical therapy he regained some of the use of his left arm. Overcoming the reduction in spatial perceptionthe ability to perceive (not just to see) both his subject and his rendering required additional effort. He made progress in this area by concentrating harder and using mirrors as well as a specially modified camera.
Eighteen months after his stroke, in August 1999, Hart was diagnosed with cancer, and just three days later succumbed to the ravages of the disease. He was two months shy of his fifty-sixth birthday. Although I knew and admired him immensely, I never got the chance to discuss with him the logarithmic spiral that appears to organize the composition of the frieze. But I am convinced it was decidedly not a conscious exercise; in his own words he once explained, I saw Ex Nihilo (out of nothing) as a single expression of creation, as the metamorphosis of divine spirit and energy. The figures emerge from the nothingness of chaos, caught in the moment of eternal transformationthe majesty and mystery of divine force in a state of becoming. His widow, Lindy Hart, explained that it had been a swirling pattern in a formation of clouds that inspired her husband, but added, Rick would have been captivated to see the [logarithmic] spiral superimposed. Tradition has it that Michelangelo similarly received his vision of the Creation scene for the Sistine Chapel from an ephemeral cloud formation.
As for the episode of Harts stroke, it parallels the effect of a similar stroke that the left-handed Leonardo suffered in the left hemisphere of his brain, partially paralyzing his right arm, and, in his case, effectively ending his career as a painter. For artistic creativity to thrive, the conjoining of both hemispheres of the brain appears to be important, or perhaps the various functions are not altogether the exclusive domain of one side or the otherat least in the examples of these two artists.
The foregoing text is from my own book, Math and the Mona Lisa, in which Leonardo serves as the foil for integrating mathematics, science and art (Smithsonian Books, 2004, now in eleven languages).
A close scrutiny of the photo reveals a very fine net designed to keep pidgeons from leaving their deposits on the great work of art. There also appear some whitish seam marks. The carving, is perhaps 3-4 times the shown size, having been created in the artist's studio and transported to this site in pieces.
Critiques | Translate
carper (96) 2007-03-07 11:37
this is good Bulent,
the note is as usual very good written, but ofcoarse you are an author, a good one. the photo job you made is very good, the details are super and the sharpnes is great, good pov and vey nice te job well done.
Leo71538 (555) 2007-03-07 11:40
Fantastic. have you used any filter?
One more thing: do you have any other photo from the whole masterpiece?
jhm (144304) 2007-03-07 12:31
Thank you very much for the mail, you get a reply!
I know very well how difficult this picture for taking, but you did very well, natural get you different dots, but I think that here the objective of the picture are very important.
I appreciate your note very deeply.
Thanks for sharing.
Have a nice evening,
Nutella123 (212) 2007-03-07 13:10
Well I like everything in this picture, I like grey tones, I like the composition, I like the harmony and the ilusion of chaos, I like a square shape of a picutre, sorry for this boring comment but this picture I find really good...
mesutilgim (89126) 2007-03-07 13:13
Çok güzel bir çalışma ; verdiğin mükemmel açıklamalarla da tşpşl bir "TE" çalışması olmuş.Ellerine sağlık
rigoletto (34279) 2007-03-07 15:53
Hi Dear Professor!
This one looks like a novel Michaelangelean "Dies Irae", or a group of Francesca di Riminis and Paolos whirling in the formidable flames of wrath. The figures with their dynamism are really elegant and realistic. You made an artwork out of an artwork. The deposit-preventing net creates an interesting texture at all. Very nicely seen and framed. Congratulations,
kdialyna (3148) 2007-03-07 16:06
Good evening my friend.
Perceptible your absence but also your presence.
Very good your new work.
Excellent tone gradation gives perfect the bas-relief feeling.
I like your picture and of course the note very much
My best regards
siolaw (38292) 2007-03-07 22:48
Great close up of this artwork, with amazing texture and 3D effect, nice color shades and superb sharpness... an interesting note too...
Dragonheart (8414) 2007-03-08 4:36
Excellent shot, the framing perfect for this sculpture. Good work.
Thanks for sharing
ahmetgedikli (25587) 2007-03-08 6:38
Çok nefis, orijinal bir çalışma...Elinize sağlık, Türkiye'den selamlar.
feather (51130) 2007-03-08 7:09
Very good capture of this artwork. I had the good fortune to see some of Frederick Hart's work when we were in San Franciso 6 or 7 years ago. I can't pretend to be knowledgeable about art, but the beauty of the work still lives in my memory as I was so impressed by the exquisite detail that almost brings his work to life. When I saw this I just had to hunt out the brochures I have. We saw some of his bronzes and also some of the resin sculptures that I think are his own innovation. I particularly remember being mesmerised by one in his Illuminata series.
Neither do I understand your mathematical references but I remember at the time while looking at the Illuminta piece that there had to have been some mathematical and scientific understanding to make the sculpture work.
He was a truly great artist and his early demise has to be a great loss to the art world.
Thank you for reminding me. Washington DC will have to go on my list of places to visit.
Cretense (68695) 2007-03-08 12:23
Amazing work of art and excellent capture! A picture full of movement and dynamics. Congratulations!
jwmunro (286) 2007-03-08 21:30
Hello Bulent -
This is a very interesting piece and your image is amazingly sharp. I am a bit confused though - what is the matrix overlaying the image? It has been a long time since I have been to the National Cathedral even though I have stayed numerous time at an aunt's house only a 5 minute walk away. This sculpture looks a bit too much like some of the Renaissance art of hell or purgatory that I have seen either at the National Gallery or the Louvre - I am sure the patrons of the Cathedral were not happy. Anyway, a well conceived and executed image.
Thank you for sharing
atilgone (0) 2007-03-09 3:48
Merhaba Bülent Bey,
Ne kadar güzel bir sanat eseri bu. Üzerindeki küçük küçük noktalar nedir? Sanki harita metod defteri gibi karelerden oluşan bir şeyin üzerine yapılmış gibi. Güzel karelemişsiniz, elinize sağlık.
ALIRIZA (16423) 2007-03-09 5:18
Merhaba Bülent Abi,
İlginç ve o kadar da çok şey ifade eden güçlü bir çalışma. Ellerinize sağlık...
selam ve saygılarımla, iyi bir hafta sonu diliyorum...
jmcl (14535) 2007-03-09 23:54
Beautiful thoughtful image and note .. the netting adds a bit of almost mysterious diffusion or a mask of the modern world .. or linear squares against the logarithmic spiral ..
your note really provoked some thought in me as a musician .. the fact that most of our perception of loudness seems naturally logarithmic .. our natural perception of consonance and dissonance based on ratios .. funny .. just before I clicked on your Gallery I had put Thomas Tallis' (1505-1585) Spem in Alium .. pretty interesting superimposition.
(and of course I am intensely interested in brain function) ..
emjleclercq (15780) 2007-03-10 16:36
A very interesting note about the life of this modern sculptor, whose style is classical and reconciliates me with modern sculture. The strength of the movement reminds me of the bronze doors by Rodin displyaing (as far as I remember) the entrance of Paridise.
I would have asked about the punctuations on the image but got the answer for your note, so finally this net is not so disturbing.
All the best,
Bluejeans (64249) 2007-03-12 15:05
Ola Bulente que belo trabalho de arte esta fabuloso, cheio de detalhes e sombras !!!
Um abraço Gonçalo
Sekhmet73 (4149) 2007-03-14 13:17
It reminds me of something I saw in "the devils advocate" movie, a mixture of pain, emotions, movement, bodies....
I like it. I know it's not a technical critique but... I don't care!
henrytf (985) 2007-03-15 19:43
The photograph is superb but what an extraordinary note and what an extraordinary piece of art.
I was literally thrilled by the artist's story.
I had a look on Internet and I discovered Hart's other works like his bronze sculptures among which the "Daughters of Odessa" and the Vietnam Veterans sculpture.
The frieze in itself makes me think of "Human Passions", a colossal marble bas-relief, created by Jef Lambeaux at the end of the XIXth century. It can be seen in the Pavilion erected by Victor Horta in the Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels. Ordered by the belgian government in 1890 the sculpture was shown to the public eight years later in a little temple built by Victor Horta. It made such a scandal that the pavilion was closed only three days after its opening.
Here's alink to a photograph of it.
stego (24030) 2007-03-15 21:10
It's great to be able to appreciate this wonderful piece of art with more detail than in your book. I'll keep waiting for a wider pov. :-)
The contrast, definition and framing (both the external one and the "compositional" one) are just perfect, and that net gives it a painting like texture that I would believe that was made in PP if you didn't mention what it really is in the note.
Although I recognise the text from your book, as usual you are making a valuable contribution to the knowledge of Art and History with your note.
manatee (4668) 2007-03-20 15:21
This frieze reminds me of the movie "The devils advocate" but maybe they got ispired by this. This is really beautiful and you captured it so good. It is a pity the net, did not capture the essence of the picture, but I know is to keep away the pigions. A commnetary; could you try B&W? maybe this will help to erease a little more of the net and emphasize the sculpture.
wilkinsonsg (8662) 2007-03-21 16:56
Excellent capture - the netting is a little distracting but the detailing of the figures more than make up for this - TFS :)
prumod (8300) 2007-04-03 11:20
you could bring all the beauty of the sculptre here... the pov is perfect with nice lights and shades....
dorte_s_t (2287) 2007-04-05 6:18
Hello , Bulent .
This is the first photo I see from your hand , and it will definately not be the last . I am pretty sure I will spend hours enjoying your beautiful photos and excellent notes !
In this relief I am impressed with the effect of only grey tones in creating this beautiful work of art .
When I look at the facial expressions I clearly recognize them from babies in the moment of birth : Some worried , some frightened and some quite relaxed .
Your note is long but very interesting .
Do you know the Danish artist Jens Flemming Sorensen ?
He created a fountain in the park of Marselisborg castle . He is one of my favourites , and I think you would like him too .
papagolf21 (90550) 2007-04-12 4:03
Cher ami Bulent,
Je tenais à regarder cette composition d'une grande beauté.
J'aime cette grande beauté qui émane de ce tableau.
Liekje (574) 2007-05-06 15:46
Cool, it looks like that piece of art that comes to life in that movie The Devils Advocate! I always love that artpiece from the movie, so it's really cool to see a 'live' picture of that piece here.
Very nice crop and good colourbalance as well!
- Copyright: Bulent Atalay (batalay) (36986)
- Genre: Places
- Medium: Color
- Date Taken: 2007-02-27
- Categories: Artwork
- Camera: Nikon D-70, 18-70mm DX Zoom Nikkor
- Photo Version: Original Version
- Theme(s): NATIONAL CATHEDRAL, WASHINGTON, DC [view contributor(s)]
- Date Submitted: 2007-03-07 11:29
- Favorites: 2 [view]