Jean Delville - an introduction:
The Salons d'Art Idéaliste were intended to continue the grand tradition of idealistic art, which Delville traced back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Delville rejected a long list of popular subjects, including:
As a mystic strongly influenced by Neoplatonism, Delville believed that visible reality was only a symbol, and that humans exist in three planes: the physical (the realm of facts), the astral (or spiritual world, the realm of laws), and the divine (the realm of causes). These higher planes of existence were the only significant ones. Materialism was a trap, and the soul had to guard against being trapped by its snares. The human body he considered to a potential prison for the soul. Rejecting Darwinism and evolution, Delville refused to believe that humans had come from animals, nor did he believe that people could degenerate to animals. He considered humans to be the highest development of terrestrial beings, though at a mid-point between animals and angels. Reincarnation was to provide the path to the highest level for those who perfected their will and spirit through initiation and magic. He reconciled his interest in the occult with Christianity by considering Catholicism to be in harmony with magical laws: the external forms of devotion concealed occult truths. Above all, however, Delville considered art to play a key role in uplifting people from their blindness. The true artist was an initiate who would present images which would teach and transform human nature. Artists were to become priests and prophets:
Jean Delville, The School of Plato, 1898. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Delville also emphasized the perils of materialism and sensuality in an image of souls ensnared by the tentacles of Satan: The Treasures of Satan, 1894, Royal Museums of Art, Brussels. In this work the voluptuous sinners are not so much being punished as they are being trapped at a low level of spiritual evolution. The depths of the sea corresponds to their low development. They are trapped by being fixated on material treasures: jewels, pearls, and sensuality. They are also the "Treasures of Satan," being trapped by him. Satan, although handsome and graceful, is himself a low-level being, as revealed by his tentacles. His physical form reveals his spiritual nature.
Jean Delville, The Treasures of Satan, 1894. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.
Other paintings by Delville, such as The God-Man, 1895 (5 meters by 5 meters, Groeninge Museum, Bruges), contrast this bondage with the vision of enlightened, pure souls ascending to heaven. This painting represents the merciful figure of Christ, the great initiate, towering over the bodies of souls striving for union with the divine.193 The dominant blue color is a symbol of spirituality, just as red was a symbol of materialism and sensualism in The Treasures of Satan. These works are complementary, in that they represent the poles of human destiny.
-- Jeffery Howe
My thanks to Miriam Delville, the artist's granddaughter, and the Artist's Rights Society for permission to reproduce these images.