The commentary of the cover
Prologue to the Novel of the Soul by Pierre-Marie Dumont
Ivan Aivazovsky (1817–1900), a close associate of Pushkin and Gogol, was a Russian painter of Armenian origin. Admired by Delacroix and Turner, he enjoyed considerable fame in his time, throughout the world as well as in his homeland. His exhibitions in Paris and New York were veritable triumphs. Unlike his contemporary marine artists, Jongkind, Courbet, or Boudin, he didn’t paint from life but from memory, producing essentially emotional recreations of natural reality. His romantic soul, enthralled by Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark came to rest after the flood, stirred him to celebrate endlessly the great myths of Armenian culture. His body of work can be understood as a profound contemplation of water in all its forms: the source of life illuminated by creative light, tides of death merging their crested waves with the ink-black sky. When, in 1841, Aivazovsky painted the chaos of the primordial waters at the instant of creation, Baudelaire, another romantic who despised secularist rationalism, echoed in response:
Free man, you will always cherish the sea!
The sea is your mirror; you contemplate your soul
In the infinite unrolling of its billows;
Your mind is an abyss that is no less bitter.
The poet goes on to articulate in words what the painter offers to our eyes:
The billows which cradled the image of the sky
Mingled, in a solemn, mystical way,
The omnipotent chords of their rich harmonies
With the sunsets’ colors reflected in my eyes.
However, here, borrowing overtones of the Second Coming, the colors are those of the first dawn, the first rising of light over the creation of life. Let us then contemplate this grandiose and poignant work—a divine liturgy that reveals that the essential dimension of the visible is invisible, is the invisible. “You contemplate your soul”: beyond the frothing sea foam of hatred overcast by the shadowy clouds of Evil, you bear in yourself the image of the Creator; you reflect his light and speak for ever of his beneficen
Creation or Chaos (1841), Ivan Konstantinovitch Aivazovsky (1817–1900), Armenian Museum, Monastery San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice, Italy. © Arthotek / La Collection.