SECRET SYMBOLS AND HIDDEN MEANINGS - crms. ?· SECRET SYMBOLS AND HIDDEN MEANINGS ... I can only describe…
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SECRET SYMBOLS AND HIDDEN MEANINGS
The centre of the Wassail by Charles Rennie Mackintosh c. 1898.
source of hidden ancient symbols being used in an entirelynew and unique way. Here we can see what is almostcertainly a stylised portrait of Margaret Macdonald.Above her head are seven lotus flowers and in the centreof the figure is a rose, which is an illustration of analchemical rose in the watercolour study but becomesmore personal and stylised in the finished picture, whereit has transformed into what we now know as TheMackintosh Rose. She seems to be growing like a tree,or within a tree as the spirit of the tree. The central motifof the wall is a huge bud-like shape that appears to begrowing up into the sun. It is however, more a beam ofenergy growing up towards the light of the sun andpersonified by a pair of eyes sharply staring out into theroom. As the the beam or stem rises up notice the number
Line drawing by Dai Vaughan, showing detail of the scarabhidden in The Wassail.
Through our work on the gesso panels in the House foran Art Lover in Glasgow my wife Jenny and I have studiedthe work of the Mackintoshes in considerable depth. Thiswas necessary since we had to research what theme waspossibly being illustrated by the nine quickly sketchedpanels in Mackintoshs perspective drawing, and thendevelop this to complete the series around the room witha further twenty one panels. The task was made all themore difficult by the fact that the Mackintoshes neverwrote down anything relating to the meaning behindtheir work, so what follows is, therefore, a personalinterpretation gained from our researches.First, we studied their early years and noted that MargaretMacdonald had lived in the midst of beautiful countrysideat Chesterton Hall in Staffordshire from the age of twelvetill just before her twenty-fifth birthday. Local legend hasit that the house was built on the site of a Celtic stonecircle. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was brought up onthe edge of the Necropolis whose summit is a pre-Christian place of worship and is right next to GlasgowCathedral. Also, although he lived in the city, his fatherintroduced him to nature, by taking Charles with him,when he went to work in his garden. Very soon it becameobvious that his son was developing a strong love of plantsand flowers. These early influences undoubtedly fuelledthe Mackintoshes profound interest in nature - the spirit,and the ancient rites and religions. Added to this were theinfluences surrounding them at the Glasgow School ofArt. Fra Newbery, the Director, was a very progressiveand enlightened teacher, who embraced both theSpiritualist and the Celtic revivals. He invited leadingartists, designers, writers, poets and philosophers to givetalks at the school. Importantly he also introducedMackintosh and Macdonald to the work of Maeterlinck,the Belgian philosopher and playwrite, who was to havesuch an influence on their work. All in all, a curiousamalgam of Celtic, Egyptian and Far Eastern themes andsymbols appear in their work from this period onwards.
I can only describe a very few of the secret symbolswhich Mackintosh and Macdonald used. The first is thescarab, which clearly had huge significance to the ancientEgyptians as a symbol ruling providence, directing thepowers of nature, renewal and regeneration, and theendurance of the human soul. At the centre ofMackintoshs 1900 gesso panel, The Wassail which isthe name given to the feasting and celebration after theharvest in the autumn, is a hidden scarab beetle. Its veryobvious once youve seen it, and is such a structuralelement of the whole design it can hardly have appearedby accident.
Mackintoshs 1896 stencil wall painting on the wallsof the Buchanan Street Tea Room also provides a rich
Detail of the Buchanan Street Tea Rooms stencil design by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1897.
of flower/mandala symbols at various spaces. These beara strong resemblance to Eastern diagrams illustrating thevarious states of awareness as consciousness rises towardsenlightenment. My belief is that here we can see illustratedthe chakras as wheels of vital energy situated along thespinal column. They are driving a flow of physiologicaland spiritual energy from the base of the spine upwardsto open the thousand petalled lotus at the crown of thehead.
There are many symbols in the Mackintoshes workwhich add extra dimension, fascination and interpretation.Nothing was done for purely decorative effect alone. Alltheir works are imbued with feeling and meaning. Ibelieve both Mackintosh and Macdonald were very awareof the type of sympathetic magic they were creating, andthis is what makes their work so powerful.
Dai VaughanDai Vaughan of Vaughan Art-Works
This is a shortened version of a talk given to the CRM Society atQueens Cross, 16 October 2002.