Celestial Gardens جِنان

Watercolour and shell palladium on cut paper, acrylic and interference pigments on canvas. 122 x 122 x 4 cm.

Date2 May 2017
Category, ,

Carrying on with my exploration of medieval cosmology, Celestial Gardens is one level up from my earlier piece Heavenly Spheres. In the latter’s description, I discussed the first two outer spheres: the Sky of Fixed Stars, which contains the constellations and is the extreme limit of the world we can experience with our physical senses; and the Sky of No Stars, which is featureless because it houses the “essences” that manifest as constellations.

In the space between these two spheres, Ibn Arabi situates the Celestial Gardens, the paradise promised to the faithfuls. This hierarchically structured domain is divided into 8 gardens. Seven are depicted here:

  1. The Abode of Permanence دار المقامة
  2. The Abode of Peace دار السلام
  3. The Garden of Immortality جنّة الخلد
  4. The Garden of Refuge جنّة المأوى
  5. The Garden of Delight جنّة النعيم
  6. The Garden of Paradise جنّة الفردوس
  7. The Garden of Eden جنّة عدن

The eighth garden, الوسيلة, is essential in nature and permeates all the gardens.

To represent the gardens, I used a foliated Kufi and made the circles overlap to create a feel of lush and exuberant greenery, in contrast to the stark structure of the abstract spheres beyond. The greens are achieved by a ground of terre verte pigment overlaid with azurite or a brighter green to create three different hues. The three hues allude to the three types of gardens distinguished by Ibn Arabi: Gardens of the Elites, Gardens of Inheritance, and Gardens of Deeds.

The vault of the Gardens is the Sphere of No Stars, which is divided into the 12 zodiacal signs. Here I didn’t want to dwell on the signs too much, and am leaving their detailed treatment to a future cosmogram. Instead, I focused on the “featureless” nature of this sphere: the names of the signs, in large Square Kufi, are painted so they are light-reactive. They shine out when light strikes them at certain angles, and remain nearly invisible otherwise.

Visible or invisible, depending on the light.

The Sphere of No Stars and everything it contains are contained in the Footstool, the “lowest” of the supra-celestial realms, itself a part of the Throne. Both of these are hinted at in the square framing the spheres, their names just defined in light-reactive lines on the black background. A future piece of work will look at them in more detail.

On the opposite end, the Sphere of Fixed Stars is the lower boundary of the Gardens. It has 28 divisions, which correspond both to the letters of the Arabic alphabet and to the mansions of the Moon. The letters have precedence, as pointed out by Ibn Arabi: “It is not as people think, that the mansions of the Moon represent the models of the letters; it is the twenty-eight sounds which determine the lunar mansions.” In this cosmogram, since we are looking at this sphere from “above”, so to speak, I used the letters, in the style I call Manuscript Kufi, the original inspired script of Arabic calligraphy.

Creation process:

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