- Report written by Michael Roboz about a presentation by Bert Chase at the Open House of the Rudolf Steiner Centre In Vancouver on 21 October, 2012
Rudolf Steiner gave freely of his time and energy to support the requests of many developing initiatives. Much of what we have of anthroposophical wisdom comes from his work with these diverse groups. When Rudolf Steiner had time to take up his own creative work he devoted himself to developing new ways of shaping and structuring our surroundings. When he spoke of these efforts he stressed how the forms and proportions built into our surroundings work back upon us, as individuals and organisations. He stressed that unless we are able to transform the forming principles at work in our environments then the archaic principles embodied in them will create increasing hindrances not only for the development of anthroposophical life but for human development as a whole. The spaces that we inherit from the past will stand in the way of the anthroposophical work we do to transform culture.
The principles built into the spaces that surround us in western civilization have primarily come to us from the Romans. The proportions and forces built into these spaces, and how we interact with our surroundings, at one time supported human development. Now they act as retarding forces that inhibit evolution and threaten our anthroposophical work. The roman impulse was the culmination of a stream of evolution that had as its intention the development of human beings who could attain to a certain level of independence. Rudolf Steiner characterized this stream of development as the Mars stage in earth evolution, often depicting it as a descent out of atavistic consciousness.
This Mars stream of evolution came to a point of crystallisation around 86 B.C. when the Roman General Sulla had himself declared Imperator. The worldview that then evolved was that every aspect of society only had validity within a highly centralized and controlled hierarchy based on wielding power through physical force. This rigidification of culture inevitably had its effect on the experience of human beings themselves, how the first glimmers of ego awareness were experienced. Within this hierarchical roman worldview the individual only had a sense of self by identifying their place within the established hierarchy, and all cultural forms were developed to support this structure.
This worldview was projected into space using the newly developed processes of surveying. This enabled the laying out of straight road systems that ignored geography and topography, throughout the Roman Empire. Cities and buildings were built up using rigid right angle grid systems.
We can get a sense for how pervasive an impact this grid development has by following the gradual shift from different sets of open angles to the point were a right angle appears. The experience of a right angle is that something is suddenly “locked” into space. In contrast, an obtuse angle, no matter how shallow it is, still retains an inherent sense of mobility. Space still has a breathing quality that disappears with the imposition of a roman grid system.
To overcome the power of these right angle systems, and the worldview it represents, takes considerable effort. To shift out of the impact of this rigidifying system of shaping environments takes consciousness and presence of mind, because it is so pervasive. Once its omnipresence begins to be recognized, then completely new principles for the creation of space must be developed. Only through this effort can we gradually introduce into our surroundings principles of mobility, of rhythm, of breathing that can then work back upon human beings affecting how we experience those spaces and how we can dwell within them.
The Mystery of Golgotha and the Transition from Mars to Mercury
The Mystery of Golgotha is the great “turning point” in earth evolution, the beginning of the transition from the Mars stage of evolution to what Rudolf Steiner characterized as the Mercury stage. This “turning point” in earth evolution requires that every aspect of human endeavour be permeated with a spiritualized consciousness. Every aspect of culture that is figuratively “locked into” the roman right angle grid worldview needs to be opened up through the activity and intention of human beings.
For this turning point to unfold, humanity also needs to develop completely new soul facilities. Around 1400 the very beginnings of this new soul capacity began to arise in human beings. Rudolf Steiner identifies this as the dawning of the spiritual soul (the consciousness soul in German). The first cultural manifestation of this new faculty finds its expression with the Renaissance.
The Spiritual Soul, Raphael and the Renaissance
As with each significant stage in human development there are important individuals who point the way forward. Adam, Elijah, and John the Baptist all acted as these harbingers of a new evolutionary stage. With the dawning of the spiritual soul it was the remarkable painter Raphael (born March 28th 1483, died Apr. 6, 1520) who is among the first to awaken this new soul capacity. We could say he is one of the first human beings who embody the Mercury Impulse. Rudolf Steiner often draws attention to one of his most important works, the Sistine Madonna, created in 1513-1514.
Raphael's Sistine Madonna, Diagram of Roman building with right angle. with Bert Chase.
When we observe the representations of the Roman Caesars, what strikes us is how large they are, bigger than life, their stance confronting. They stand square to the observer, often with armour and bearing weapons.
If we compare these with Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, what is most apparent is how the Madonna rotates toward the observer, gently lifting the figure of the archetypal human being, the Jesus Child – as if unimpeded by the force of gravity. He beholds us. These two central figures invite us to engage with them, to allow our own soul experience to flow into the situation depicted. This sense of active engagement with the event taking place is accentuated and focused by the two figures below the Madonna and Child. The figure on the right, dressed in cool blue hues, invites us to inwardly move into the situation presented. The figure on the left, dressed in warm hues, picks up the dynamic movement within the painting and reaches out toward us.
The Sistine Madonna and the First Goetheanum
As we live within the dynamics that are created within the painting, we can gradually become aware that there are mirroring movements that are awakened within our own souls as observers. If we depict these movements as a diagram, what arises is a flowing circulating pattern, a circulating rhythmic pulsation that flows out from the central figures of the Madonna and Child, and then awakens within our own souls its reflected etheric activity. When we draw this movement what arises is the pattern language that underlies the structure of the First Goetheanum. We can follow the movement woven into the Sistine Madonna and read it in the flow and movement created in the First Goetheanum.
This is drawn to a focus for us with the placement of the Gruppe, the representative of humanity, placed in the same position as the Jesus Child in the Raphael painting. With further observation we can also see how the Gruppe itself is yet again a further development of the underlying rhythmic structure present in the painting.
Bert Chase, diagram of First Goetheanum
We can further observe how the dynamic relationship between the figures allows an invisible breathing in from across the threshold. This “threshold’s breeze” lifts the mantel of the Madonna. As we contemplate this invisible breathing in, we can get a sense for a space, an opening; being created that perhaps allows this new spiritual soul faculty to become present.
The Renewal of the Centre
With these considerations as background, we can turn to the tasks that have been taken up to renew these spaces for our anthroposophical work here in Vancouver. We can observe how a gentle attempt is made to create the movements inherent both in the Sistine Madonna and in the First Goetheanum – though the ways they articulate the space have been modified for this specific situation. The first step is creating the impression of several planes one behind the other. This layering of planes is then accentuated by deepening the colours of the different planes. By opening up again the curved wall where these planes meet, this sense of movement, of circulation is supported, while still respecting the underlying structural principles of the spaces as they have been given to us.
All of this is then enhanced by reflecting the colour movement as indicated by Raphael, the cooler tones on the right, the warmer tones on the left. These support the sense of circulating movement indicated by the forms of the spaces themselves.
These are just a few indications of the efforts that have been made to lift up the organizing principles of the spaces we have inherited and to transmute them in such a way that they can support and enliven our anthroposophical work as we go forward.