The dramatic paintings of Mark Rothko (1903-1970), born to a Jewish familyin Russia and one of the most outstanding artists of the New York School, offer an extraordinary example of the expression of religious emotion in the second half of the 20th century. Inspired by Classical art and the great cycles of mediaeval Italian religious painting, Rothko embarked upon a path of disfiguring the image until it was totally eliminated, leading him to the creation of the dark pictures of the final years of his life. In this essay we look at the way in which the morphological transformations of Rothko's art run parallel to the ritual processes of archaic religion as well as the extent to which pure abstraction can be understood as a path for aesthetic and mystical surrender in an art form that is not explicitly religious. Analysis of the paintings is accompanied by a commentary and interpretation of the numerous texts that Rothko wrote about matters pertaining to art and religion, and which open up new and surprising approaches to the study of the sacred.
Translated by Peter J. Hearn
Authors > Amador Vega
(Barcelona, 1958) holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg in Breisgau (Germany) and the Aesthetics Chair in the Humanities Department of Pompeu Fabra University. He was "Joan Coromines Visiting Professor" at the University of Chicago (2007) and guest professor at the Université St. Joseph in Beirut (2010). He is president of the "Association of Friends of the Alois M. Haas Mystica and Philosophica Library" and a corresponding member of the Collège International de Philosophie (Paris). He is co-director of the "El Árbol del Paraíso" (Paradise Tree) collection of books by Editorial Siruela. He specializes in the study of religious thought and Western mysticism in its links with aesthetics.He is the author of a number of books, including: Master Eckhart, El fruto de la nada (The Fruit of Oblivion) (Madrid, 2010, 7th ed.); Zen, Mística y Abstracción (Zen, Mysticism and Abstraction) (Madrid, 2002); Ramón Llull y el secreto de la vida (Ramon Llull and the Secret of Life) (Madrid, 2002); Ramon Llull and the Secret of Life, (New York, 2003); El bambú y el olivo (Bamboo and the Olive Tree) (Barcelona, 2004); Arte y Santidad. Cuatro lecciones de estética apofática (Art and Holiness. Four Lessons in Apophatic Aesthetics) (Pamplona, 2005); Tratado de los cuatro modos del espíritu (Treatise on the Four Ways of the Spirit) Barcelona, 2005); Sacrificio y creación en la pintura de Rothko (Sacrifice and Creation in the Paintings of Rothko) (Madrid, 2010) and Tres poetas del exceso. La hermenéutica imposible de Eckhart, Silesius y Celan (Three Poets of Excess. Impossible Hermeneutics in Eckhart, Silesius and Celan) (Barcelona, 2011).