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PRIMA MATERIA

 

Friedrich’s Woman at the Window. We see the woman only from behind, her body seemingly confined within the materials walls of a dark, narrow space. Yet here is no mere feminine figure cast against the background of that confining space - for the flowing grace and fullness of her embodied presence pervades that space and seems to manifest its own darkly hidden light. The round black shadow of her body on the floor beneath her feet intimates at dark but mysterious depths of soul, just as the larger window above her head reveals heavenly heights of spirit. We see that the floor widens out into a broader, lighter space behind her. That space is indicated only by what we see of the two facing walls, which frame the painting like twin black pillars of a holy temple. Through the small window she gazes upon a world of light, air and sea, signified by the ship masts that rise up to appear in the larger window above. What ‘metaphor’ have we here, if not that of the human body’s inward and all-round feeling awareness confined by a single ‘window’ of the senses – the sense of sight? But is the woman’s own body merely domestically confined by the material walls around her? Surely not, for her motherly, matron-like figure reminds us of the origins of the word matter and matron (mater) and of the prima materia – that primordial ‘dark matter’ that is mother of all things. Though she leans toward the window ledge of the outer senses, her hidden hands also rest on that ledge as if on an altar. To what pillared temple does this altar belong? To what divinity is it dedicated except Sophia – she whom the gnostics acknowledged as the maternal womb or matrix of matter itself? The inwardness of the woman’s body merges with the matter of the walls around her and speaks of the essential mystery of matter - not its sensory outwardness but its inexhaustible inwardness. The Woman at the Window is no more confined by those material walls than this inwardness is confined by its outwardness. Nor is she a mere metaphor. For hers is a bodily wisdom (sophia) that knows matter itself as metaphor – a solid, material metaphor of its own inexhaustible inwardness - the prima materia.

 

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