Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Skulls, Alchemy and Rebirth

This skull resides in the workshop in Nürnberg where a good friend practices her craft. The workshop is rather unusual because it houses a printing technique known as Xylography.A design is cut out in wood, then a limited run of imprints are made using a special machine. You may know of the artist and political thinker William Morris. He was a famous xylography artist but I know my friend is his equal for fine cutting! This is the web site of artist Anke Vogler  so that you can see the kind of detailed work that's possible. Nürnberg is famous for Albrecht Dürer, another xylography artist. You may even have seen his famous picture of a hare, which is a symbol of Nürnberg. But that doesn't tell us about skulls! The skull is a repository of life and is part of alchemy. The scene above looks quite alchemical doesn't it? The skull is the seat of control, centre of operations and ultimately the womb of knowledge. Most famous for its place above the St Andrew's crossed bones in which skull and crossbones represents the four quarters of nature and perfection. The reason for the symbol's adaptation as the pirate "Jolly Roger" is not known - but "giving no quarter" springs to mind. As an alchemical symbol the skull connotes putrefaction, but putrefaction involves rebirth and the cycle of life and death. In alchemy, the new man arises from the crucible in which the old was annihilated. There are only a few people left who can do this kind of skilled work. Perhaps the skull is there to remind us of that.