About Rothko and Meister Eckhart

In 2015, the municipal museum of The Hague hosted a unique exhibition devoted to the works of the American artist Mark Rothko

About Rothko and Meister Eckhart

I had the opportunity to visit this exhibition and remember with feelings of gratitude the moments when I came face to face with what I would call the imagination of the highest in man. It came to me at a time when, in preparation for a lecture, I was delving into the works of the German Dominican friar and mystic Meister Eckhart. It was my intention to speak of what Eckhart called ‘the Unio Mystica’, the divine unity or the unity of God and man. And there, on that afternoon in the municipal museum of The Hague, in the work of Mark Rothko, in the midst of the colorless silence, what Meister Eckhart must have meant by the Unio Mystica was expressed for me.

Mark Rothko, the originally Jewish painter who was born in Latvia, makes a deep impression on the viewer with his tranquil paintings. In the development of his work he gradually distanced himself from shapes, figures and even color. In this way, he expresses the mystical experience that happened to him while painting. It brought him to the threshold of the transcendent, it enabled him to cross that threshold and be part of the mystery of the cosmos. His later work in particular appeals directly to the interior of the viewer, whom he seems to invite to share his experience with him, to become one by letting go and being absorbed in the whole.

I ended up not incorporating Rothko into my reading, at least not noticeably. I did show one of his works at the end of my presentation and had the Rosycross projected on it. Wordless.

Rothko makes the viewer disappear in his works and leave behind an intense sense of the experience of unity, of recognition. A feeling of recognition was repeated soon after my visit to the museum when I got hold of a book by the then recently deceased Dutch writer Joost Zwagerman. In The Silence of the Light [1], he devotes a few dozen pages to Rothko and also lets others speak about their acquaintance with Rothko:

To be absorbed in a sublime silence. Escape from yourself in sublime tranquility.

A beautiful expression of a mystical-religious experience. Fantastic examples of how art can bring the Unio Mystica closer to us.



[1] Joost Zwagerman, De stilte van het licht – schoonheid en onbehagen in de kunst [The Silence of the Light – Beauty and Discomfort in Art], de Arbeiderspers, 2015


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Date: June 12, 2022
Author: Klaas-Jan Bakker (Netherlands)
Photo: Logon Netherlands

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