Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interior Castle I

Interior Castle I - Terry Nelson, 2010
acrylic on clay-board panel 8" x 8"
Based upon Teresian Carmelite spirituality, the allegory comprises aspects of St. Teresa's Interior Castle; the soul in mortal sin, entry into the first mansions, as well as the poetry of John of the Cross; "One dark night... I went out unseen..."
In her book, The Interior Castle St. Teresa speaks of her vision of the soul as "a most beautiful crystal globe, like a castle in which she saw seven dwelling places, and in the seventh, which was in the center, the King of Glory dwelt in the greatest splendor...  Outside of the castle all was darkness, with toads and vipers and other poisonous vermin.  While she was admiring this beauty which the grace of God communicates to souls, the light suddenly disappeared and, although the King of Glory did not leave the castle, the crystal was covered with darkness and was left as ugly as coal and with an unbearable stench, and the poisonous creatures outside the wall were able to get into the castle, such was the state of a soul in sin." - Fr. Diego de Yepes
The description by de Yepes is what I attempted to illustrate in this painting.  The fly and the creatures are shown outside the globe, while inside it is dark and moody, perhaps hiding the creatures who remain in the inner first rooms of the castle.  I couldn't very well show the soul in mortal sin as Teresa described it since in Chapter 2 she discusses how the globe is covered as if in pitch - while the Blessed Trinity remains at it's deepest center - no light is emitted to the soul.  I suggest the presence of the Trinity by the three fires at the base of the mount.  The three flames and the mount in turn suggest the coat of arms of Carmel, hence the mount surmounted by the cross, albeit barely visible.  The mount encircled by clouds also suggests Mt. Sinai, and the giving of the Law to Moses.  The murky waters surrounding the mount suggest the moat Teresa describes around the Interior Castle.  The reflected window represents God's grace enlightening the soul.
I think that covers it - it's a fairly literal illustration of Teresa's vision and subsequent development in the first chapters of her book.  With the toads and the vipers I included an owl, the medieval symbol of evil, as opposed to the modern interpretation of the owl as a symbol of wisdom - this is meant to suggest not only erroneous opinion and teaching which infect the soul, but serve to warn against one's personal attachment and vain exultation over one's intellectual prowess.  In sum, the vile creatures represent sin, and the worldly affairs which distract and ensnare the soul and keep it from penetrating further into the inner chambers of the castle, close to the King of Glory.
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Anonymous said...

Yours is the only blog I ever drag my pained body to read, other than on occasion one of a self-promoting female hermit who has made it her life work to bash any other hermits who dare write or try to develop hermit apostolates--unless they go along with her rule as Queen Hermit. Anyway, that all might come underneath the orb you've painted, as one of the creatures.

I love this painting.

Your art and writing inspires me to try to keep existing, try to bolster up for some creative effort, as I am a writer of sorts, but more a suffering soul right now, trying to adapt to a higher level of pain than ever before, and admittedly maybe the fly in the orb, but wondering and desiring to be the flame in the mountain. Is that a flame in a crevice? Maybe St. Teresa's heart wound? Or some agonizing hermit's cave--and a non-canonical one--with fire burning, love burning out his or her own sins and the sins of the mystical Body, the Church?

Keep up the efforts! I'd say you've painted yourself far outside the bag...and up the Holy Mountain.

Tom in Vegas said...

Well Terry, what can I say that wont sound like my previous reviews of your work? At the risk of sounding cliche, (again) this work is magnificent, absorbing, and dreary. I like how the window contours to the shape of the sphere, and the distant visual component of the rocky and volcanic topography. I especially like the sky towards the horizon. This piece might be seen as a hellish version of Skellig Michael.

I was doing a pastel drawing of Pope John XXIII (does he not look more like a grandfather than a Pope?) but gave up because I didn't like the direction it had taken. Every time I see your work, however, I just want to pick up my pastels and have at it.

Vincenzo said...

Very cool

3puddytats said...

Very nice--thank you for sharing..

I love the toad and the owl...what do they represent?? The toad especially reminds me of one that used to live under our porch in dad worked shift work and my mom would work in the yard in the cool evenings..the toad would come out and sit ontop of a red clay plantar and be her "little watchman," as she called him...


Enbrethiliel said...


Dang, Terry! You make me want to reread Dante's Inferno . . . just in time for the rest of Lent.

Terry Nelson said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I will add a narrative about the imagery for people unfamiliar with the writings of St. Teresa.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, and can't help but find happiness in the painting in the fact that the flames are burning. :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry if that's not the proper interpretation of the painting, my last comment.
The flames represent hope to me: even while in sin, God keeps calling to the soul.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! That looks exactly like a soul in mortal sin--the owl looking at you--scary--it makes you want to RUN, RUN, RUN to Confession! I can imagine an eternity of darkness away from God in that picture--it is a most excellent work of art!

Terry Nelson said...

SF - I feel that too - the fact that God remains in the soul, keeping it in existence, even in the state of mortal sin seems to me to be the great hope for the one in mortal sin - and yes - the flames represent that indwelling, albeit unseen and not experienced by the soul in mortal sin, and normally only apprehended in darkness of faith by the soul in the first mansions.

Terry Nelson said...

Tara - thanks very much!

Owen said...

Thank you Terry.

Anonymous said...

My first impression is that the darkness and creepiness --in a cool way -- reminds me of a Harry Potter movie. But, no, not really that, more of the feeling I get on a beautiful Autumn evening--which I associate so much with thoughts of the Poor Souls, Purgatory, Death--and the nearness of God in it all.

I know that's not really your intention, but I mean to say it certainly does strike a mood. It sets a scene, the stage, for meditation and prayer, and in this way, it's much like your icons, in practicality, especially. Wouldn't you say?

Terry Nelson said...

Gette - I thought it looked kind of sinister too. I thought it might make a nice cover for a saints book I was thinking of doing - but never did: "Dragons and Dungeons and the Interior Castle" - obviously there could be copyright problems on account of Dungeons and Dragons.