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download edouard schure the great initiates pdf

Every Picture Tells a Story
Édouard Schuré’s The Great Initiates: Theosophy, Text, Context,
and Influence on the Visual Arts
Massimo Introvigne (UPS, Torino, Italy)
«Theosophy and the Arts» Conference
Columbia University, New York, October 9, 2015
«Every Picture Tells a Story»
 «Paris was a place you could hide away
if you felt you didn't fit in …. So remember,
every picture tells a story, don't it» - Rod
Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story, 1971
 Well before Rod Stewart, Theosophist author
Édouard Schuré (1841-1929) believed that
both in music and the visual arts each work
should «tell a story» rather than merely
Kandinsky and Schuré
 «Rama, Krishna, Hermes - Moses,
Orpheus - Pythagoras - Plato – Jesus».
This genealogy of spiritual masters was
annotated in his notebook for 19091911 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944,
right) with a reference to «Edouard
Schuré – 1907 - Leipzig», the date and
city of edition of the German
translation of Schuré’s The Great
Mondrian and Schuré
 Piet Mondrian (1872-1944, left, as
a young man) abandoned
Calvinism for Theosophy under
the influence of The Great
Initiates, that he read around
1900. The book remained
crucially important throughout all
his life
A Forgotten Prophet
 Before World War II, The Great
Initiates had 450 French editions and
was translated into two dozen
foreign languages. Today, however,
Schuré is almost forgotten
 The paper will discuss
1. Who was Édouard Schuré (right)
2. His influence on the visual arts
1. Who was Édouard Schuré?
Marguerite Syamour (1857-1945),
Édouard Schuré
A Protestant Family
 Édouard Schuré was born on January 21, 1841 in Strasbourg, Alsace, in a Protestant family
including several pastors. He married in 1866 Mathilde Nessler (1836-1922), the daughter of
the Protestant pastor of Barr, Alsace. The local high school is now named after him. His
Alsatian Protestant origins are important for understanding Schuré’s anti-Catholicism
An Alsatian Writer
 Alsace was at the center of the border
disputes between France and Germany.
Schuré was perfectly bilingual and felt part of
German culture. On the other hand, he
believed that Alsace belonged to France and
became an ardent French nationalist. This
tension between a German and a French
identity explains several incidents in Schuré’s
Histoire du Lied (1868)
 Schuré is often regarded as the author of
only one book, The Great Initiates, but when
he published this text, at age 48, he was
already well-known. He took courses in
leading German and French universities,
although he never graduated, and at an
early age became a prominent, if selftaught, musicologist
 He believed that the soul of a nation is
revealed in folk songs. He applied this thesis
to Germany in his first book, Histoire du Lied
Schuré’s «Celtism»
 As for the soul of France,
Schuré sought it, beyond
Catholicism, in the old «Celtic»
roots. The search for «Celtism»
in old traditions and legends
preoccupied Schuré for most
of his life
Schuré and Wagner
 In 1869, Schuré visited Richard Wagner (18131883, left) in Germany. He became the
leading advocate of Wagner in France. Both
Wagner and Frederic Nietzsche (1844-1900)
considered Schuré’s book Le Drame Musical
(1875) as one of the best interpretation of the
musician’s ideas. Schuré became part of
Wagner’s inner circle, and their friendship
was shortly interrupted only during the
French-German war of 1870
Margherita Albana
 In 1875, Schuré met in Florence
Margherita Albana (1827-1887, above),
the wife of Greek painter Giorgio
Mignaty (1823-1895, below). While not
divorcing the respective spouses, Schuré
and Margherita started an intense and
passionate relationship, which lasted until
the woman’s death in 1887. Margherita