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‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ – that is what art does. Phyllis Novak

Advent: Butterfly

Anna Mgaloblishvili: Butterfly
 
 
The Sky is Full of Butterflies
 
by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker
 
A warm glow lies over this painting by the Georgian artist Anna Mgaloblishvili. The soft light of daybreak spreads across the mountain in the background and casts its orange rays over the water, the grass and the face and hands of the man. Darkness is dispelled, a new morning dawns. It reminds me of the words in Isaiah 9: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,’ through which the prophet foretold the coming of the child who shall bring endless peace. With Advent we have entered the time of year in which we focus our attention on the coming of Jesus: then, now, and in the future. It is a time full of longing, self-inspection, expectation, and hope.
 
In the centre of the painting stands a man with big sensitive hands. On his hands a small yellow butterfly has descended. Full of attention he looks at this unexpected gift from above. The artist says that during the creation of the painting the following poem suddenly entered her mind:
 
The yellow butterfly has flown over my shoulder
It means that you have thought of me again… probably…
 
Even though she was not sure why, she knew that she had to paint a butterfly in the hands of the man.This is how the Spirit cooperates with our memory and intuition. It gives this work its poetic flavour, as if we are looking at a small poem in paint.
 
From antiquity the butterfly has been a symbol of the resurrection. This fragile creature grows in concealment, locked up in the dark and narrow space of the cocoon, but when it is full-grown, it spreads its wings and flies away, liberated and in totally new form, into the open sky as a vivacious sign of new life. In the same way Jesus entered the cocoon of the world at Christmas, and at Easter led the way in the transformation into a glorified body, which redeemed and set free entered a world without darkness. We look forward to this world of light that will come when Jesus returns as the bridegroom, coming to collect his bride and usher us into a new life in which we may finally spend our days close to him as his beloved.
 
The eyes of the man drink in this sign of new life that has come to sit on his fingertips, as if he wants to print this special moment indelibly on his memory. It will only be a few moments after all before the butterfly will disappear out of sight again. Now and then we too get glimpses of God’s nearness. Sometimes we do not know if we should believe our eyes, just like the writer of the poem. I want to learn, however, to see and treasure these gifts from heaven, just like the man with the concentrated gaze in the painting.
 
Even though the sun casts its rays across the canvas, the sky in this painting is certainly not cloudless. It is filled with dark and restless black and red stripes full of menace. The butterfly on the hands of the man does not after all mean that there will be no more hardship and sorrow, just like the birth of the Christ Child does not yet mean deliverance from our present brokenness. But the butterfly and the baby in the manger do act as signs that can help to keep awake our hope for Christ’s return. When we look closely at the painting, we see several butterflies shooting through the air. Jesus comes to us in all kinds of unexpected signs. Let’s keep our eyes open: the sky is full of butterflies.
 
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Anna Mgaloblishvili: Butterfly, oil on canvas, 110 × 85 cm, 1996.
 
Anna Mgaloblishvili is a Georgian painter and art historian. She studied painting at the Tbilisi State Academy of Fine Arts. She has regularly participated in exhibitions in Georgia and abroad and has curated several art projects. In 2004 she received her Ph.D. in art history. Her thesis was about the development of church painting in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century (1900-1921). Since 2006 she has been a professor in the Department of Art History and Theory at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts.
 
Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker is Editor-in-chief of ArtWay.

 

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