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Buri, Samuel - VM - Beat Rink

Samuel Buri: Wunderbar, Rat, Kraft, Held, Ewig Vater, Friedensfürst

Isaiah 9

by Beat Rink

When the Swiss church was looking for new stained-glass windows for the Minster in Basel in the 1980s, the Basel artist Samuel Buri (1935) was among those who submitted designs. They did indeed make it onto the shortlist but did not get made, when the decision went in favour of the old windows that originated in the 19th century.

Now, however, a number of windows by Samuel Buri can be seen in a small chapel next to the Minster. Their concept corresponds to the focus on the Word as implemented very consistently (often all too consistently) in the tradition of the Swiss Reformation. One needs to only think of the forbidding of pictures and the banishing of musical instruments from Sunday services in the Reformed Church. And yet the reformer Zwingli was himself a gifted musician and in contact with everyday life. That is why there were no wafers on the communion table, but the same bread as people ate at home.

Behind these aesthetics based on Zwingli’s ideas, with their ideal of «simplicity», was the concern to direct the congregation towards the essential and to enable believers to «participate inwardly» without distraction. This inward participation could only be brought about by a simplified liturgy: «Bright and clear is how the service should be: the walls of the church interior are empty and white, the celebration is without singing and music, the prayers are no long litanies and are centred on God, the sermon no longer follows an order set by the lectionary, whose significance is known only to the minister, but rather a lectio continua

In spite of these teachings, the 19th-century windows in the Basel Minster contain representations of figures from the Bible, central among them the evangelists, who are shown in their intensive intellectual and scribal work in service of the Word.

What course does Samuel Buri take? He creates «word windows» and thus responds to the culture of the Swiss church. At the same time the words form an abstract pattern and can be recognised only when examined carefully:

WUNDERBAR, RAT, KRAFT, HELD, EWIGER VATER, FRIEDEFÜRST

Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty, Hero, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace

These are the prophetic words from Isaiah 9:6 which help to prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.

The colours are restrained. The script is white and contrasts only weakly with the mosaic-like background in soft blue. It fits in with the surrounding structure of the window frame but continues behind the black bars. The stone structure is similarly respected in the upper part of the window, but at the same time it is cut across by three single-colour surfaces. One could see this as a symbol for the Trinity, free to cross all boundaries and revealing itself further below in the «child» of Isaiah 9.

With these windows Samuel Buri has conformed to the reformed tradition in creating word images which, with modern stylistic means, subtly lead the church towards art once again. Buri has illustrated the Zürich Bible in the same way. There he allows himself greater freedom in expressing his penchant for strong colouring.

In Buri’s works one repeatedly encounters the motif of a window through which the colours of the outside world penetrate with astonishing intensity. Or – to put it the other way around – Buri’s windows open up to an intensive fullness of life. When the artistic avant-garde of Basel put on an experimental exhibition in the Basel Art Gallery in 1969, Samuel Buri had the visitors climb through a window to enter the gallery. I visited the exhibition with my parents and can still remember that this caused great amusement among those attending. But perhaps there was in fact a deeper meaning behind this. For Buri a window leads towards fullness of life. If one looks closely at his stained-glass window in the Basel Minster, one may discern what seems to be a landscape in the background behind the letters. The letters open us up to a clear view of the life which is promised by these wonderful words in Isaiah.

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Translation German-English: Bill Buchanan.

Samuel Buri: Wunderbar, Rat, Kraft, Held, Ewig Vater, Friedensfürst, 2002, Niklauskapelle, Basel. https://www.baslermuenster.ch/bauwerk/rundgang/ausstattung/glasmalerei#prettyPhoto

Samuel Buri is a Swiss artist whose art practice fuses his interest in the natural world with a Neo-Expressionist style. His work presents an eclectic oeuvre of life-size sculptures, garden scenes, abstractions, and window views. Born on September 27, 1935 in Täuffelen, Switzerland, Buri moved to Basel with his family in 1948, where his father, the theologian Fritz Buri, became pastor of the St. Alban-Kirche and later of the Minster. An encounter in the early 1950s with the American artist Sam Francis, spurred his interest in becoming a painter. The artist has enjoyed significant recognition for his works   and has exhibited at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1969 and the São Paulo Biennial in 1971. He lives and works in Basel, Switzerland. http://www.artnet.com/artists/samuel-buri

Consulted books:

Ralf Kunz. Gottesdienst evangelisch-reformiert. Liturgik und Liturgie in der Kirche Zwinglis. Zürich, 2006.

Schweizer, J. Zur Ordnung des Gottesdienstes in den nach Gottes Wort reformierten Gemeinden der deutsch-sprachigen Schweiz. Basel, 1944.

Beat Rink was born in Basel, Switzerland. He has two Master degrees from the University of Basel in literature/history and theology and is an ordained pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church. He co-founded Crescendo (www.crescendo.org) and Arts+ (www.artsplus.ch). He works as full-time leader of Crescendo international. He gives lectures and has written several books. He is currently working on a theological research about the relationship between artists and the church. He also writes and has published poetry (www.beatrink.ch).  To read an article by Beat Rink about Christianity and art: in English click herein German click here.   

ArtWay Visual Meditation 8 December 2019