This image by calligrapher and illustrator Svetlana Molodchenko, made with watercolor and gold paint on paper, is two things. It’s work of art made from ancient symbols. And it’s a cover for a musical album, a collection of 35 canons composed by Rudi Seitz, titled Meteorite.
“Looking at Svetlana Molodchenko’s artwork is like stepping back to a long-lost era of finery and grandeur – a Renaissance painting, a medieval cathedral or perhaps even an Ancient Greek villa. Rich in detail but with a light touch, there’s a sense of craft and luxury in everything she draws. The viewer plunges into another world, where past, present and future merge.”
As a cover, the image includes many references to the contents of the album. The rosette is a reference to the sound hole of a clavichord. The double ouroboros represents the two voices of a musical canon, engaged in an infinite cycle. The birds, the comet, and the multi-colored stone stand for the three largest compositions in the album: the birds refer to Birdsong, the comet refers to Meteorite, and the multi-colored stone refers to Ammolite. Considered together, the eight gems could represent one octave of a diatonic scale; they also refer to the naming scheme used in the album, where canons get their titles from gems and minerals.
Independent from its purpose as an album cover, this image is a self-contained artwork. As such, it can be interpreted in whatever way the viewer finds most appropriate, but here is one interpretation:
The songbirds and botanical pattern we see in the periphery of the image, against a background of gold, represent the living world – they are things we might find in a garden, possibly the Garden of Eden. But the serpents we behold in this garden are not free-roaming symbols of sin or temptation; rather, they form an ouroboros, a symbol that traces back to ancient Egyptian iconography. These serpents are living beings, members of the garden, but the fantastical way they consume each other, and in turn give rise to each other — an eternal cycle of renewal — sets them apart from the ordinary world. Viewed by itself, an ouroboros might bring to mind the discomfort of an animal being devoured, but when an ouroboros is used as a frame around another image, it takes on the character of what lies inside. Here, the ouroboros encloses a rosette, the geometric pattern we might see in a Gothic cathedral window. As the only man-made element here, the rosette represents an expression of reverence through the pursuit of symmetry and balance. The multifaceted gems embedded on the rosette echo its geometry. These are not gems of ostentation; rather, they are bearers of color and possibility, showing the different components of the white light we see in the stars. If the “outside” of the ouroboros in this image represents the living world, the “inside” represents inanimate beauty, mathematical perfection, and the heavens. The ouroboros itself is a transition between these two worlds. In a highly symmetrical design, the eye might might seek exceptions to the perfect order. Asymmetry can be found in the arrangement of the stars, the comet tail, and the blending of colors in the top stone. Taken as a whole, the image depicts a window for gazing at the cosmos, and represents the way art — and music! — can be such a window, such a device for contemplating the infinite.
One thought on “The Garden and the Cosmos”