Plzeňské sympozia

Aleš Filip and Roman Musil

The "Nocturnal Life of the Soul" in the Work of the Painters Gabriel von Max and Albert von Keller

pp. 65–75 (Czech), Summary p. 76 (English)

In the 19th century various forms of practising occult teachings enjoyed great popularity.

?is applied in particular to mesmerism, spiritism, and parapsychology. Although

they were often regarded as charlatanism, deception, or diabolical practices,

some scholars and artists inclined towards them. In Munich this included a number

of prominent visual artists, but only two of them, Gabriel von Max and Albert von

Keller, used occultism as a direct long-term source for inspiration for their work.

?ese artists enhanced Central European salon painting by the addition of occult

themes, which can be examined in three areas: as part of (1) biblical subject-matter,

(2) mediumism, and (3) paintings of female visionaries. While Keller focused on

striking scenes of excitation, often with a crowd of observers, and thus on narrative

spectacles, Max endeavoured to capture the expression of profound spiritual concentration

of his heroines. As a native of Prague and provincial patriot he maintained

links with the Czech environment all his life. It was for the Czech milieu that his

chef-d’oeuvre ?e Seeress of Prevorst in Ecstasy (currently in the collections of the National

Gallery in Prague) was intended. ?ere is concrete evidence of the influence of

his iconographic innovation on Czech art, but the most enduring inspirational factor

at the end of the “long 19th century” would seem to be the widespread idea, of which

Max was a pioneer, of the importance of exceptional spiritual abilities, anticipating

the future direction taken by the human race, and their affinity with the visual arts.

Max’s friend, the philosopher Carl du Prel, characterised these abilities as “the nocturnal

life of the soul”, which, by “shifting the threshold of sensations” is able to overcome


the limitations of normal (i.e. “daily”) perception.

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