Object Image

Yliaster (Paracelsus)

To Americans in the 1930s, Mexico represented an ancient and deeply spiritual civilization much different from the industrial culture to the north. Artists and writers returned to the United States exalted by the myths and rituals that permeated the everyday lives of the Mexican people. Hartley made the trip in 1932 on a Guggenheim Fellowship, absorbing the primeval landscapes and surviving remnants of Aztec art. In a private library in Mexico City, he read that the medieval mystic Paracelsus had given the name yliaster to the base matter from which everything in the universe was made. This painting shows the volcanic peak of Popocatepetl rising from a red plain against the disk of the sun. Fire and earth contend with the intense blues in the sky and lake, completing the four elements of earth, air, fire and water that Paracelsus described.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Credit: Museum purchase made possible by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program and by George Frederick Watts and Mrs. James Lowndes

1932
Oil on paperboard mounted on particleboard
64.1 x 72.4cm
1988.53
Image and text: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2024

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