Note: this note made in commemoration of March 25, 2016, when the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday happened on the same day, creating a particular associative complex of foreshadowing; this note also, as part 2 to preceding note on Blake and Dreams, is dedicated to the memory of Michael Sieh, who died on Holy Thursday, 1976.
In a previous note on William Blake’s dream visions, I conjectured that it was possible to make use of a five-stage model of hypnagogy, to place exactly where, and exactly why Blake’s art exists, and is so true to its state of mind. Following from that, the work Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painted some 50 years later, also lends itself to a deep dream theory analysis, to counter the silly and superficial 2-D formalist approaches that one too often sees in books (i.e. its perspective is bad, etc. etc., who…….cares?). The first thing that lends itself to a dream interpretation of this image is that Mary is an adolescent girl in her bed
It appears to be morning, as it is light out, and the light seems to be rising, a fact emphasized by the dove, and so we might take this as a moment of waking up in the morning. But it is not quite a full waking up, is it? My guess is that she was woken up by some discomfort in her sleeping body (the lattice theory of dream posits that the imagery of dream is a mere reflection of bodypart discomfort) and that is suggested by Rossetti’s purposely clumsy rendering of her exposed arm.
It is as if the arm shimmers with shaking off, with numbness, maybe she slept on it, it began to “fall asleep,” that is, tingle, and finally it was that tingle that woke her up. Such a tingle is felt imagistically in the dreaming body as an intenser type of static, and so it might have been figured out by the embroidery below her feet in the picture (the red chasuble to her right). That appears to be an upside down long stemmed lily with all the thorns still attached and flaring, that is, a symbol of her bodily discomfort in her arm. But how might a reminder of her discomfort had made its way out into the space of her room. Again, in lattice theory all the static and symbolism of the static and glass onion stage drops down to a lower level, where it pools, as it were, on one image. If that imaging is directed inward from something going on in her body, it might have visualized in her dream, as that embroidery she worked on as a child. It is depicted in DGR’s other painting of the virgin, the virgin as a child.
That strange painting is, in fact, the dream she is dreaming, before the annunciation moment happens. Her arm is tingling, maybe a cold breeze is blowing against it, because the window is open, and that discomfort is portrayed by working on this embroidery. And, then, too, she is modelling the embroidery from life, and that would be the lily plant held out in front of her. But, then, the really creepy thing, as we drop down now on that image, into the whoosh of deep dream, and into an adjunct annex space horizontal to it, is that that lily is being held by a visionary being, something she sees, or remembers having seen, once, as a child, an actual angel
there is also the ailbi rhyme of the seraphim’s red wings so that if she described the dream to someone they could say she was only figuring out the red embroidery she was working on, and misread it as wings. But then, the odd thing is, the lily seems to be the prototype reality and it is related to another sprig of lily or palm on the floor, wrapped by a bandello, which may or may not say Ecce Ancilla Domini
The point is not if it actually says that, but that DGR worked it out that we go from her mind, into a dream, into a vision in a dream, then into out and through that into a prototypical divine space, in which communication is made by magic means. The Ecce Ancilla Domini written device in these paintings, as scholarship has shown, derives from Van Eyck’s adaptation of the acheiropoetoi element of miracle images of the Annunciation in late medieval icons in Florence. Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece Madonna, and the upside down backwards ancilla statement, is the entry point to this true magic tradition
This from the article which documents that supernatural acheiropoetoi aspects of the model madonnas that Van Eyck was trying to emulate, to restore to art the agency of intercession to the divine (all with magical backwards writing)
In those paintings, which were believed to be divinely made, the relic part, the part that held the divine energy, the indexical spot of true contact with the divine, which the rest of the art merely framed as a reliquary, more or less illustrating the space around the relic patch in the middle, was that upside down written Ecce Ancilla and it was written upside down to indicate that it was a spiritual, inside-the-mind communication by a divine being into Mary’s head, and only Mary’s head. Thus, divine revelation by way of visions is internalized as a simply externally interpreted version of dream vision, and the hypnagogic or vigilogogic states or events that one experiences falling asleep or waking up. I am therefore making the claim that in this version of Ecce Ancilla Domini, DGR was also attempting to revive for art a true retrogressive agency by linking a modern psychological image to a tradition of ancient acheiropoetoi images, and make the divine intercessionary power of the event alive again.
So, back in the DGR, maybe Mary was sleeping, and dreaming of the embroidery she did as a little girl, and its embroidery of thorns, and red, and its shape, etc., all figured out in an image her arm telling her body that it was tingling and falling asleep, which would, when the discomfort became enough, start her awake. Now, it is important that Mary in this context be startled to waking, she does not know where she is, what is going on, what is happening, she is stunned and in shock, really, still all but asleep, this is apparent in DGR’s rendering of gaze, blank
The possibility that all that she saw in the dream was a figure of hearing something outside her head, while she was asleep is alibi’d by the presence of the dove, maybe she just heard a bird sing, that woke her up, but, in her startled-awake vigilogogic state, it reads now as a dove. But the important thing is is that she has startled awake, it was not a gradual waking, proceeding up from stage to stage through the model, it was a wrenching from deep dream state, to waking state. If it was a more or less gradual waking, and the mind moved expeditiously from dream to waking, leaving all behind, then the break between dreaming and waking, while momentarily disorienting, would only bifurcate either side of the waking, as if in a mirror each other. That is, as the dreamer wakes up, he might realize that what he was dreaming was an internalization of a sense of his body of something going on in the room around him, figured out. This, in fact, is precisely what happens in a 60s giallo movie A Quiet Day in the Country (1968), when Franco Neri is having nightmares, and then wakes up. His nightmare consists of him being tied to a chair in an apartment where the furniture partakes of the porcelain and stainless steel of bathrooms
and in which he imagines Vanessa Redgrave strip
And then she is in the bathroom with him, he in the bath, and she is stabbing him to death in the bath.
And then he wakes up. And when he does he finds that Vanessa Redgrave has been moving around the room, she has been in the shower, she is now walking around in a blue towel, and comes now to flop down on him with a hello, how are you. What this means is that a good part of his dream was simply his dormant senses processing the smells, moisture and presence of her in and around the room, as he slept
And then to communicate that he is still groggy, and not quite sure what is happening is real, when she walks away, it is somewhat abstract and effaced
And then there is a back shot, which usually means, in modern movies, she is hiding something, or there is something about her that he does not understand
But then of course the joke in the movie is that if we thought all of the dream was in fact in terms of a décor simply a processed bathroomizing of the décor of the main room, that chrome chair monstrosity in fact is real, in their place, and it has a gun out front too, so we are in the swinging 60s!
So, getting back to Rossetti, it could have been that Mary had been dreaming of her embroidery when a child, and then she woke to see some embroidering going on in the room. That is, people were moving around in the room around her, and she was sensing it, but as asleep. This, however, is not the vigilogogic state depicted by DGR. But, instead, it is clear that the thing that caught her, nightmarishly, deep in the dream, was her memory of the vision of the angel when she was embroidering, and then when woken up she wrenched all that up in full into the room to as it were project it or vomit it out for real into the room in a sleep paralysis episode aka a vision. This I think is conveyed by the low placement of her hairline on her head, the furrow in the hairline, and her heavy eyeliner, all indicating the line or arch of the wrenching of dream up from deep dream state to waking state
when a dream is woken up from like this, it is often experienced as sleep paralysis. That is, you are still, technically, asleep, but some sort of parasomniac event is occurring, you think you are awake. Sleep paralysis as a model has now been made use of to explain a number of hauntings in recent film lore, including the Amityville Horror haunting. What happens in the case of sleep paralysis, is that in addition to simply experiencing the dream as a waking event, the trajectory of its wrenching can, as the Freddy Kruger movies indicate, if you grab hold of an image, or fixate on it, pull that image up out of your head and place it in the apparently awake vigilogogic state round about you. So, since Mary was dreaming of her embroidering when she was a girl, and the creepy time she saw the angel, the remembers the feet
And looks down and sees now, in her waking state, next to her bed, burning feet, that is, the dream image manifesting as real, but transformed by light, there, beside her bed
And then thinking of the lily or the reed on the floor, the prototype grounding of the divinity of the vision, a lily before her eye transfers from her tingling arm to it, to figure out that
and then since she was woken by tingling or a chill on her arm, it is fitting that the angel first appears to her, or, rather, more correctly she gains a sense, in the manner of a glass onion phase hag attack, that there is someone standing next to her bed, by a side of body, and the naked side of a body, like the cold side of her body, projected in space (since I am a cover kicker, this happens a lot to me)
and then the whole angel fills out as there, a classic end or side of bed hag attack (that said, movies will work with the I-dare-not-look comprehension of there is someone standing next to my bed by way of visualizing their body only partially. But perhaps this was thought too haunting. But it is of interest that when Henry Osawa Tanner addressed the same topic, he went over to the merely burning state, an abstraction, almost a genuine haunting (the figure also in bed, painted at roughly the same time) )
But in DGR this means that the quick upward startled awake dynamic of the dream event in fact pulls up the angel she saw in her dream, which might have been an angel she saw in her youth, meaning that this is the second time she has been visited by the angel, and the angel Gabriel is that previous angel, pulled up out of sleep, to exist, for a moment, in her room with her.
Since there were plenty of words imprinting themselves on the dream turned vision it is likely, and the dove again accentuates this, that the whole communication occurs as a bell or voice inside her head, silently, so she is just listening to herself, as if with her ear to a seashell, but it is the seashell of her own inner ear
But now there is also the underlying menace or nightmare aspects of the dream vision, and this would be that while she is being told, almost unbelievably, that she is having a baby, and she does not know how she got pregnant (or rather other versions also see this annunciation itself as the act of divine rape by means of the voice and light of god, by means of the upside down words of the angel), the twists of the lily held out to her, and fixated on do suggest legs twisted around a cross during crucifixion, and in general the lily would seem to forshadow the crucifixion and resurrection together
and then while she would have remembered, to superimpose it over the scene, her embroidering an image of a lily, on the red cloth, the redness of the cloth, and the fact that the lily is shown as thorned, with crosses at each niche, and upside down, also foreshadows in the telling the second bit of bad news, oh, yeah, and in addition to giving birth to a mystery child, he will die a horrible death in 33 years, so enjoy being a mother (from this many other motifs, including the notion that she is divine because she was asked to sacrifice her heart). And, indeed, while during the communication of the dream event, the angelic light tells her the good part, as she snaps out of it and uncurls from her fearful corner, to realize it was a waking up vision, she fixes on the embroidery, for real, the anchor of the real in her room, and it emphasizes only the thorns and its blood redness
and the upside down three stem lily, which could also alibi for the bird falling out of dream and disappearing, and for that, she is left only with a what just happened here, but, whatever it was, I feel elated, but also incredibly sad, and now, as I wake up, mostly sad
This also means that DGR knew of the high and low, the sudden seeing something, having a eureka, but then its crashes and vanishes, as you forget, coming up in a Eurydicelike vigilogogic event, and made use of his keen psychological insight into waking up from certain dreams to be one of the very rare Annunciations that address the fact that while she was being told good news, it was also very bad news (this overlap allowing for some weird associative play in the imaginations of others, but all prompted by, this year, 2016, March 25 being both the Annunciation and Good Friday).
Thus for me the meaning of this painting has nothing to do with its style, its model, its space, its perspective, its coloring, though that all counts in, it is rather interesting for how that all comes together, and is brought together, by a knowledge of life, because it represents a very convincing naturalization in a common vigilogogic waking-up state, of a particular force, likely pulling up images from a deep dream based on a previous painting that DGR did as as it were the prelude to set up this waking, and for that its harmonies, and subtleties, capture a moment of where am I? sleep paralysis when, just for a moment, one feels that there is someone standing by my bed, and didn’t he just say something to me, and I cannot believe what he said, its freaking me out, but, calm down, and, in calming down, the waking mind rests on the only anchor that connects dream and life, the embroidery that she really did in her youth, and which only now, in this moment, at the end of this visionary moment, reveals its true meaning: you are with child, but it will be a life red, with thorns, and lilies turned upside down, a life of pain, as your miracle child will die a horrible death by the worst possible form of Roman torture when he is only 33 years old. She might then have, at that thought, having first cowered from the momentary appearance of an angel, figuring out her own discomfort in her waking body, cowered a second time from the newly revealed mindful fullness of the embroidery she did as a child, and kept, but never, until just this minute, knew why. One may conjecture that at least DGR’s Virgin kept that scarf for the rest of her life, and even wore it at the crucifixion, to seal the deal, and be done with it.
All in all, then, while I do not at present know just the right word for the opposite of a haunting, it is clear to me that the primary pull, the alive agency of this painting, as a record of a moment of cult vision, or intercession from god to man, is framed by a very good grasp of the nature of sleep, dreams, waking up from sleep, and the things that can go wrong in the process, including sleep paralysis, and then the feeling of the world being empty, or figures standing over the bed, all devices which have been extensively explored in horror movies, but, much less so, in visual art. But, this is a successful and powerful work of art because in its psychological, vigilogogic truth, it brings to life the terror and disorientation of a moment that changed the life of a simple adolescent girl forever. It demonstrates that while preraphaelitism is usually interpreted as some sort of devout regression to an antique style of painting it rather sought to restore a divine-psychological agency to painting by delving into dream states clearly rendered, to represent the religious experience, and did so in a way that in fact looked forward to the language, much more fully developed, of the modern movie.
P. S. This overall graph works out, roughly, the general dynamics as interpreted here. In the five stages of dream she is having a deep dream, redreaming her making an embroidery as a child, with her mother, as in DGRs previous painting, but as outside influence of cold or breeze and then too pressure of her body in the lattice stage impresses itself on the dream, it brings up its lattice elements, the lilies and the embroidery itself, these are then pulled up.
Since she outside influence startled her awake, that fixates on the deep dream, and the whole thing is pulled up (like in a Freddy movie) into waking state v/Sp sleep paralysis, and for a moment of sheer terror-wonder she sees the lily, and the figuring outs in vision form of her body, sees the angel, the sunlight, him burning, the message is communicated silently as a bell in the brain by the bird, and then as she wakes up the vision fade, and she is left to come down into a state of being stunned (what I call coma days), in which she at last rests her eyes on the embroidery and sees that there was a connection, but if so that it is a melancholy one, that the dream news given her has a very bloody and unhappy element.