Solomon’s knot


‘The exhibition intends presenting the journey of a symbol through history, Solomon’s knot, which met with fame and fortune over a long period of at least twelve centuries. After a long incubation and with a long sequel, it appeared in a “pagan” framework and then, in several different cycles, during the Christian, Jewish and Islamic periods as well as in various other cultures different from those of the West. A peculiar journey, during which a symbolic re-evaluation often takes place without however ever questioning the fundamental meaning nor weakening the central value. But stranger still is that sources fail to make any direct reference to the symbol, during the period of time in which it appeared; we have no direct information about a symbol that was evidently part of a common conceptual heritage, at least at erudite level, in the various ages. Late and hardly reliable references fail to make up for this vacuum and the knot has thus to be analysed not as a historical testimony, but as one of the many enigmatic secrets of prehistory, studying it structurally, in iconographic associations, in symbolic relations, in all the different contexts in which it appears. The only substantial initial advantage is the historical framework that surrounds it, but even here our knowledge is often fragmented and conjectural. Such is the condition and such is the rooted interest in the knot. Visitors to the basilica of Aquileia or several domus in Rimini, Catania and Pompei or to the rocks of Valcamonica, the capitals of Romanesque abbeys and early-Christian and barbarian decorations cannot fail to be struck by the force and centralness with which the sign reoccurs time and time again, in a spectacular and emphasised manner, sometimes hidden, but always full of a magic charm, of a precise attribution of value – not at all secondary – that has been passed down for centuries through the generations. The knot first appeared in the Julius-Claudius and Flavius ages, in various parts of the Italian peninsula; its presence subsequently expanded throughout all the provinces of the Empire which culminated around the 4th century A.D. when the symbol formed part, at the same time, of the late-pagan and early-Christian cultures. There was subsequently a courtly line of development within the Catholic community, for instance Benedictine and Irish, and a German-barbarian, Lombard, Frank, Alemannic line that leads to the renaissance of Romanesque art, in which it found its last intense expression. Subsequently, attention for the sign faded but did not disappear, coming to light again in the Renaissance in the works of Leonardo and Piero della Francesca, and then in a religious and lay context at least until last century. Examples are to be found in Copt, Amerindian and Hindu contexts as well as in other places in Africa and the Far-East. The structure of the symbol is simple: the classic shape consists of two rings flattened and linked like parts of a chain, orthogonal, the one over the other, forming a cross. At least a dozen variations exist of this same theme. Iconographic relations and their development involve an endless series of knots and intertwinings, of which the knot is one of the clearest and simplest; the fact that it appeared within a culture that did much to develop such motifs, the Roman culture, is not a chance occurrence. The Romans, it would seem took the symbol from the Celts and stylised it, often adding an abundance of complicated intertwinings. Thus a symbolic-decorative “fashion” was born which, especially in mosaic art, spread to the farthest corners of the empire and from there passed into the medieval world.’


23 Agosto 1998 - 13 Settembre 1998


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions