During the three month lockdown here in Barga Vecchia, some people found the enforced stay at home difficult to live with.
Others instead found found inspiration and the time to work on projects which had been bubbling away in the background but could now be brought out into the light of day.
One such project which is almost at completion this week is the “La Sirena tra Ermetismo ed Alchimia ” – “The Siren between Hermeticism and Alchemy” with the subtitle of ” Divinità e simboli ancestrali” – “Divinity and ancestral symbols” by Manuela Bollati.
It has its roots in the phenomenon which happens in Barga twice a year (weather conditions permitting) of the double sunset – as the setting sun reappears momentarily through Monte Forato.
This year the cloudy weather conditions during the crucial two days when the event takes place during January denied the possibility of a decent sunset and so the few observers up at the Duomo will have to wait until November for the next possible event but all is not lost for another less spectacular but by no means less mysterious happening in the Duomo.
Twice a year just before the sun sets it shines right through the main door of the Duomo and lights up an area on the left hand side which is for most of the year is kept in shadow and unlit. A small bas relief carving near to the top of the dividing wall now becomes very visible.
Once upon a time it would have been even more noticeable as the outline would have been surrounded by black inserts but at some time in the past, the dark material has been chipped away and cleared leaving the carving more or less invisible for most of the year.
And what is startling image it is – a bare breasted twin tailed mermaid or Melusine. (full article here and where does Starbucks “lewd logo” come into this story of a pagan fertility image in a Christian Duomo in Italy ?
Selma Sevenhuijsen a researcher from Amsterdam, Holland arrived in the city to specifically see for herself the image in the Duomo back in 2013 and has returned many times since.
She has already written two book on the subject and another is just about to be published (her blog is here)
This creature is associated with numerous stories and legends, and is imbued with symbolic meaning in alchemy. The most common iteration of the siren is as Melusine, a creature from medieval legend. Melusine (sometimes, Melusina) was, according to legend, beautiful woman with a disturbing tendency to transform into a serpent from the waist down while bathing; it is the discovery of this nature that triggers calamity.
As the story is most often told, the cursed maiden is discovered in the forest by Raymond, the Duke of Aquitaine, who begs her to marry him. She agrees, on condition that he never disturb her on a Saturday, when she bathes. Raymond eventually grows suspicious of his young wife, and spies on her- and his shocked reaction to her true appearance reveals his betrayal to Melusine, who transforms herself into a dragon and departs in a shrieking fury. This story can be viewed as a metaphor for sexuality, and the contradictory duality of the female nature as viewed through medieval eyes.
The same dual-nature symbolism is also at work in alchemy, which employs the siren as a more benevolent emblem of enlightenment- the siren of the philosophers. Alchemically, the siren’s two tails represent unity -of earth and water, body and soul- and the vision of Universal Mercury, the all-pervading anima mundi that calls out and makes the philosopher yearn to her.
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects points out that a double-tailed siren, a baubo siren is a cross between a mermaid and a sheila-na-gig and according to them, the suggestive pose refers to female sexual mysteries and the lure of temptation for any simple-minded fellow. The sheila-na-gig is rooted in paganism and the worship of evil spirits.
Manuela Bollati has been working on the image of the twin tailed mermaid and elaborating the theme to encompass other themes and concepts.
The media she has been using is also some what unusual as it is not canvas, paper or wood but instead inscribed and engraved sheets of eva – etilene vinil acetato.
The work is expected to be exhibited in Barga some time this summer.