Crucial for a better understanding of Picasso’s Guernica.
Telesphoros: according to Carl Jung Telesphoros is an “archetypal child god” who appears in a monk-like hooded robe. Telesphoros has a scroll and often wears a tablet or box from his neck. He appears from man’s unconscious in “dreams, visions and … in mythology”. From his past appearances sculptures have been created, illustrated and essays written. Telesphoros is thought by Kerenyi to be a “funerary” god connected to the idea of “immortality”. When Telesphoros wears a veil, it symbolizes a cult of the underworld where rites to chthonic gods and initiations are performed. See my Epilogues XVI, and XVII for notes and sources regarding Telesphoros.
Telesphoros in Picasso’s Work:
1921 Three Musicians:
Telesphoros first appeared in Picasso’s work in his two 1921 Three Musicians. In both paintings Telesphoros is on the right in his monk’s robe with a hood. In one painting he wears a veil and a mask. In the other painting he wears a mask. Masked Pierrot evokes a ghostly figure in an underworld setting, The monk-like Telesphoros evokes the underworld, and masked Harlequin evokes Hermes Trismegistus and the underworld.. These 1921 Three Musicians paintings portray an occult initiation ceremony marking the symbolic death of Picasso. In the 1921 Three Musicians paintings Telesphoros appears in the open, however, in 1925 and 1937 Telesphoros is hidden..
1925 Studio with Plaster Head:
Telesphoros next appears in the 1925 Studio with Plaster Head. In this work Picasso-Telesphoros holds his graduating diploma or “scroll” while his occult “tablet” hangs from his neck. This second initiation ceremony marks Picasso’s symbolic resurrection and attainment of gnosis and oneness with God. To see hidden Telesphoros please turn your copy 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Now the hand-clasped “scroll” is at the bottom. Immediately above the book or “tablet” is the circled eye of Picasso-Telesphoros. He is hooded like a priest or monk. He has a prominent rounded nose turned under near the uppermost corner of the book. The line of the profile nose continues downward to describe a shoulder and arm with hand on the “scroll”. The second eye is the dark triangle in the blue shape tangent to the nose. Two profiles are meshed, one is female, one is male. Telesphoros is looking at the central orange ball. The ball calls to mind the sun as well as an inferno. Also, it may be God’s light as well as the philosophers' stone of alchemy.
"Telesphoros in Greek mythology was a child god associated with Asklepios". Asklepios was a god of healing reputed by some to have brought the dead back to life. It follows that Picasso's two initiation ceremonies of 1921 and 1925 involved Picasso’s symbolic death first and resurrection second. The plaster head on the pedestal meshes a blue beardless female profile with a bearded male profile. The head is androgynous. The lips, beard markings, and most of the hair markings are leech-shaped. The plaster head is Asklepios, a doctor, the god of healing. Picasso also plays the part of Asklepios in this work. See my Epilogues XVI and XVII for notes and references regarding Asklepios.
In Guernica Picasso identifies with Telesphoros whose capuchin or monk’s hood is the horse’s neck. The spear shaft is Telesphoros’s “scroll”. Telesphoros’s face is hidden in the small triangular black featureless space between the spear shaft and the horse’s neck. Telesphoros’s box or “tablet” is the black form at the very center of Guernica.
Thus, Picasso is hidden at the very center of Guernica behind the Hitler, Goering and Telesphoros masks From this central position in the painting Picasso avenges in the roles of Perseus and Odysseus. His avenging weapons include the spear, the Damoclean Sword and the white knife-like shape of the bird located between the heads of the winged horse and the bull. The spear dispatches Hitler and Goering. The knife-like shape holds the bull at bay, the Damoclean Sword has beheaded Medusa at lower-left and now threatens the woman in the window (Nietzsche is one of that woman’s roles).
Picasso’s last role in Guernica is playing Telesphoros. According to Jung, Telesphoros symbolizes healing and merging of opposites. Thus, healing and merging of opposites was Picasso’s final aim in creating Guernica.
Melvin E. Becraft, author, date and © April 3, 2004
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