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The Hanged Man
Picasso was an expert in the Tarot and in "The Unknown Masterpiece" he incorporates the symbolism of a number of Tarot cards. The most important of these, and one Picasso closely identifies with, is The Hanged Man. This card depicts a man whose hands are tied behind his back, hanging by one of his feet, between two trees.
The Hanged Man of the TarotInterpretations of the card vary, but it is generally seen to represent a self-sacrifice in which the subject, undergoes an important transformation, from a worldly, materialistic consciousness, to an awakened, spiritual consciousness.

The Hanged Man, is depicted in a state of solitude and submission to divine will. He hangs suspended between heaven and earth and his sacrifice brings him the rewards of knowledge and redemption.

The card corresponds with the Zodiacal sign of Scorpio, Picasso's birth sign, and the card's number, 12, represents the human characteristics of inspiration and personal development.

Ladder, 1934 DrawingThe central figure in Picasso's painting "The Three Dancers," incorporates the outstretched arms of a traditional Crucifixion in combination with the crossed legged crucifixion of The Hanged Man.

In "The Unknown Masterpiece", whose composition is largely derived from The Three Dancers, the central figure has one leg raised above the other on the steps of a ladder.

If imagined from the side, the figure's legs would have the same crossed appearance as the legs of The Hanged Man and the central figure in The Three Dancers.

This reveals a cryptic identification between The Hanged Man and the central figure in the1934 drawing, who is. of course, none other than Picasso.

The origin of the Hanged Man is connected with the sacrifice of Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, who according to mythology, hung himself upside down in a tree for nine days to gain entry to the underworld and learn the meaning of the mysteries of the runes. As a precondition to this self sacrifice Odin was wounded with his own spear and had to take out one of his own eyes.

Picasso, who was extremely knowledgable, would have identified the Odinic sacrifice with Christ's crucifixion and with the 'crucified' exposure and self inflicted blindness of Oedipus.

Odin, according to myth, meets his end in a terrible apocalypse in which the universe too, is destroyed. The theme of the Odinic apocalypse, Ragnorok, would have also been well known to Picasso, not only because of his insatiable appetite for legends and myths, but also because it features in the final act of Die Gotterdammerung, the Twilight of the Gods, the final act of Wagner's most famous operatic work, The Ring Cycle. In Wagner's version, it is Odin who brings about Ragnorok, because of his pride. Wagner, signifies Ragnorok by the breaking of Odin's spear, the symbol of his power. Odin's spear, to Picasso, would have had important symbolic associations with the spear in Parsifal, and with the suggested spear in Picasso's own name.

Another important association between Odin and Picasso is that Odin's counterpart in the Southern pantheon is the god Hermes, or Mercury. Picasso had long been closely identified with Hermes, his friend in the early days, Guillaume Apollinaire, openly referred to Picasso, as Harlequin Trismegistus, in reference to Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes, the Thrice Great god of Alchemy.

JPG image (25 K) The Hanged Man of the Tarot
JPG image (15 K) Ladder, 1934 Drawing
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