The Web of Creation: Theosophy and Art, from Lauweriks to Mondriaan

I’m reviewing a Dutch book here today: Het Web der Schepping, Theosofie en Kunst in Nederland, van Lauweriks tot Mondriaan, by Marty Bax. I won’t be repeating that exercise often, however in this case it’s really worth it.

There are few good books about the history of theosophy in the Netherlands. It’s obviously a niche subject. The other book on the subject that I know of is based only on research in the archives. Useful as that may be, it lacks depth.

Marty Bax has done sociological research as well: she looked at the membership of the Dutch TS, looked up everyone in the Dutch national archives (whatever that’s called in English) to find out what people’s profession and professed religion was, and went to Adyar (India) to compare with their records. Then she did statistical analysis on what she found.

The result is surprising. While international literature has concluded that the TS was mostly an upperclass thing, the early Dutch TS appears to have been a coming together of working class and upper class. The working class theosophical artists setting themselves up as teachers (seeing themselves as initiates) for other working class people.

Looking at the social networks these theosophists-artists were part of revealed a LOT and has lead to a methodological conclusion: that in art history influence should be looked at more methodologically than before. It’s not just about form, but about ideas as well. These theosophical artists didn’t have the form of their work in common, but they did share a common idea about the universe and man’s place in it.

Mondriaan is of course the most famous of the artists dealt with. His work can no longer be interpreted without reference to Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine. His philosophy is consistently theosophical throughout his career.

Less famous amongst the general public is the Dutch architect Berlage. He was not a theosophist, but Bax shows that he made sure to feed himself with theosophical ideas about architecture (mainly Lauweriks) right till the end of his life. He is considered the father of modern architecture in The Netherlands and received the British RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1932. Theosophical influence on his work is usually denied and even today his wikipedia page does not mention it.

Available at a considerable discount. See also my Dutch review, in which I stress other aspects of the book.

Het web der schepping
Het web der schepping, Theosofie en Kunst in Nederland, van Lauweriks tot Mondriaan,
M. Bax

  • Publisher: SUN Amsterdam
  • ISBN: 9789085061922
  • Paperback
  • Richly illustrated, partly in color
  • 17 x 24 cm
  • 608 pp.
  • Publishing date: Juni 2006
  • Original price: € 45,00
  • Cover design: Aperta Grafische vormgeving