"Premonition of a Future Catastrophe"

Hilda, Guard of Bingen

A woman far ahead of her time, Hilda was both a 12th century visionary and a painter. As the name implies, her day job was with the Bingen Football (Soccer) League in Germany. Hilda was fond of self-portraits, especially those that illustrated the visions she had after a hard day of stopping passes with her head. Her painting "And All Will Be Hell" accurately predicted the Great Fire of London in 1666, and "A Great Many Pieces In Orderly Motion" is considered by many scholars to be an uncanny premonition of Henry Ford's first Model T assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan, circa 1915.


Other paintings, such as the one shown here, are more mysterious and less subject to ready interpretation. Writing from the 12th century, Hilda's foretelling of a "future catastrophe" encompasses all the intervening centuries to the present date and extends an indefinite time into the future. The event depicted here may have already occurred and simply not be recognizable to the modern eye. Conversely, it may be something which may happen in our time, or even depict an entirely imaginary or symbolic event. (Freudian purists at one time had a field day with the tower-like structure behind Hilda's head, but were divided on the meaning of the bird-like appendage halfway up the "tower.")


The other components of the painting are fairly standard elements of medieval iconography: the hand of God depending from the upper left, and the presence of demons to the right and left of Hilda's figure. A traditional reading of the symbolism seems to indicate an assault on Heaven (similar to the Tower of Babel?), although the term "challenge to the sky" would be more literal. Note the demon to the lower left of the picture, who appears to be tinkering with the bird-like attachment (the human folly that led to the casting forth from the Garden of Eden?), and the demons of the upper right, who seem ready to pierce the "tower" and bring it hurtling to earth, despite approval of the mission from on high.


Hilda herself seems to have barely understood the nature of the threat she was prophesying; her comment on the painting is that "...they who have sorted the verey aire unto its essences for the journey shall be brought down by the same [force?]; the vessel shal become as the sun, and scatter clouds as long streams across the firmament."


This painting represents the last in the artist's Mystical/Prophetic Cycle. Shortly thereafter she began painting children with large eyes for sale to the pilgrims who passed through Bingen on their way to major shrines. None of these has survived. 

 

BACK          NEXT