“The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
– ST. HILDEGARD VON BINGEN –
I’ve always found the life and writings of St. Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) to be deeply stirring, and just a day after her feast day of September 17th, I wanted to share this painting that was inspired by her use of viriditas (Latin for “greenness”). Hildegard’s writing features this term heavily – it’s an image that she uses to represent the “greening power of God”:
“But even more than that, [viriditas] refers to a lushness and fecundity in the world, a greening life force we can witness in forests and gardens and farmland. Hildegard, who lived in the valley around the river Rhine in Germany, was profoundly impacted by her witness to the profusion of greenness and how this green life energy was a sign of abundance and life. It is what sustains and animates us.
“Greenness became not just a physical reality, but a spiritual one as well. Hildegard believed that viriditas was something to be cultivated in both body and soul. Her language is filled with metaphors for seeking out the moistness and fruitfulness of the soul. The sign of our aliveness is this participation in the life force of the Creator.”
– CHRISTINE VALTERS PAINTNER, “Hildegard of Bingen and God’s Greening Power“ –
Hildegard’s notion took root in my sketchbook, where a “greening” elk started to develop, and I wanted to bring him into a painting in which he would represent this concept of nourishment, growth, and vitality of both the physical and the spiritual.
Since I’m always so curious about other artists’ methods, I managed to capture a few progress shots of this painting to share with you. To be honest, sharing the progress of incomplete paintings has always been a bit of a struggle for me – inevitably, almost every piece seems to go through that awkward phase where a leap of faith is required to see it through to completion.
With Viriditas, as with most of my paintings, I started out by doodling in my sketchbook and coming up with a concept. I usually try to get the structure of the animal the way I want it in the sketch, and then I worry about the other details during the painting process.
I used a 10 x 10 inch cradled wood panel (i.e. a flat wood panel with a reinforcing wooden frame, which helps to keep the wood from warping and also sets it out from the wall when it hangs). First, I primed it with three coats of white gesso. I then applied a few background layers of a blue/teal color. With that background fully dry, I started creating a gradient, “illuminating” from the middle and darkening toward the corners. This requires a fair amount of wet-on-wet painting to get a subtle gradient.
I should mention that I tend to use acrylics more like watercolors, in that I apply thin washes of color, with layers showing through each other depending on a paint’s transparency.
After the gradient, I painted the circle and stars with Golden‘s iridescent gold paint.
At this point, I traced my elk sketch and then transferred it onto the panel. After layering thin washes of color, he started to take shape:
I wanted him to be illuminated from behind, so I brightened up the background a bit and started adding a base for the moss, ferns, and nest.
More shading and details on the plants followed:
To keep with the theme of “greening”, I did a wash of green over the background within the circle. More detail was added to the plants and nest, and some dancing faery lights appeared around the elk.
O nobilissima viriditas…
Tu circumdata es
Oh noblest greening…
You are enfolded
in the embrace of divine mysteries.
– ST. HILDEGARD VON BINGEN –
O nobilissima viriditas