Aperiatur Terra et Germinet Salvatorem by Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer

Aperiatur Terra et Germinet Salvatorem, 2005–06, Oil, acrylic, emulsion and shellac on canvas, 279 x 760 cm, Hall Art Foundation, © Anselm Kiefer; Photo : Todd-White Art Photography

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‘That Salvation May Sprout Forth’

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Giles Waller

Anselm Kiefer’s enormous landscape—more than seven metres across—blurs the line between painterly expressionism and nature itself. Depicting a field of churned earth, buckets of brown, black, and russet paint were dolloped onto the canvas, which was then placed flat on the floor and covered with actual earth and exposed to the sun. The textured surface has coagulated, dried, and cracked.

This is both a painting of—and a sculpture formed from—encrusted, parched clay. In both its surface texture and its formal composition, the painting is almost all earth. The perspective, with its high horizon, is oppressively bleak, and yet draws the gaze inexorably along the deep-furrowed diagonal lines towards its central vanishing point, as if towards a hoped-for future. In this empty space, something seems about to appear.

The image recalls Kiefer’s barren landscapes of the 1970s, with titles that explicitly evoke battles of the Second World War (Operation BarbarossaOperation Hagenbewegung, 1975). Here, however, the desolate earth is beginning to open. Horizontal lines of poppies seem to sprout from the caked earth in the foreground. They appear in a dazzling array of colours rarely seen in Kiefer’s work, a rainbow token of God’s renewed covenant with the earth.

Across the narrow strip of black sky above this vast landscape are scrawled the words from Isaiah 45:8 ‘aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem rorate caeli desuper et pluant iustum .....’. The quotation is not quite right, as if half-remembered from a Latin liturgy heard many years before. The liturgical text is especially associated with the penitence and expectation of the season of Advent, in anticipation of the coming of Christ:

        Shower, O heavens, from above,
           and let the skies rain down righteousness;
        let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth,
          and let it cause righteousness to spring up also.

This is a painting of desolation and anticipation. The violence which has harrowed the land does not end in despair; the swords might yet be ploughshares. The earth has been broken open, in expectation of a saviour.