Andromeda shows both wonder at the ‘starry heavens above’ (the title of a 1980 painting of Anselm Kiefer’s), and the moral depths which humanity is capable of plumbing. Two enormous lead sheets cover the upper and lower parts of the work. On the exposed canvas in between, ocean waves roll towards us.
Scientific taxonomy and mythological attempts to grapple with the immensity of the heavens jostle in this painting: NASA’s alphanumerical designators appear alongside a number of the heavenly bodies, while white lines of connection cross the sea to pick out the ancient constellations of Andromeda and Pegasus, their names faintly scrawled in chalk towards the top of the painting.
The mythological resonance of the winged Pegasus develops a recurring theme of wings and flight in Kiefer’s oeuvre, an image of the artist’s search for transcendence and for communion between heaven and earth. But Kiefer’s mythology does not only soar. In this work, the celestial and the earthy cannot be free of one another. The clouds and nebulae of the heavens are rendered in brown drips and chalky deposits. The corrosion of the lead sheets by wind and rain imbues the image with an integral earthiness. The breaking waves that interrupt the heavens insistently recall the darker sacrificial narrative of the mythical Andromeda, chained to a rock as an offering to the sea monster Cetus.
Even more troublingly, given the prominence of references to the Nazi past in Kiefer’s earlier work, the alphanumerical star numbers seem also to suggest the tattoos on the inmates of the Camps. If this is an image of the unfathomable mystery of creation, it is one drawing on Job as well as Isaiah, in which we find both light and darkness, weal and woe (Isaiah 45:7).
This painting suggests that neither the imaginative—but arbitrary—lines of ancient astrological myths, nor the astronomical mapping of stars long dead by the time their light has reached the earth, are able to fathom the meaning of the cosmos. The Lord who alone stretched out the heavens also makes fools of the diviners, and turns back the wise and makes their knowledge foolish (Isaiah 44:24–5; Job 9).
21Remember these things, O Jacob,
and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you, you are my servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
22I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,
and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.
23Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
and will be glorified in Israel.
24Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who stretched out the heavens alone,
who spread out the earth—Who was with me?—
25who frustrates the omens of liars,
and makes fools of diviners;
who turns wise men back,
and makes their knowledge foolish;
26who confirms the word of his servant,
and performs the counsel of his messengers;
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
27who says to the deep, ‘Be dry,
I will dry up your rivers’;
28who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfil all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem. ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ”
45Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and ungird the loins of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
2“I will go before you
and level the mountains,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut asunder the bars of iron,
3I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
5I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I gird you, though you do not know me,
6that men may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe,
I am the Lord, who do all these things.
8“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;
I the Lord have created it.