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Vita Nova

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Vita Nova

Artist: Mark Tobey (American, 1890 - 1976)

Date: 1944
Medium: Tempera and opaque watercolor on wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 11 1/2 x 16 1/4in. (29.2 x 41.3cm)
Signed: recto, lower right (gouache): Tobey 44
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.266
Label Text
Late in World War II, when bloody battles raged from Normandy to Okinawa, Seattle-based artist Mark Tobey painted Vita Nova. Perhaps this watercolor maps an escapist war-time itinerary, a spiritual path that would deliver misguided mortals from their strife. The lowest register suggests groups of huddled figures moving from right to left and then perhaps mounting to a higher sphere from the left.

Vita Nuova is the title of an early book by Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). It begins "Incipit vita nova"- here begins the new life. Dante may have influenced Tobey, but Tobey's spirituality was based on the Baha'i faith, a religion closely related to Islam that was founded in Persia in the nineteenth century. Universalism is one of its central beliefs. Abdu'l-Baha, the leader of Baha'i, described a metaphysical world unity that would remedy the world's ills in terms of "new life." Thus, at one of the most horrible historical moments of the twentieth century, Tobey brought the perspective of a modern Islamic religion to envision a vita nova.

Bert Winther-Tamaki
Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s) / Licensing by ARS, New York, NY.