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Absolute Art: Nicolas of Cusa’s De Visione Dei

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image of Religion and the Arts

Abstract Nicolas of Cusa’s fifteenth-century text De Visione Dei represents his most far-reaching illustration of communication between finite “quantum” vision and the infinite spherical vision of God. Written to accompany a visual experiment, the text instructs the monks of Tegernsee to circumambulate an all-seeing icon of God. Developing the concept of infinite space that had found a geometrical representation in the vanishing point, Cusa places it within God’s eye, which retains its medieval and religious function by gazing out of the painting at the monk according to inverse perspective. This text thus constructs a veritable sociology of belief, in which believing the word of the other, of the community, is necessary for each individual’s understanding of God. In this sense, there can be no unmediated experience of the divine, for God, as infinite and absolute, cannot be reduced to a single perspective. Cusa’s experiment shows us that we cannot live together in a community based upon what we see, for what we see cannot be shared. It is only our trust in the word of others that can testify to an invisible and universal meaning. Sharing this meaning in language effectively founds the social order.

Affiliations: 1: American University of Sharjah United Arab Emirates


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