Praised be to You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
In his Christmas greetings of 1970, emblazoned with a vivid hand-drawn red orb, underscored by a blue moon and star, Joan Miró enthused ‘May 1970 be a dazzling Song to our Sun’. He was alluding to the Cántic del Sol, a project first mentioned in a letter to Gustau Gili Esteve as early as January 1963. Miró’s association with Gili Esteve dated from the early 1960’s, leading to their first collaboration in 1964, the publication of Yvon Taillandier’s (B. 1926) Je travaille comme un jardinier, for which he contributed two small lithographs (see lots 97 & 98). Although they would collaborate on numerous projects over the course of the next decade, Cántic del Sol would be the most ambitious in conception and scale. Ultimately published in 1975, it stands as one of the most important artist’s books in Miró’s oeuvre.
Cántic del Sol (The Canticle of the Sun) is a hymn to the Creator written in the 13th century by Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226). According to Church tradition, it was composed during a period of illness in which the saint became blind. Robbed of his physical sight, Francis meditated on the created order through the eyes of faith, perceiving a mystical unity between man and nature, mirroring the Divine. The saint famously expressed this cosmic brotherhood by addressing the four elements as brothers and sisters, thus emphasising humanity’s intimate and filial connection with the natural world. For Joan Miró, an artist with an almost reverential view of the Catalonian landscape, Saint Francis’s ecstatic vision must have resonated with his own artistic attempts to ‘escape into absolute nature’ (William S. Rubin, Miró in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1973, p. 21).
In his letter to Gustau Gili of 1963, Miró mentions reading a translation of the poem in Catalan by the poet Josep Carner (1884-1970), which he described as ‘magnificent’. Carner’s vigorous treatment of the text, rooting Saint Francis’s vision in the Catalan language and experience, seems to have electrified Miró. In the same letter, he describes his own vision of the book as an interplay of text and image that would parallel the architecture of a cathedral, ‘with typography, both elegant and austere… like the columns that support the nave…, contrasting with the richness of Saint Francis’s vision, and the illumination from the stained-glass windows that I envisage for my illustrations’.
Miró created a total of 35 etchings responding to the text, resulting in what Marià Manent describes in her foreword to the book as ‘an astonishing cosmic calligraphy’. Using his visual language of ciphers and symbols, and exploiting the potential of the intaglio medium, Miró created a whole range of effects; aquatint for the luminous sun and moon imagery of the opening pages, splatter-like sugar-lift aquatint, evocatively suggesting water, and the embossed linearity of etching and open bite, for wind and fire. These archetypal images poetically evoke both the microscopic and macroscopic, the minutia of phytoplankton and the grandeur of supernova. In doing so, Miró elegantly expresses his own deeply-felt sense of the mystical interconnectedness of life.
The present copy offered from the archive of Editorial Gustavo Gili is one of only two deluxe copies, reserved for the artist and publisher, comprising two additional suites of the etchings on Auvergne and Japan papers, a suite of the cancelled plates on Arches paper, and two rare extra plates not included in the standard edition.