“Kiefer’s art is the unique expression of a highly personal situation prompted by his interest in consciousness and yielding images in which historic awareness, metaphysical longings and the notion of human subordinancy to existence constitute the material of the predominating question: how to render this human experience into image.” (W. BEEREN, quoted in ‘Anselm Kiefer: Recuperation of History’, in Anselm Kiefer: Bilder 1986-1980, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1986-1987, p. 8)
Depicting a constellation of golden poppies obfuscated by a labyrinth of desiccated branches, Maria im Rosen Haag (2005) is an enthralling assemblage by Anselm Kiefer in which universal themes of piety and transience coincide with a deep understanding of German history. Poppies fall across the canvas in blooms of chromatic warmth, illuminating the shadowy depths of the composition. Clouds of white paint dance around the flowers and peer lustrously through the thicket of branches. The work is laid upon cardboard swathed in an ashen grey hue and contained by a steel frame, clinically juxtaposed with the effusive floral backdrop. Kiefer, who was raised as a German Catholic and has since foregone his faith to explore the metaphysical realm innate in all religions, adopts a title that alludes to 15th-century Germanic depictions of the Madonna and Child amidst a rose bower. This subject is embellished by Kiefer’s incorporation of poppies – a Marian symbol of fertility – and by the thicket of bristling branches, which invokes both the structure of the bower and the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the crucifixion. These motifs are revisited in a number of canvases throughout the 2000s – most notably the Pietà works – in which Kiefer similarly utilises symbolism associated with the Virgin Mary as a vehicle for interrogating the trauma of Germany’s past. In these works, poppies and thorned branches enshroud the figure of Christ, whose pose is evocative not only of the pietà, but also recalls images of fallen wartime victims. Poetic and deeply poignant, Maria im Rosen Haag takes its place within this body of work, confronting the artist’s German heritage through a unique syntax of religious allusions.
Fascinated by the innate spiritual properties of earthly matter, Kiefer imbues his assemblage with layered meaning. The twigs reference the importance of forests to German folklore and also carry personal significance – ‘Kiefer’ translates to ‘pine’ in German. Kiefer’s flowers – which simultaneously decompose into the earth and bear the seeds that fertilise the land – embody his belief that ‘creation and destruction are one and the same’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in K Soriano, ‘Building, Dwelling, and Thinking,’ in Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014, pp. 24-25). The bidirectional growth of flowers, which lean towards the sun while burrowing into the soil, symbolises the union of celestial and earthly realms, whilst the scattered arrangement of glowing poppies alludes to the stars across the heavens. Navigating the complex terrain between death and transcendence, Maria im Rosen Haag encapsulates the humanistic desire for salvation, combining biblical and material symbolism to create a hauntingly beautiful meditation on Germany’s past.