Monday, 3 December 2007

Unity - Ouroboros

Ouroboros by Theodoros Pelecanos, 1478

Context: 'The Ouroboros, also spelled Ourorboros, Oroborus, Uroboros or Uroborus (IPA: [ˌjʊərəʊˈbɒrəs]), is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle. It has been used to represent many things over the ages, but it most generally symbolizes ideas of cyclicality, unity, or infinity. The ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations. More recently, it has been interpreted by psychologists, such as Carl Jung, as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche.'
- Wikipedia
Actual meaning:
The symbol of the Ouroboros has meant many things to different cultural groups through the centuries. In its earliest form, it was a mythological metaphor for the cyclical nature of life, that is a reminder that everything is born and then dies (and in some cultures was then born again). In medieval times, such as when the image by Theodoros Pelecanos was created, a more alchemical view was taken of the Ouroboros and it became more a symbol than a myth.

What the piece means to you:

This piece has little personal meaning to me, however I see the symbol mainly to represent unity and as a was to illustrate how things tend to end up back where that started in one way or another. In a way, it also represents life and death (and rebirth) as a unified being and I think that this is an idea which is quite interesting.

Materials used and how they compliment meaning:
As this was an illustration in a medieval text book, I would say this could have been created using one of two methods. The first method would be to hand render it with drawing inks. The alternative would be to have created it using some form of printing press. Baring in mind the level of technology available at the time, I think it would most likely have been hand rendered, largely down to issues of cost and practicality.
As a positive note, the materials used help identify this illustration as a symbol rather than a drawing by creating clearly defined areas of flat colour that give the image a completely 2-dimensional nature. The use of the black keylines ensures that none of the original details have been lost over time, resulting in an image that is still clear today, though the colours may have faded and become less saturated.
Overall judgement on the work as a piece of communication:
This example of the Ouroboros is in my opinion, showing its age. While the symbol of the Ouroboros has been successfully updated to fit into more recent art, and the symbol itself has been given a modern edge (see below for examples), this image will only really be appropriate as an illustration in a medieval text.
The piece looks very flat and lifeless, and looks similar to crude cave paintings.

My Response
I created my response to the Ouroboros symbol using a 2B pencil on plain paper. The reason I used a graphite pencil instead of drawing inks is that I wanted my response to have more realism than Theodoros Pelecanos' representation of the Ouroboros.

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