The Glass Bead Game is the Hermann Hesse novel which brought him international fame and a Nobel  Prize.   Even such particular readers as Thomas Mann were enthusiastic.Certainly the imagination and breadth of view is grandiose. It is what one can imagine and think may occur a few centuries after the combattive era of the 19th and 20th centuries,  after the modern age represented as an atrocious period of destruction and dissolution, of loss of all values.  At the same time, this is the age of trivial conversation and of conferences where everyone  addresses  everything without sufficient  knowledge. In essence,  an age of confusion and breakdown.The reaction is a nurturing of the spirit, a search for unity and togetherness,  a sort of new humanism which counteracts our modern age .This reaction affects all aspects of  the mind and of the spirit promoting  the foundation of an authority that directs all educational efforts. At the apex of this new humanism is the glass bead game.  Education has become highly specialized, with tutors in their different areas, philosophy, mathematics, music, etc., being truly top experts. At the same time they resist intellectual confinement, so they develop this amazing game, the glass bead game, The players are monks who live a truly monastic life, they accept the vow of chastity, they live away from the world and cultivate their expertise and the great art required by the glass bead game. The game consists in combining all disciplines, through their symbols, searching for analogies that can produce infinite combinations, where an architectural form can be combined  with a philosophic idea or a musical tone, even beyond any spatial -temporal barrier; like the Chinese house symbol could be combined with an European melody from the 1600’s or 1700’s. The game is based on rigorous Cartesian rules, not empiric or improvised, that do not respond to any romantic inspiration or emotional enthusiasm . The protagonist of this novel , Josef Knecht, which means ‘servant’, is the custodian of the game which is in essence a musical balance conducting all different expressions of knowledge to an original unity. The rules of the game are learned after  many  years of practice and experience, and the adepts would not choose an easier process. The rules are like an esoteric, highly educated language, which encompasses various sciences and is able to express and relate them to each other. The glass bead game is like playing with all the values and contents of our civilization.  The date of birth of the game is arbitrary: the idea in itself could be eternal and only its formalization has its own history. So, why do we propose to relate this novel to the exhibit that we are going to enjoy? Let’s imagine  translating the glass bead game into the painted canvas game: here the maximal expression of art is indeed painting, and here the great experts are painters and photographers, who move from abstract to conceptual, to the hyper-realistic, never satisfied with their immense knowledge, always in search of something beyond their own achievements. Like the monks of the novel, artists are believed to live isolated from the world, always projected to the creation of their masterpiece.  Villa Barsotti is their monastery. Built by Captain Antonio  Barsotti on the top of a hill, the villa only hosted selected, intellectual guests, just as in the glass bead game. We like to imagine that all the subsequent owners have inherited the gift of being the “servant” of the painted canvas game, the custodian of this expression of knowledge which is transferred into paintings and photographs, like the symbols in Hesse’s novel. However, the strongest link to the book is found in the desire and impetus to move out of our dark period and to nurture spirit and knowledge once again. The painted canvas game represents for us the eternal idea for which science and art, art and religion, platonic and spiritual cohesion find their common path towards ideal harmony . And finally allow me, as a last remark, to mention that the choice of Hermann Hesse, German (naturalized Swiss) poet, writer and painter, comes as a tribute to Mrs. Brigitte Geisser , the servant of the painted canvas game,  who makes it all possible for us.

Cristiano Merra, Director Museum ILGilardi

 

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