X „…for he knew what he was doing“: Jackson and the Ghent Altarpiece

This is a translation. Forgive mistakes…

 

michael jackson dangerous cover explained meaning symbols art ryden symbole
Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover. (Mark Ryden/SONY Music) Quelle

Jesus Christ. That Superstar …

I don`t consider myself religious in the sense of subscribing to a particular dogma. I would consider myself spiritual-in that I believe there is a domain of awareness in which we can experience our universality. I read all kinds of religious literature because I believe there is truth in all of them.“

Michael Jackson, 1992. 1

Jackson and the Ghent Altarpiece and Napoleon

Almost two centuries prior to Jackson’s DANGEROUS cover,  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted „Napoleon on his imperial throne“ in 1806. Ingres was inspired to create the bombastic representation of the Frenchman (who crowned himself) by a work meant for the church: the „Ghent Altarpiece“ painted in the 15th century. With God, the world ruler on the throne. 2
According to Ingres Napoleon became God.

In 1990 Michael Jackson commissioned the painter Mark Ryden to create a painting that was to be released as the DANGEROUS album cover. Ryden based his depiction of the figure of „King MJ“ on Ingre’s model of Napoleon on the imperial throne. „Napoleon on the imperial thron“. Ryden therefore based his depiction of Michael Jackson on the „Ghent Altarpiece“ from the 15th century, which was intended for the church. With God the judge of the world on the throne.
According to Ryden „King MJ“ not only took Napoleon’s place but God’s place too.

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover Ghent Altarpiece 1991 Napoleon Meaning Bedeutung Symbol
l: The World Ruler on the Throne. Ghent Altarpiece. Jan van Eycken 15th CenturySource m: Napoleon on the Imperial Throne. Ingres 1806 Source r.: The King of Pop on the Throne. Mark Ryden 1991

In 1806, the painter Ingres portrayed Napoleon on his imperial throne like an eternal regent, given Napoleon’s deathly pallor apparently a regency well beyond death. Painter Ingres was citing Christian traditions in his painting and depicted the self-appointed emperor as if he was God himself.

Jackson, „The Almighty“ and the Ghent Altarpiece

The center and main figure on the Ghent Altarpiece is the „God the Father“ as judge/ruler of the world. On Ingres „Napoleon“ the „Almighty“ Napoleon fills the place of God. On Mark Ryden and Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover the Dog King (in which Michael Jackson „MJ“ is hidden) fills this place. If one were to apply not only the visual representation of the main character of the Ghent Altarpiece but also the literary descriptions, the result would read as follows on the DANGEROUS cover from the King of Pop in 1991:

Jackson, „King of Kings, and Lord of Lords“.
Jackson, „God the Father/the Holy Trinity amalgamated into a single person“. 3
Jackson, Judge of the World? Jackson, Creator? Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover some sort of altarpiece?
Could this be the absolute crowning glory?

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning symbols Napoleon on his Imperial throne ingres Ghent Altarpiece van eycken
l: Ghent Altarpiece. van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source ; m.: Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, Ingres 1806Quelle); r.: King „MJ“ on the Throne, DANGEROUS Cover, Mark Ryden 1991Source

Jackson proclaimed throughout his life, „Do something good and you will be close to God“ and therefore the message in his portrayal by re-arranging the Ghent Altarpiece can may be similarly interpreted. However, in 1991 the church was certainly not amused by the new arrangement of its established symbols. At the same time, the church was also provoked by another Madonna and was busy keeping her „Blonde Ambitions“ under control. This went so far that Pope John Paul II called for a boycott of the concerts by Madonna (the singer) claiming Madonna with her performance had „re-released Satan into the world again“. 4, 5 Madonna and Michael Jackson by the way shared the same choreographer: Vincent Patterson. 6, 7
The church dictates art. Anno domini 1989.

„Rearranging minds and thoughts“

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover Fountain of Life Earth Symbol Meaning
Source

In altarpieces like the Ghent Altarpiece, which had been the blueprint for Napoleon’s depiction of „Emperor Napoleon“ and the portrayal of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, church traditions defined structure and arrangement. In altarpieces like the Ghent Altarpiece by the 15th century painter van Eycken, the „celebrations of a church service“ were portrayed. That were ceremonies, strict arrangements and traditions that had been hard fought for by the church because in a strictly established order people can be better controlled.

But in the course of history, disobedient artists have always appeared and upset these entrenched orders, and there have always been rebellious artists whose works challenge people to think for themselves. 8 Michael Jackson in the 1990s was also in the global public interest with everything he did and continued this rebellious tradition. Jackson quoted these old established orders like the one from the Ghent Altarpiece and turned the conventions upside down. And Jackson rebelled on a global level.

That was DANGEROUS in 1991. That was THREATENED in 2001.

In the 1980s Jackson had his own personal experience with rebellion against religion. The church he belonged to at that time began to dictate his art. As a result, Jackson felt compelled to leave his religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1988. And in 1991 Jackson sang an angry song about it:

I’m Conditioned By The System … Confusion contradicts the self/ The world keeps changing/Rearranging minds and thoughts“

JAM. 9

„Conditioned By The System“

In 1988, during the shooting of SMOOTH CRIMINAL, Jackson’s church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with its strict rules, had given him an ultimatum: Jackson should choose between entertainment or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For years, the personal „monitors“ of Jehovah’s Witnesses had monitored Jackson’s professional activities and reported back to the highest authorities of his religious community. They criticized THRILLER as occult, Jackson’s dancing style as too obscene. Complaints and subpoenas were the result for Jackson. Then, in 1988, Michael Jackson quasi filed his resignation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Jackson publicly resigned from the Jehovah’s Witness in the passive-aggressive rebellious „Michael-Jackson-Way“: In 1988, in SMOOTH CRIMINAL, Jackson grabbed a machine gun and fired in rage. But the use of a gun in the film contradicted the statutes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After more than twenty years of belonging to the religious community, Jackson must have been familiar with these rules. 10, 11

Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal Machine gun
In 1988 the SMOOTH CRIMINAL shot his way out. Source

Somehow Michael Jackson left Jehovah’s Witness no choice: every shot from the SMOOTH CRIMINAL’s machine gun sealed his disfellowship without giving notice. But back to Jackson, the Ghent Altarpiece and the DANGEROUS „altarpiece“ by the King of Pop from 1991.

Ruler of the World

The Ghent Altarpiece portrays „three great figures“ as the main characters: Virgin Mary and God the Father/Judge and John the Baptist. In 1991 Mary might have made it onto Jacksons album cover DANGEROUS. Like on the Ghent Altarpiece you can see on Jacksons DANGEROUS „three great figures“. With this approach however, on DANGEROUS the position of God, the ruler of the world, would be taken by the one with the name in the halo:

MICHAEL JACKSON.

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning symbolsmichael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning symbols Napoleon on his Imperial throne ingres Ghent Altarpiece van eyckeningres van eycken
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991 Source

Groupings to worship the one in the middle

Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover borrows even more from the Ghent Altarpiece than only three figures:
On the Ghent Altarpiece a series of crowds of people stream towards the lamb to worship. (Same constellation on Jacksons DANGEROUS).
Four groupings congregate at each corner to worship the one in the middle.

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung genter altarbild michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning symbols Napoleon on his Imperial throne ingres Ghent Altarpiece van eycken van eycken  Retable de l’Agneau mystique
l: The Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

Four groups from the original Ghent Altarpiece skip 500 years and end up in their form on DANGEROUS by Michael Jackson. They all gather around the „Fountain of Life“ 12

The „Fountain of Life“

The “ fountain of Life “ is the fountain in the Ghent Altarpiece by van Eycken. The fountain of Life would then be the earth by Ryden and Jackson.

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altar bild van eycken brunnen des lebens welt
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

Vertical Axis on the Ghent Altarpiece and Jacksons DANGEROUS

„A vertical axis forms between the fountain, the altar, and the dove signifying the agreeing testimony of The Spirit, the water, and the blood.“ Source: Wikipedia 13 Can both paintings, the Ghent Altarpiece and Jacksons Dangerous be read from top to bottom?

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken welt erde
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

A Dove, A Peacock, The Holy Spirit. Love and Peace

Five hundred years prior to Jackson DANGEROUS cover, the dove found its place on the Ghent Altarpiece in the sky in golden sunrays. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and Peace.
In 1991 the peacock appears in Jackson’s work in the same place and is also surrounded by golden rays.

michael jackson dangerous album cover explaines meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece dove peacock pfaugenter altarbild van eycken taube pfau peacock
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source
Michael Jackson Remember The Time Sun King Moonwalker eo
Jackson too used the symbols Sun and Light in his career. If you like, a video about that can be seen on YouTube.  „Michael Jackson: The Moonwalker and The Sun. A King to represent a Great Leader“

Among all great leaders is the light a symbol of Truth and the Divine. This was already known to the shining Louis XIV.

The dove is a symbol of peace, love and the „Holy Spirit“.
The peacock is a symbol of love, harmony and „Michael Jackson“.
The peacock has been inseparably connected with Jackson, the performer, since 1978:

 

 

 



michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung destiny jacksons pfau peacock live can you feel it rock with you film fedora
o.: 1978 DESTINY Album Abb. 119 1979 DESTINY Tour Source; 1981 CAN YOU FEEL IT/TRIUMPH Source u.: 1980 ROCK WITH YOU  Source 1988 MOONWALKER Quelle 1991 DANGEROUS Source
michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung genter altarbild van eycken welt erde  vatin rom raube
Petersdom, Rome

This is also the case in the Vatican in Rome.
The dove, of course.

Jackson, the Ghent Altarpiece and The Crown of Creation

The open crown at the feet of the ruler of the world – the one on the Ghent Altarpiece – has moved upwards on the album cover from the King of Pop centuries later. Bubbles, Michael’s chimpanzee, provides the perfect setting:

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece ruler worldgenter altarbild van eycken welt erde hand krone bubbles zepter
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

„It’s hard to see angels…“

Two winged angels, waving incense, were formed into birds in 1991. What remained is the ancient form in which angels are hidden.

 It’s hard to see angels, although I’ve stared at their pictures for hours. Some people can see them without pictures, and they tell interesting tales.

Michael Jackson, 1991. 14

In the original Altarpiece angels adore the lamb, the symbol for the Christian church, glorified innocence and symbol of the self-sacrifice of Jesus. The lamb on the sarcophagus in the Ghent altarpiece is symbolic for the dead Jesus. Is there a connection on DANGEROUS to the deadly-like Bird-Queen who rules the Kingdom of EXITUS? The Bird-Queen, who is closely connected to the Moon and the Moonwalker?

michael jackson dangerous album cover explaines meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken engel angel birds machine queen
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source
michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken welt erde taube engel angel queen bird peacock
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source
michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken welt erde  engel sun taube engel star child skull barnum dog bird
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

Adam and Eve. The Moon and the Queen

And perhaps Adam and Eve from the altarpiece of 1432 will also find their way into the amniotic sac of the queen bird in the moonlight of 1991.

michael jackson dangerous album cover explained meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken welt erde adam eva eve
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

„“The moon rules over conception, pregnancy and birth […] over every kind of creation.“ 15

500 years between two mirrors on Jacksons DANGEROUS and the Ghent Altarpiece

In comparison with the original „God the Father“ on the Ghent Altarpiece, an intentional re-arrangement of forms results in a togetherness that connects 500 years:

michael jackson dangerous album cover explaines meaning erklärt symbols symbole bedeutung Ghent Altarpiece genter altarbild van eycken welt erde god taube pfau peacock
l: Ghent Altarpiece, van Eycken 15th century (here emphasized in color for illustration) Source; r.: DANGEROUS Cover, Ryden/Jackson, 1991Source

The lower part of the altarpiece (the one from Ghent in 1432) looks like a mirror image of the upper one. If one brings together the distance between heaven and earth and overcomes it, the separated parts merge into one. They literally COME TOGETHER. Since this is also the case on DANGEROUS in 1991, the following addition can be added at this point:

„Michael [Hebrew ’Who is like God?‘]. Michael, defender of god.“  16


Verwandte Beiträge:

Michael Jackson Manifest 1987: „Ich werde als König regieren.“

VII DANGEROUS Jackson: Der Star und der Pfau.

VIII DANGEROUS Jackson: Napoleon. Ein Hund. Macht. Platz.

IX Jackson: Moonwalker, Sun King, Captain EO For All Time

 

 

 

Home » PaRt of History. Beiträge » PaRt of History: Michael Jackson aRt (english) » X „…for he knew what he was doing“: Jackson and the Ghent Altarpiece

Quellen

  1. Jackson, Michael, Out Of The Mouth Of Michael von Paskin, Glenn. 1992.08.16., Chicago Tribune, https://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-08-16/entertainment/9203140099_1_dreams-spirituality-daily-journal
  2. Graham-Dixon, Andrew, ITP 240: Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres , 05.12.2004; abgerufen am 17.08.2015, andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/itp-240-napoleon-i-on-his-imperial-throne-by-jean-auguste-dominique-ingres.html
  3. Dupuis-Panther, Ferdinand, Jan van Eyck und das Geheimnis des Lamm Gottes, https://www.schwarzaufweiss.de/belgien/janvaneyck.htm
  4. Madge through the years, abgerufen 09.04.2015, „[…] 1987: Controversy heats up as her Who’s That Girl? tour makes a stop in Turin, Italy. The pope urges people to skip her shows./1989: „[…]
  5. Vincent Paterson – The man behind the throne, 2013, Pope John Paul II personally called for a boycott against Madonna’s concerts in 1990. Madonnas Choreograph Vincent Person explaines: „My most favourite review I ever got was from the pope. When the „Blonde Ambition“-Tour played in Rome. Their headlines of the newspaper said: „With the blonde Ambition tour satan has been re-released into the world.“ I said: „Oh my god, I did THAT?!“
  6. https://www.vincentpaterson.com/www.vincentpaterson.com/DOCUMENTARY.html.
  7. Tomassan, Robert E., Chronicle, abgerufen: 12.04.2016, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/07/12/style/chronicle-997390.html
  8. de Tolnay, Charles, Hieronymus Bosch. Das Gesamtwerk 1984, (Rough translation by the author of this website) „Around 1475, at a time when the artistic career of Hieronymus Bosch was about to begin, at the beginning of the century the masters of Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, Haarlem and Delft painted according to the old principles created by the master of Glemalle and Jan van Eyck.The paintings of these masters were filled with the solemnity of the service, inspired the believers to humble devotion … Hieronymus Bosch was the first to overcome this noble convention; his paintings addressed the mind directly and helped the viewer to form an independent judgement about man and the reality of things. With him art leaves the paternalism of the church behind., HASSO EBELING International Publishing München GmbH; Rheingauer Verlagsgesellschaft RVG, Eltville; Copyright 1965 bei HOLLE Verlag Baden Baden, Seite 10
  9. Jackson, Michael, JAM, 1991.11.26., DANGEROUS – Album „False prophets cry of doom/What are the possibilities?“/“I told my brother: „There’ll be problems, times and tears for fears. We must live each day like it’s the last.“/“I’m Conditioned By The System … Confusion contradicts the self“/The world keeps changing/Rearranging minds and thoughts“, EPIC Records
  10. Note: During the shooting of SMOOTH CRIMINAL Jackson used according to the script a machine gun to tear up the entire establishment. But the display of violence was incompatible with the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jackson had been a member of the religious community since he was 6 years old. He must have known the rules but he shot the scene anyway. The Witnesses then gave him an ultimatum: he had to leave the entertainment industry or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We know about his decision. However he left the Jehovah’s Witnesses really no other choice.
  11. Faye, Karen, 2010, »They ordered that I have to make decision. I must leave the church, or leave the entertainment industry.«, karenfayeblog.com/2010/08/29/august-29th/
  12. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genter_Altar, Wikipedia Bild:„Retable de l’Agneau mystique“ von Jan van Eyck (etwa 1390–1441) Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Retable_de_l%27Agneau_mystique.jpg#/media/File:Retable_de_l%27Agneau_mystique.jpg, abgerufen am 17.08.2015, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genter_Altar
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece#Just_Judges_and_the_Knights_of_Christ: „There is also similarity between the altar and its ring of angels, and the fountain surrounded by figures arranged in distinct groupings.
  14. Jackson, Michael, Dancing the Dream – Angel of Light, 1992/1993, „Guardian angels are all female, for instance, which didn’t surprise me once I found out. A birth angel, recruited from the younger ranks, attends every baby when it appears, while another angel, older but not grim, helps the dying to leave this world without grief or pain. You can pray to the angels and they will listen, but the best way to call them, I am told, is to laugh. Angels respond to delight, because that is what they’re made of. In fact, when people’s minds are clouded by anger or hatred, no angel can reach them.“, Doubleday an imprint of Transworld Publishers, London/Goldmann Verlag Bertelsmann.
  15. Ami Ronnberg, Kathleen Martin, The Archive For Research In Archetypal Symbolism, Das Buch der Symbole – Betrachtungen Zu Archetypischen Bildern, 2010, Taschen Verlag, Köln, Seite 26
  16. Der Neue Brockhaus, Allbuch in vier Bänden und einem Atlas; L-R, F. U. Brockhaus/Leipzig, Seite 1937

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