Jean Metzinger Catalogue Raisonné

Number: AM-17-011 Jean Metzinger

Date: 1917

Title: La Lampe (The Lamp)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 71.1 x 59.7 cm

Collection: Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame

Inscriptions: Signed (lower center)

Provenance: Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Bequest of Miss May E. Walter

Literature: JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, M. Therese Southgate, MD, Vol. 296, Issue 12, 27 September 2006, reproduced p. 1442, and reproduced on the front cover.

Notes: The Lamp, completed in 1917, is confined mainly to the center of the visible spectrum, to muted greens and yellows; they are tempered further with neutral browns and grays. The geometric configurations are mathematically precise; squares, triangles, diamonds, polygons, circles—almost any geometric structure that can be imagined—while at the same time they are layered across planes so that a two-dimensional surface acquires a third—some might even say a fourth—dimension. Metzinger relies heavily not only on the various forms of the triangle, but also on the so-called Golden Section, the Greek ideal for beauty expressed as a mathematical ratio; typically, its numerical value can never be defined, only approached.

 The subject of The Lamp, whose figurative representation can be discerned only with some difficulty, is rich in symbolism. Generally, the lamp is connected with wisdom or truth. Aladdin’s lamp held a genie, for example. Psalm 119 calls the divine word a lamp to light the path of the traveler; in the New Testament lamps refer to wise or foolish virgins depending on who has brought or failed to bring an adequate supply of oil. One of the most famous stories concerns the philosopher Diogenes who was thought to be crazy because he rushed about the agora carrying a lighted lamp though it was daytime. He was looking for an honest man, he explained. […] “To discern a form is to verify a preexisting idea,” Metzinger wrote. (M. Therese Southgate, MD, JAMA, Vol. 296, No. 12 (reprinted), 27 September 2006, p. 1142)

A coloring page of The Lamp is available for children (or adults), at the Snite Museum of Art website.

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