The Infinity Column, art or pure symbolism, rises like a sky pillar, a staircase to heaven, and an eternal ray of sun.
The Infinity Column was created by Constantin Brâncuşi – Romanian modernist sculptor, painter, folklorist, philosopher, and musician with a keen interest in science – as part of his Târgu-Jiu Trilogy, alongside the Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence.
Brâncuşi kept secret the true meaning of his creation.
So, at nearly 30 meters in height, made of cast- iron plated with brass, shining like a ray of sun that struck the ground, burning in the sunset, what does this never-ending sculpture stand for?
Infinity Column above, image by Alina Dragu, photographer
An Hymn to WW1 Heroes, the Infinity Column
We do know that it commemorates the sacrifice of the Romanians soldiers who, in 1916, defended the city of Târgu Jiu (where Brâncuşi was born in 1876) from the forces of the Central Powers.
As with any creation, it would have started with a beat of the sculptor’s heart, a flash of imagination of which he could catch only a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but growing steady, perhaps keeping him awake at night… Till it emerged -in 1938- as the sum of his childhood memories, of his cultural background, and of his visions as an artist.
From Art to Symbolism
Pure geometry, the Infinity Column is a calm, simple repetition of the same rhomboid element called a “bead” by Brâncuşi. It is the image of a rosary strung on an invisible thread, towards heaven, in a mystifying, silent meditation.
If you see an hourglass motif, you wouldn’t be wrong either as the torment of the passing of time is embedded in many cultures.
Yet repetition, in art, conveys meaning. Repeating regular forms has been used in art since ancient times. Like in music, repeating the same elementary unit over and over again generates new narratives that, in turn, initiate new interpretations.
The Tree of Life in the Infinity Column
Often in Romanian folklore we have encountered the Tree of Life or the Cosmic Tree, the Sky Pillar. Through its roots it connects the earth with the sky (via the trunk), reaching the heaven (its branches). A hero would easily travels to the sky using his heroic powers (or aided by a Magic Bird in some cultures). But a mortal soul would require initiation, moral strength and above all a desire to climb this Cosmic Tree -through the air, inhabited by beneficial and malefic spirits- to heaven.
In Romanian folklore the Cosmic Tree is often represented by the Fir Tree (remember the Fir Tree Churches?), and it represents the starting point for any spiritual journey between earth and the cosmic areas.
In Christian mythology the same journey can be done by climbing a narrow staircase with high rungs leading all the way to the Gate of Heaven. In Gorj -where Brâncuşi was born- the burial custom involved a wooden trunk, the “tree of the dead” or the “spear of the dead” if the deceased was, sadly, in the prime of life.
“Let’s call it a staircase to the sky”.
Constantin Brâncuşi on the Infinity Column
Any heroic act (be it spiritual -like standing for the truth- or that of a soldier fighting to defend his country) is based on sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of oneself. And any such heroic act facilitates the encounter of man with the Divinity -through salvation and trough entering heaven. This is the very core of Christianity.
The Folk Architecture in the Infinity Column
Yet stripped of symbology, the Infinity Column is an echo of the pillars supporting the porches of folk homes from Gorj, (where Brâncuşi was born), near Targu Jiu (and of neighboring counties of Valcea and Mehedinti).
Could the column be a prayer for the people amongst whom the sculptor was born and spent his childhood?
Is the Infinity Column a prayer for the dead? Is it a path towards heaven or the echo of folk architecture rooted in mythology and religion?
Perhaps still Brâncuşi can explain us the meaning of his creations: “A sculpture never ends on its pedestal, but continues towards the sky, on the pedestal – and into the ground.”
Happy National Brâncuşi Day – celebrated on this day, 19 February, the birthday of Brâncuşi.