Praised be to You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Cántic del Sol (The Canticle of the Sun) is a hymn to the Creator written in the 13th century by Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226). According to Church tradition, it was composed during a period of illness in which the saint became blind. Robbed of his physical sight, Francis meditated on the created order through the eyes of faith, perceiving a mystical unity between man and nature, mirroring the Divine. The saint famously expressed this cosmic brotherhood by addressing the four elements as brothers and sisters, thus emphasising humanity’s intimate and filial connection with the natural world. For Joan Miró, an artist with an almost reverential view of the Catalonian landscape, Saint Francis’s ecstatic vision must have resonated with his own artistic attempts to ‘escape into absolute nature’ (William S. Rubin, Miró in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1973, p. 21).
In a letter of 1963, Miró mentions reading a translation of the poem in Catalan by the poet Josep Carner (1884-1970), which he described as ‘magnificent’. Carner’s vigorous treatment of the text, rooting Saint Francis’s vision in the Catalan language and experience, seems to have electrified Miró. In the same letter, he describes his own vision of the book as an interplay of text and image that would parallel the architecture of a cathedral, ‘with typography, both elegant and austere… like the columns that support the nave…, contrasting with the richness of Saint Francis’s vision, and the illumination from the stained-glass windows that I envisage for my illustrations’.
Miró created a total of 35 etchings responding to the text, 33 of which were published, resulting in what Marià Manent describes in her foreword to the book as ‘an astonishing cosmic calligraphy’. Using his visual language of ciphers and symbols, and exploiting the potential of the intaglio medium, Miró created a whole range of effects; aquatint for the luminous sun and moon imagery of the opening pages, splatter-like sugar-lift aquatint, evocatively suggesting water, and the embossed linearity of etching and open bite, for wind and fire. These archetypal images poetically evoke both the microscopic and macroscopic, the minutia of phytoplankton and the grandeur of supernova. In doing so, Miró elegantly expresses his own deeply-felt sense of the mystical interconnectedness of life.