Ernst Barlach is a German expressionist sculptor, printmaker, lithographer and writer. He is especially known for his sculptures protesting against war. During the rise of Nazi party most of Barlach’s works were confiscated as degenerate art.

Ernst Barlach, “Flying Angel with Closed Eyes”, 1927

Ernst Barlach, “The Tormented Face of the Flying Angel with Closed Eyes”, 1927
Ernst Barlach, “The Tormented Face of the Flying Angel with Closed Eyes”, 1927

The face of the angel is painfully strained by her inhuman effort not to surrender to (human) crying – she doesn’t want her tears to be seen – crying angel can make people suffer even more than they already are. But even angel is not able to help to dissipate this cosmic grief which swallowed people after WWI.

The photo of Ernst Barlach as a very young man (with a face of a cupid)

Ernst Barlach at a very young age

This photo is very close to the previous one. But its larger format gives us the chance to see not just Barlach’s cupid-like face, but to notice his critical refusal of the psychological condition of decision makers, consists of megalomania, calculation of advantage, and also greed and vanity – the very engines of catastrophic existential perversion generating human inequality and injustice and as a result – mountains of agonizing human suffering.

Ernst Barlach in his later years

As we compare this Barlach’s old age photo with that of his young age he obviously didn’t restore his belief in human race. Conversely, he is looking at the human world as his flying angel could, had she kept her eyes opened. Barlach’s facial expression in this photo is that of a martyr. He is a martyr of seeing the truth of human society and understanding what he sees – probably the highest title an artist in modern times can deserve. As we see him in this photo, he, as if, sees today what he saw back then (when he was still alive) – in the second part of the thirties. His gaze is not reproaching humankind for violence towards itself – he is weeping for us, for our ancestors and descendants, for our stupidity, belligerency and cruelty, for our spiritual emptiness, for our mindless exploitation of God’s Name (by using It as a justification of our crimes and indifference) and for our betrayal (without understanding this) of Christ.

There are rare artists whose human appearance is like a work of art, when their spiritual nature makes a unique work of art from them.