The Gaze of Existential Love – Women’s Four Positions towards Love


Giorgio de Chirico, “Bathers on the Beach”, in “fleshy” coloration

By observing five women in front of the background: the sky, the sea and the earth/land, we see the importance of relations between the humans and this background along two axes – vertical (how the figures are positioned in relation to the layers of the background – that is to the sky, sea and earth correspondingly), and depth (how close to or far from the background they are located). Four of the female figures among the five, whether standing or sitting, appear to be higher than the line separating the sea from the sky (even head of the woman sitting on the ground is slightly higher than the sea) – in other words, their intelligence is defined conventionally as “vertical”.

What is represented here with these five figures, it seems, are the four positions toward love. Three women have no love partner near them – objects of their love are transcendent in relation to the intra-painting world (the reclining woman closest to the viewers, the woman on the left of the canvass and the one closest to the sea). Only two have a realized partnership inside the world of the painting (women between the reclining one who is looking at us, and the rock separating them from the sea). Two women (one closest to us and the other on the left side of the painting) look in the direction where the painter and viewers are. And the one turned to the sea is looking in the direction of the sun (or the cloud).

Because beach is a metaphor of earthly world de Chirico, seems to suggest here the presence of three transcendent objects of love – two genuine and one object of a calculating/manipulating gaze. Among the genuine transcendent objects one is traditional (that is relegated to the beyond): located behind the sky or the sea – the object of the dream of sublime amorous encounter, which is expected to happen somewhere behind the visible world, and the other is the existential which belongs to earthy life but outside the intra-painting place (he is the object of the attention of the reclining woman). The object the woman on the left looks at is just a psychological agent (there is no amorous projection onto him), while the person the reclining bather appeals to is a spiritually transcendent (recognized as an otherness: separated from her by the ontological abyss between intra-painting space and the realm of his internal world).

Let’s analyze the position towards love personified by the woman on the left of the painting (with strain and calculation in her gaze). She simultaneously covers the ultimate point of her femininity and is concentrated on the man who looks at her (someone on the beach). By blocking his gaze with her towel she offers eye contact instead and by this attracts his deeper attention. She, as if, invites him to negotiate the terms of possible relations. We can call her position in relation to love a gendered one (relationships she can be interested in may include mutual sexual interest or readiness for marriage, or even selling her body for sex).

The second position is represented by the woman in the background – the one who is turned toward the horizon and stares at the sky. What is she dreaming about? – Far-away places behind the sea? – Far-away place behind the sky? – The power and tenderness of the sun? – Caress of the cloud? Whatever it is, her position can be called “metaphysical”. She suspends the calls of her femininity; she is in love with amorous potential, with her dream.

The third position we observe in the two women who, probably, came to the beach together. The one, to the right, who is turned away from the viewers, is rather like the “metaphysical” woman (she is prone to look at the romantic distance) while the other who is sitting on the ground looks at her girl friend standing nearby with a kind of intimate appeal. These women are involved it seems in psychological relations of trying out one another’s identity, of sharing emotions and charting their emotional borders, of enjoying time spent together.

The fourth position is represented by the woman in the foreground – by de Chirico’s permanent model: his wife Usabelle. This position is a combination of the three already described, with a new quality. The earthly nature of Usa’s gaze almost reminds profane gaze of a woman interested in sexual affair or alliance, but also the gaze of a “metaphysically” inclined woman and gaze of the woman sitting on the ground addressed to her friend. Isa’s gaze of amorous certainty/metaphysical finality is projected into earthly life and can be called an existential one. It is orientation on a profound personal relationship, on the encounter between two spiritually existential dedications. While the gaze of the woman on the left is existential but not spiritual – gaze of Isa is simultaneously earthly and spiritual. It projects the transcendent appeal into life. And here the ontological gap between intra-painting space and extra-painting space becomes the equivalent of the traditional difference between life and spirituality, earth and heaven. Spirituality becomes the attribute of the living, and Eros finds himself in an embrace with Agape.

There is an absoluteness in Isa’s gaze that meets the gaze of a man she is looking at (de Chirico’s?) with equal power of presence. Here, existential spirituality – participation of body in spiritual process anchors the spiritual yearning, makes it simultaneously mortal and able to trespass mortality in the very feelings of “reaching eternity” inside love. Spiritually existential experience of love makes human beings capable of feeling of being immortal within their mortality. Body and mind become oneness and wholeness – metaphysical and earthly call for the other person (Isa’s seductive and at the same time asexual gaze), her earthy feet, and the jewelry symbolizing the bodily treasure as an aspect of love – come together in the mortal experience of being immortally together.

Isa’s closeness to other human beings (her being distant from the “primordial” background of human life) and her opening of her body to her beloved emphasize four sub-motifs of openness to love as marked here by de Chirico – the inviting gaze (honest, without pretention that love doesn’t include the sexual component), openness of the bottom of her feet (that we usually not perceive as attractive in women because of its animalistic connotation), the jewelry box symbolizing the plenitude of woman’s bodily presence, and dynamic position of Isa: as if her body is in the process of turning toward her beloved following her gaze and in a moment will open itself completely in her readiness to love and to make love. The closed position of her body, if to see it statically, when perceived together with other sub-motifs, becomes the first phase of bodily opening.

De Chirico’s painting operates, it seems with four basic semantic categories – transcendence of the object of love; spirituality, (sublime/gracious) seriousness of love; existentiality of this spirituality, and ontological enveloping or not enveloping of positions towards love by the sun shine (their blessing or not blessing by the sun). The woman with calculating position is the only one who is not lightened by the sun. Her object is transcendent but not spiritual. The women of second and third position are caressed by the sun – objects of their love are transcendent and spiritual (sublimely respectful). But only Isa has a transcendent, spiritual and existential love (existential aspect of her love is marked by the greenness of her towel in addition to being greeted by the sun – wherever she is the sand is transformed into grass).

We see in the painting three kinds of rocks. The one on the left is, as if, supporting the calculating woman as a kind of pedestal for her body as a statue (she is trying to win her conditions of love from the man she is looking at). The second rock is located where the two female friends communicate with one another – it is right in front of them, either as a pedestal for an unknown future of their relations or as an obstacle for it. And, finally, the flat rock Isa is lying on is a pedestal for her as a magnificent alive statue praising making love as a triumph of earthly spiritual intimacy. It is interesting that the “romantically” inclined woman (who is closest to the classical background of human life) is “without rock-pedestal” – her position towards love, according to de Chirico, will be never realized – never incarnated into a statue. The reclined position of Isa signifies the humility and, simultaneously, fertility of earthly love.

Framing of Isa’s head/face by the rock behind her (and behind two girl-friends) makes her face more important than her body – by this de Chirico seems to emphasize that the spiritual decision to be an intelligent body is the decision made by the human intelligence. Isn’t this a paradigmatic decision of existential spirituality?


Giorgio de Chirico, “Bathers on the Beach”, in “sunlight” coloration


Giorgio de Chirico, “Self-portrait in front of self-portrait”