Aquis Submersus, 1919

Aquis submersus means “submerged in water” and is the title of a novella by Theodor Storm relating the tragic events of a forbidden love affair and the death of the child born of it. When Max Ernst worked on this small canvas, he was at the threshold to surrealist art. Here he was reacting specifically to the unreal, magic worlds in the “pittura metafisica” of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. Among the features Ernst adopted from them were the strong central perspective with the overly accentuated vanishing lines, the formation of space by means of simplified architectural constructs, the distinct shadows, and the clock at the upper edge of the canvas. The motionlessness of the objects and beings should have a stabilising effect, but is in fact disquieting. One surreal aspect of the work is its rejection of stringent logic. Take the clock, for example: it is hanging on the sky – or is it a wall? What is more, in the murky water it is reflected as the moon. Spatial questions are answered no more satisfactorily than questions as to the meanings of the pictorial elements, many of which convey a certain sense of humour.

© VG Bild-Kunst


Oil on canvas
54 × 43.8 cm
Inv. No. 1244