[On The Seventh Seal]
About the text
As a child I was sometimes allowed to accompany my father when he travelled about to preach in the small country churches in the vicinity of Stockholm. They were festive journeys, made by bicycle through a spring landscape. My father taught me the names of flowers, trees and birds. We spent the day in each other's company without being disturbed by the harassed world around us.
For a small boy the sermon itself of course is a matter purely for grown-ups. While Father preached away in the pulpit and the congregation prayed, sang or listened, I devoted my interest to the church's mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the coloured sunlight quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceiling and walls. There was everything that one's imagination could desire: angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans. There were very frightening animals: serpents in paradise, Balaam's ass, Jonah's whale, the eagle of the Revelation. All this surrounded by a heavenly, earthly and subterranean landscape of a strange yet familiar beauty. In a wood sat Death, playing chess with the Crusader. Clutching the branch of a tree was a naked man with staring eyes, while down below stood Death, sawing away to his heart's content. Across gentle hills Death led the final dance towards the dark lands.
But in the other arch the Holy Virgin was walking in a rose-garden, supporting the Child's faltering steps, and her hands were those of a peasant woman. Her face was grave and bird's wings fluttered round her head.
The medieval painters had portrayed all this with great tenderness, skill and joy. It moved me in a spontaneous and enticing way, and that world became as real to me as the everyday world with Father, Mother and brothers and sisters.
On the other hand, I defended myself against the dimly sensed drama that was enacted in the crucifixon picture in the chancel. My mind was stunned by the extreme cruelty and the extreme suffering. Not until much later were faith and doubt become my constant companions.
It has been self-evident and profitable to give shape to the experiences of my childhood. I have been compelled to express the current dilemma.
My intention has been to paint in the same way as the medieval church painter, with the same objective interest, with the same tenderness and joy. My beings laugh, weep, howl, fear, speak, answer, play, suffer, ask, ask. Their terror is the plague, Judgment Day, the star whose name is Wormwood. Our fear is of another kind but our words are the same.
Our question remains.
Reprinted in 'Focus on the Seventh Seal', edited by Birgitta Steene, and also translated into French in 'Ingmar Bergman explique Le septième sceau', published in Arts April, 1958.