BURCKHARDT, TITUS . Titus Burckhardt (1908–1984) was born in Florence, Italy into a Protestant patrician family from Basle in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the son of the sculptor Carl Burckhardt, and great-nephew of the famous art historian Jacob Burckhardt. A school friendship with Fritjhof Schuon (1907–1998), who had been one of the first expositors of the perennial philosophy in the second half of the 20th century, in Basle was to become a long spiritual and intellectual friendship, with both of them being interested in Eastern art from an early age. Burckhardt had intended to be a sculptor—following in his father's footsteps—and he attended several art schools in Switzerland and Italy. A stay in Morocco in the 1930s changed the course of his life. He studied Arabic literature and jurisprudence and followed the teachings of the Sufic masters Sidi Mohammed Bouchara at Salé and Moulay Ali ad-Darqāwī at Fez. The latter town of Fez had retained a great deal of its intellectual and spiritual luster and it is at the heart of the tradition that the young Westerner joined, under the name ʿIbrahīm, Abraham ʾIz al-Din, in the Shādhiliyya, a link in the great chain of Islamic esoteric mystic brotherhoods. He translated the principal texts of Sufism, the Fusūs al-Hikam ("pearls of wisdom from the prophets"), by Ibn Arabī, and the Rasāʾil ("letters"), by his master ad-Darqāwī. Schuon once again met him at Fez, in 1935. For his part, Schuon had been initiated in 1933 he had been initiated by Shaykh al-ʿAlawī in the Alawyia brotherhood of Mostaganem in Algeria, and their spiritual paths were never again to part. They had a common belief in the idea of a universal, perennial tradition, a philosophia perennis, which had been handed down unbroken from the beginning, just like the principles René Guénon (1886–1951) had set out from 1921 in a series of works published in Paris. L'introduction générale à l'étude des doctrines hindoues (1921), then L'homme et son devenir selon le Vēdānta (1925), set out the "non-dual" metaphysics of the Vedanta as the perfect expression of "traditional science"; Islam, Daoism, and ancient Christianity all shared in this great tradition. This science alone could oppose the modern decline denounced in Orient et Occident (1924) or La crise du monde moderne (1927), both edited by Réne Guénon, and the need to break away and reject this was an opinion shared by Burckhardt, Schuon, and the circle established around the neo-Traditionalist or Perennial movement. A westernized Indian put back in touch with his own tradition by reading Guénon, A. K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947), who was in charge of the department of Asiatic art at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, would also play an important part in the workings of this circle. They all sought harmony between their lives and their philosophy, but the question was posed differently for Easterners and for those from the West who lacked a regular initiation in the Christian tradition. Sufism, with its implication of conversion to Islam, was considered by Guénon to be the natural outcome of his writings, and he had taken that route himself. He therefore encouraged Schuon to found his own branch of a Ṣūfī brotherhood, or ṭarīqah. In 1935 Schuon became moqqadem (lieutenant) of the Master, the shaykh of Mostaganem. The following year Schuon, after a dream, claimed for himself the role of shaykh. Three centers were established, in Amiens, Lausanne, and Basle, and Burckhardt took particular charge of the last of these. Difficulties arose between Guénon and Schuon on doctrinal questions, especially regarding Christianity, and were made worse by different approaches—more cold and intellectual by the former, in the splendor of the truth of creation (according to Plato's famous expression) by the latter. Burckhardt was clearly inclined to Schuon's side of the debate. During the 1950s and 1960s he held the post of artistic director at the publisher Urs Graf at Olten, near Basle, working on the publication of beautiful illuminated mediaeval manuscripts such as the Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells, ancient Celtic gospels housed at Trinity College, Dublin. He was also in charge of a spiritual historical collection entitled Stätten des Geistes, which illustrated the multiple expressions behind the fundamental unity of the various traditions. He was personally responsible for three of the works: on the Gothic cathedral at Chartres; on Siena, the pride and joy of the Italian Renaissance; and his masterpiece, on the Islamic city of Fez. This global overview via a single town allowed him to link urbanism, architecture, and drawing and decorative arts to the class of artisans as they lived in the daily life of traditional societies and in modern Morocco. In this way Burckhardt developed a new concept of Islamic art, free from local influence and historical legacies, Andalusian or Persian art, thus revealing an expression of a spiritual feeling, of a search for truth. By rejecting the use of images, Islamic art dispensed with emotion, enhancing harmony and inner peace; the continuous presence of degrees of light led from the created world to its origin. The result of this investigation, carried out in parallel with his research into the fundamental tenets of Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist art, was published in Principes et méthodes de l'art sacré (1958), a work collecting many German, French, and English articles, and particularly those published in the journal inspired by Guénon, Etudes traditionnelles. In the same vein Burckhardt tackled the astrology of Ibn Arabī together with alchemy: the earthly symbolism of metals, the object of alchemy, corresponded to the heaven of the zodiac and the planets; the planets reflected "cosmic intelligence," metals "the first intelligent form of earthly matter" or materia prima. Cosmic harmony came about as a result of their connection, opening the way for the transformation of the person who was aware of them.
Burckhardt's talents were recognized, and between 1972 and 1977 the Moroccan government and UNESCO entrusted him with a mission to safeguard the architectural and cultural heritage, including the traditional arts and crafts, of the medina, the old town of Fez. He was formally honored by an international conference at Marrakesh in 1999.
Works by Burckhardt
"Considérations sur l'alchimie", Etudes Traditionnelles, Oct-Nov. 1948, pp. 288-300.
Clef spirituelle de l'astrologie musulmane. Paris, 1950.
Du Soufisme. Lyon, France, 1951.
De l'Homme universel. Lyon, France, 1953.
Vom Sufitum-Einführung in die Mystik des Islams. Munich, 1953.
La sagesse des Prophètes. Paris, 1955.
Principes et méthodes de l'art sacré. Lyon, France, 1958.
Siena, Stadt der Jungfrau. Olten and Freiburgim Breisgau, Germany, 1958.
Alchemie, Sinn und Weltbild. Olten and Freiburgim Breisgau, Germany, 1960.
Fes Stadt des Islams. Olten and Freiburgim Breisgau, Germany, 1960.
Chartres und die Geburt des Kathedrale. Lausanne, Switzerland, 1962.
Lettres d'un Maître soufi. Milan, 1978.
L'art de l'Islam. Paris, 1985.
Mirror of the Intellect, translated by William Stoddart. Cambridge, U.K., and Albany, N.Y., 1987.
Works on Burckhardt
Kansoussi, Jaafar, ed. Sagesse et splendeur des arts islamiques: Hommage à Titus Burckhardt. Marrakech, 2000.
Nasr, Seyyed Hosein. "With Titus Burckhardt at the Tomb of Ibn Arabī." Studies in Comparative Religion, Titus Burckhardt memorial issue) 16, nos. 1 and 2 (1984): 17–20.
Jean-Pierre Laurant (2005)
Translated from French by Paul Ellis