What was any art but a mould
in which to imprison for a moment
the shining elusive element
which is life itself.
The foliate head and the Green Man are sculptures or drawings in which almost always a man’s face is surrounded by or made from leaves; it is a face that merges nature with humanity.
The Green Man is “a mythic figure that appears in art and legend throughout the centuries and independently in diverse cultures.” Purportedly the images of these leafy men represent life irrepressible.
Countless numbers of the leafy faces can be seen on medieval castles, abbeys, and churches. In fact it was the Europeans who are said to have spread the Green Man’s image and lore to the parts of the world they colonized.
For some the Green Man’s image symbolized the triumph of green life over death and winter. Others considered him the protector of nature; parallels have even been drawn between the Green Man and Jesus Christ.
I see the foliate face as a mould, as Cather suggests, in which can be seen the artistic quintessence of vegetative and human life. And as Disraeli proposes, it is the novelty of its beauty, unconventional as it may be, that is most appealing. On days when I can’t or don’t get out into my garden, I see my semi-human, foliate-faced “friend” on the ground at the end of the stone path out my back door. He is a reminder of the strong connection I feel to the natural world and God, its holy Maker. His eyes seem to peer longingly from behind his verdant leafiness in the same way I perceive that the Lord peers down at the world wanting to know, protect, and love His children. His countenance evokes thoughts of man’s need to create as the made-in-the-image-heir of a creative God, of man’s desire to feel connected to the whole of Creation, and of man’s hope that new seasons will arise again and again as promised. The man in the stone may seem to be locked in perpetual silence, but he speaks to me and I often talk to him.
…the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. ~Numbers 6:25-26 ✝