The first archetype of the triptych represents Elsa von Brabant, a figure of the legend of the Grail. Joukhadar chose the moment of the first glance between Elsa and Lohengrin. He wanted to show in particular modesty, restraint and dignity in the manifestation of feelings. No definable expression disturbs the cold and dazzling beauty of this Germanic face, but rather an interiority which an expert eye can detect. There is at the same time mistrust, doubt, admiration and tenderness.
To see in the picture only a psychological and refined portrait of Elsa would amount to depriving oneself of two important dimensions of the work. Elsa’s expression is, in truth, the one that is inscribed in the visual memory of Lohengrin and will not leave it. Looking at Elsa we borrow the soul and eyes of Lohengrin, we live his vision. The ultimate dimension of this symbolic portrait is perceived only when Elsa becomes a mirror in which we see the reflection of Lohengrin. It is then only a subtle cover, letting us fathom the portrait of Lohengrin through the gaze of Elsa.
Joukhadar chose Elsa to show woman, not in her carnal dimension, but in her extreme nobility and dignity. Elsa is a real aristocrat, a type which practically does not exist anymore.
A true aristocrat has the duty of uniting in himself the best of the people to whom he belongs; he should represent the ideal of his culture. He is conscious of being the representative of his people in the presence of other peoples. He is the guardian of principles and traditions. Far from being a nerdy Don Quixote who hides his smallness behind the sclerotic appearances of principles and traditions, he vivifies and develops the latter with his open-mindedness and his intelligence of an avant-gardist and a forerunner. For his own he is the model, the reference of quality, class and excellence. A true aristocrat sacrifices his feelings, his personal life for the prosperity and honour of his people and his country. He is not the pretentious snob who is busy differentiating himself from the people by appearances, with gimmicks and artifices, as is often the case in our time.
Elsa and Lohengrin
At the death of her father the Duke, Elsa is accused of having his brother the crown prince disappear in order to take power. It was actually the Count’s wife, a sorceress, who had made the prince disappear, in order to open the way for her husband and thus lay hands on the country and its riches.
This seemingly banal story is a barely veiled allegory of a perpetual political reality. Elsa is publicly accused by the Count, in front of the King, then passing through Brabant. Neither accuser nor accused is capable of presenting the evidence which would enable a decision to be made; they must confront each other in a duel with the sword, after prayers have been addressed by the audience to God for victory to be granted to the innocent.
Elsa, unable to fight a duel against the fierce Count, offers her hand to him who would devote himself to representing and saving her. She tells the audience that in a dream she saw a knight clothed in sparkling armour coming to her aid. Prayers are piously recited and calls are made for a volunteer, once and twice; but no one dares to face the Count. It is then that a knight appears, bearing sparkling armour, in a boat drawn by a swan (the swan is great alchemical symbol).
Before the astonished audience, he volunteers and enters into a duel with Count; he wins but does not kill him. The knight can then claim the hand of Elsa, but poses a condition: she must never ask his name, where he comes from and his lineage. But the wife of the Count, who has not given up, uses her spells to push Elsa, who, yielding to doubt, finally asks the knight the three fateful questions. Lohengrin answers, gives his identity, reveals his origins from Montsalvat as well as his quest for the Holy Grail, and leaves Elsa forever.
The unique work-object
More than 220 attempts were made to digitize Elsa, they all failed. More than 220 tries, without ever being able to give a faithful rendering of the extraordinary colours used by Joukhadar. Neither slide, nor photograph, nor scanned image could reproduce them.
This particularity is part of Joukhadar’s creative process.
The idea is that with the presence of photography, it became futile to reproduce nature through painting. This became a dogma of the late 19th and especially the 20th century. The work of art became centered, limited and confined to the originality of the concept and the idea, while neglecting the quality of the medium. Anyone can easily reproduce modern works made from scrap metal, computer display units; anyone can easily reproduce a Mondrian, a Warhol, a Liechtenstein.
It does not matter because the whole value of the work lies in the originality of the concept and idea, from its inception. Joukhadar is most certainly a supporter of the concept of art and of this approach, as evidenced by the majority of his works which are in the current of modern art. However, he wanted to liberate art from a new tyranny by returning to the work of art one of its fundamental qualities, that of unique object, both by its intellectual concept and by qualities impossible to reproduce.
This is the case of the colours of this painting, which change throughout the day and according to the lighting. It is the same for the expression of the face which changes according to the distance between the eye and the work and according to the lighting. This last point, concerning the expression of the face, was extraordinarily developed by Joukhadar in the third archetype of this triptych, Roxelane.