Symbolism in Georges Braque's Patience (1942)

Explorations by Peter Y. Chou

What is the meaning in the cards dealt out by the Fortune Teller?— Ace of Diamonds, Four of Diamonds, Four of Spades, Ace of Clubs?
What is the symbolism of the 42 squares in Braque's checkerboard? Here are some card interpretations found on the web at Metasymbology:

Ace of Diamonds: Ambition for love and money.
4 of Diamonds: Financial security through hard work.
4 of Spades: Satisfaction through knowledge & work.
Ace of Clubs: Insatiable desire for knowledge & love.

Could the cards be spelling out the date 1441? The most interesting event of 1441 found on the web was CNN Interactive posting (December 23, 1996): Washington's Embassy Row brings tradition home where Estonians contend that they hosted the world's first Christmas tree. Ambassador Toomas Ilves of Estonia said: “The earliest recorded instance of an ... evergreen tree being used in conjunction with Christmas was in Estonia, in Tallinn, in the year 1441.”


Could the Ace and Four of Diamonds be referring to a Biblical chapter & verse?
This is the most apropos quote found in Epistle of James I:4 (60 A.D.):

“But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”


When Braque splits the fortune teller's face into a dark half & light half, it resembles the yin-yang halves enclosed in the circle of Tao. Since the yin & yang lines form the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, let's consult this ancient wisdom book to see what fortune is in store in hexagrams 14 & 41 (cards dealt on the table) and hexagram 42 (number of checkerboard squares).

King Wên & Duke of Chou, I Ching (circa 1000 BC)

14. Ta Yu / Possession in Great Measure

above: Li— The Clinging, Flame
below: Ch'ien— The Creative, Heaven


Supreme success.


Fire in heaven above:
Thus the superior man curbs evil and furthers good,
And thereby obeys the benevolent will of heaven.

41. Sun / Decrease

above: Kên— Keeping Still, Mountain
below: Tui— The Joyous, Lake


DECREASE combined with sincerity
Brings about supreme good fortune
Without blame.
One may be persevering in this.
It furthers one to undertake something.
How is this to be carried out?
One may use two small bowls for the sacrifice.


At the foot of the mountain, the lake:
The image of DECREASE.
Thus the superior man controls his anger
And restrains his instincts.

42. I / Increase

above: Sun— The Gentle, Wind
below: Chên— The Arousing, Thunder


INCREASE. It furthers one
To undertake something.
It furthers one to cross the great water.


Wind and thunder: the image of INCREASE.
Thus the superior man:
If he sees good, he imitates it;
If he has faults, he rids himself of them.


Karen Wilkin tells in her book on Georges Braque of his interest in Buddhism. Could the 42-square checkerboard be referring to Buddha's Sutra of 42 Sections? This text is attributed to Kasyapa Matanga & Gobharana, the first Indian monks to arrive in China during the Han dynasty. It is a collection of Buddha's sayings compiled in the fashion of Confucian Analects, beginning each section with “The Buddha said:”. Let's look up sections #14, #41, (cards dealt on the table) and #42 (number of checkerboard squares) and learn some wisdom words from the Buddha.

Buddha's Sutra of Forty-Two Sections (circa 67 A.D.)

Section 14:

"What is goodness? What is the foremost greatness?" The Buddha said, "O practice the Way and uphold the truth is goodness. To unite your will with the Way is greatness."

Section 41:

The Buddha said, "One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud. The ox is so exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. The spiritual aspirant should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. Then he can avoid suffering."

Section 42:

The Buddha said, "I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack. I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel. I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet."

Buddha's Lotus Sutra (circa 100 B.C.-150 A.D.)

Chapter 14: Practices that Ease the Way

O Manjusri, what is this perspective on practice of a Highly Perfected Bodhisattva? When a Highly Perfected Bodhisattva abides in a state of patience and gratitude, is gentle and modest, is neither abrupt nor violent, stays unperturbed in heart and mind and, moreover, clings unto nothing yet views all things according to their true nature, does not strain in doing his practice or engage in discriminatory thinking— this is termed a Highly Perfected Bodhisattva's perspective on practice.

Ever act with patience and forbearance,
And with pity for all beings,
For only then can you give voice
To a Discourse which the Buddhas will extol.


The cards on the table: Ace of Diamonds & Four of Diamonds (light color) appear to mirror the Four of Spades & Ace of Clubs (dark color) in a symmetric way: 1-4 and 4-1. The number 1 symbolizes unity, spirit, the primordial One, God, heaven, and the circle. The number 4 symbolizes multiplicity, matter, earth, four directions of space, four seasons of time, four limbs of man, and the 4-sided square. Since 1 & 4 symbolize heaven & earth, the Hermetic saying “As above, so below.” from The Emerald Tablet may be the lesson imparted to us by Braque's fortune teller. Since 1 & 4 represents the One & the Many, we have Plato's vision in The Philebus16d:

“From the gods a gift to the human race:
thus I reckon the gift of seeing the One in the many
and the many in the One.”

This woman, half dark & half light in Braque's painting is no ordinary fortune teller. She is an Angel of Patience, guiding us to practice the Tao of harmony and peace. The key pendant around her neck and centered at her heart reminds us that we too should look within to find “possession in great measure” (I Ching #14). By upholding Truth, we follow the Way of goodness and greatness (Sutra of 42 #14). When we abide “in a state of patience and gratitude,” we follow the practice of Bodhisattvas (Lotus Sutra #14). Then our life is blessed by the gods and we experience enlightenment and the Platonic vision of “seeing the One in the many and the many in the One.”

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
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