Starting with the 2013 conference Enchanted Modernities in Amsterdam, a number of academic events, exhibitions, and publications (including a 2016 special issue of Nova Religio) documented the growing interest of both art historians and scholars of new religious movements in the influence of the Theosophical Society and other esoteric groups on the birth and development of modern art. At the center of this renewed interest is the controversial work of Finnish art historian Sixten Ringbom (1935–1992), who in the late 1960s “discovered” the Theosophical connections of Russian pioneer of abstract art Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), discussed in his book The Sounding Cosmos. In this paper, I discuss Ringbom’s background, his almost coincidental discovery of Theosophy, the ostracism his work received from those who did not want modern art to be associated with irrationalist and disreputable “cults,” and his posthumous influence on the birth of a new subfield within the study of new religious movements, devoted to their relationships with the visual arts.

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