JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #95
This magnificent piece of tidy work was done for this new edition of Johannes de Sacrobosco’s Sphaera by Fra Mauro Fiorentino (1492-1556), and gives us all a chance to have a bit of fun reading late Renaissance iconography. The work is entitled Sphaera volgare novamente tradotta con molte notande additoni di geometria, cosmographia, arte navicatoria et stereometria (and so on), published in Venice in 1537, and as stated in the title this is an augmented edition of Sacrobosco with Mauro adding segments on geometry, cosmography, navigation and perspective.
The wood engraving is of particular interest because of the globe upon which Fra Mauro is writing—as you can more clearly see in the detail; shot (below) we can see a large continent labeled “America” just hundreds of miles off the coast of Africa. The Americas still make only guest appearances on globes at this point, and seeing it here, as a bit of an afterthought, is a treat (considering how easy it is to overlook it). There is another Fra Mauro, much more famous than our's above, whose cartographic workshop produced a seminal, magnificent map of the world in 1453, thus bringing the two Mauro's together, if only slightly, via their maps (one great, the other incidental).
Looking a little more closely at the elements of this image we find a number of interesting bits. Working from the upper right hand corner across and down we find a right angle (for the architectural and building parts of the book), then a sand clock, a decorative laurel wreath with a pocket sundial (!) right next to it, ending with an object that looks as though it might be a physical sciences demonstration tool (I’m guessing). Working down from the “what is it” we see the first cut of a three-times-repeated constellation that I think has nothing to do with the word “Antar” beneath it.
“Antar” probably refers to the famous Arab warrior-poet, subject of lots of attention over the centuries including two works by Bach and Rimsky-Korsikov (and also the name of Apollo as worshiped at Actium) Below Antar is an armed and clothed (?!) Venus, major domo goddess of love and beauty and for whom existed innumerable cults (witnessed by just some of the famous Venuses as Venus de Milo ,Venus de' Medici, Capitoline Venus, Esquiline Venus, Venus Felix, Venus of Arles, Venus Anadyomene (also here), Venus, Pan and Eros, Venus Genetrix, Venus of Capua, Venus Kallipygos, Venus Pudica, and so on into the sweaty night.)
Following Venus is, I think a complex compass rose, though it may also be a calendar—I can’t quite tell from the detail of the cut. This is turn is followed by a heavily fortified book (actually this sort of bonding, meant for heavy use, was relatively common at this time)and a score of (5-line staff) music.
Returning to the right angle and moving down we se the same constellation under which hangs a very stable-appearing wagon, with a triangle beneath it , followed by a representation of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, who in turn is positioned over a large set of dividers. On the wall over the head of Fra Mauro we see two precision instruments—a surveying tool and an astrolabe. The two small tools near Mauro’s head seem to be a scale and a pair of scissors.
The central panel shows two caravans (approximately 100-footers?), being driven by a favorable wind to hospitable shores beneath a starry and benign firmament.
The bottom tier is the most emblematic of the set of images, as we see the related Saturn-Jove-Mars all together. Saturn is also Kronos, which is why we see the old horned man caring the scythe of time’s reckoning; he is also the father of Zeus, also known as Jupiter (Juppiter Optimus Maximus Soter (Jupiter Best, Greatest, Savior)), also known as Jove, who stands here crowned and warning us with a sword and dividers. Jove in turn was the father of Mars, who here doesn’t look terribly war-like at all. Punctuating the spaces between these three are a keyboard instrument, a lute and a score of music. I’m not sure that these lyrical/musical devices had anything to do with the three generations of super gods, but there you have it.